What to do With Kids on a Day Trip to Santa Cruz

Just 77 miles south of San Francisco is the laid-back beach town of Santa Cruz, tucked snugly between the soaring redwood forests and the sparkling Monterey Bay. Chances are if you’ve lived in San Francisco a while, you’ve taken the kids to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and frolicked on the beach during a hot summer day. But Santa Cruz has much more to offer families that make it worthy of planning a day trip this summer.

Here are our top seven favorite things for families to do in Santa Cruz County.

  1. Rent a pedal boat at Loch Lomond. Surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Lompico is a peaceful reservoir where boats can be rented for $7.50 per hour (there’s a 2-hour minimum). Paddle around the perimeter and watch for birds and wildlife, or make new friends and engage in a pedal boat race.
  2. Explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. Across the street from the Santa Cruz Wharf, this interactive museum features fun exhibits for kids of all ages. Get hands on with sea creatures in the tidal touchpool, watch whale and dolphin migrations on screen in the mini-theater, and wander through a replica of a kelp forest complete with sea stars, crabs and abalone. Entry is free, and there’s a 25-cent trolley that takes visitors to and from downtown.
  3. After your underwater adventure, you’re bound to be hungry. Try Kianti’s Pizza and Pasta Bar on Pacific Avenue downtown. Not only do they have a crowd-pleasing menu, but they provide dough on the tables for kids to play with, plus on weekends the staff gathers for impromptu shows where they dance and spin dough amidst the tables.
  4. For dessert, head north along the coast to Swanton Berry Farm. Depending on the season, the whole family can pick their own strawberries, blackberries or olallieberries from the organic fields for around $4 per pound. There’s also a farm stand proffering delectable treats including strawberry shortcake, berry pies and strawberry lemonade.
  5. The small but popular Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is perched on the hill above Seabright Beach, and is fronted with a giant whale statue. Permanent exhibits include Wildlife and Habitats, Geology of Santa Cruz, and Native Peoples of Santa Cruz, where visitors can see what life was like in an Ohlone village. The museum also features rotating exhibits and an outdoor garden learning center. Entry is free on the first Friday of every month.
  6. Grab a toothsome scoop of artisanal, small batch ice cream at the Penny Ice Creamery on Cedar Street. Using local, sustainable grown and humanely farmed ingredients, this cute little shop is one of just a handful in the nation that makes ice cream completely from scratch. In fact, their vanilla ice cream recipe is the same one used by Thomas Jefferson. More adventurous flavors include those made with candy cap mushrooms, pine needle tips and wild fennel. The store also toasts their own marshmallow fluff with an open flame—a real hit with the little ones.
  7. If the weather’s not cooperating, head on over to the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery in the Capitola Mall. The 8,000 square foot space is geared toward kids from 0-12 and features five main themed areas: Technology, Agriculture, The Redwood Forest, Harbor and Sensations. Colorful toys and interactive exhibits will keep kids busy for hours.

Photo Credit: Travis Wise/flickr

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