Recently, some new clients moved to Santa Cruz from out of the area with two children in tow.  It reminded me of when my own family moved here, and my kids were six and eight.  With my husband up at UCSC most of the day, the kids and I were on our own to discover the region.  Luckily, there is plenty to do in Santa Cruz to keep children of all ages busy and happy.  So here are my top five family friendly activities in Santa Cruz.

  1.  Seymour Discovery Center:  This is UCSC’s scientific research center.  It’s not as big or as well known as The Monterey Bay Aquarium, but that’s just fine for us locals since it’s not nearly as crowded.  Upon arriving, you are greeted by a giant Blue Whale skeleton that is 87 feet long!  Inside you’ll find aquariums, hands-on activities and tours for kids and adults to learn about ocean life and conservation.  For hours, tour times, and admission prices visit their website: seymourcenter.ucsc.edu
  2. Natural Bridges State Beach:  Not far from the Seymour Center is this natural beauty.  Known for its large migration of Monarch Butterflies, bird watching, wild flowers, beaches, and tide pools.  As a parent, I like this beach because of its easy access to bathrooms and showers, and the fact that the beach area is smaller and self contained, so it’s harder to lose sight of your little ones.  Try to catch a low tide and climb up on the rocks to view the tide pools where you’ll see all kinds of small creatures.  For more info on Natural Bridges go to:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541
  3. Roaring Camp & Railroad:  This charming and entertaining spot is just 6 miles from Santa Cruz in the small town of Felton.  Located in the redwoods, this re-creation of an 1880’s logging town is educational and fun.  Bring a picnic and sit among the redwoods while the kids run around.  Ride the rails up into the redwoods or down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  You can also catch the train at the Boardwalk and ride up to Felton.  This gem offers special holiday rides as well with Santa or the Easter Bunny!  Open every day of the year except Christmas.  For train schedules, prices and special events go to: roaringcamp.com
  4. Kayak Connection:  This shop is located near the Santa Cruz Harbor.  Here you can rent boogie boards and wetsuits if you want to hit the beach on your own, or you can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUP’s to locals) and try your hand at some water adventures.  Classes and lessons are available as well as camps for kids and teens.  The Kayak Connection also offers family outings such as the Full Moon Paddle. For more info go to:  kayakconnection.com
  5. Pacific Avenue:  The heart of Santa Cruz, Pacific Avenue offers many one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, movie theaters, wine tasting rooms, and more.  Some of our family’s favorite places are:

*Pizza My Heart:Walk in and point to the slice of pizza you want.They’ll heat it up and serve it in a Frisbee!

        *Betty’s Burgers:  Lots of options here and the milkshakes are delicious.

*Kianti’s Pizza and Pasta:  This Italian food restaurant puts on a wonderful show on weekend nights.  The lights blink, the employees get into position, and then they do a choreographed song and dance number that includes throwing pizza dough in the air.  Super fun and entertaining!  For show times, go to: www.kiantis.com

        *Pacific Cookie Company:  Baked right here!  Lots of cookie options.

        *Palace Arts:   Art supplies galore including pre-packaged kits for kids!

*Bookshop Santa Cruz:  Locally owned and operated.  They have a wonderful kids section as well as story times.  To find out more, go to:  bookshopsantacruz.com

For a map of Pacific Avenue and a complete listing of all the merchants, as well as the latest deals and events, go to:  http://www.downtownsantacruz.com/