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Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

San Juan...
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Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

We are considering the Santa Cruz area in August for 5 days. We have a 3yo and 5yo. We aren't really all that interested in the beach (we live on the beach in SoCal so we get enough beach activities here) but moreso the hiking/biking Santa Cruz has to offer. We wouldn't mind a little beach time though - we do like to kayak assuming it's in a protected bay or harbor. Maybe a boat ride.

Anyways, any specific recs? I see there's a nearby river we might want to explore. Definitely want to spend some time in the redwoods. With 2 small children we can't be on bike or foot trails all day but both do well for a bit of time. These are all activities we do at home so nothing new for them - a change of scenery for us would be nice though. We like to spend most of our time exploring/learning/adventuring vs eating and shopping and lounging. A little pool time would be nice but the main focus is for us to get out and expose the kids to nature/areas we don't have here.

Also, any recs to stay? Again, doesn't have to be fancy - just clean, comfortable and reasonably priced in a decent enough location for day trips.

Thanks everyone!

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Santa Cruz
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1. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

For redwoods, Henry Cowell is great with kids. They have a nice nature trail with plenty of things to look at and the kids can feel like they are really hiking :-) And if you want to do something longer, there are a variety of hiking trails to choose from. Next to Henry Cowel is Roaring Camp railroad - this is a former logging operation that runs excursion steam trains - one run down to the Boardwalk and one run that is an out-and-back through the redwoods. Your kids are the perfect age for this.

If you wanted to go further up the mountain, Big Basin is another great park for redwoods.

There is a colony of sea lions that lives under the municipal wharf, which is next to the Boardwalk. Speaking of the Boardwalk - this is really fun with kids. It is an amusement park right on the beach, has some fun rides for kids, and some good games in the arcade. Admission is free - you just pay to ride the rides if you want to.

For beaches that are very different from SoCal beaches, check out Natural Bridges and some of the beaches north of Santa Cruz - Pescadero State Beach, Bean Hollow, etc. These are good beach-combing beaches and you can often find good driftwood to make sculptures with. If you are lucky, you will find a beach fort that someone has built from drift wood :-) And several of these beaches have creeks that run into the ocean, which are fun to play in.

For biking - Santa Cruz is a really bike-friendly town. One of my favorites is the bike and pedestrian path along West Cliff Drive on the west side of SC. This path is fairly wide, nicely paved, and goes along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. You can often see surfers and at the lighthouse there is a small surf museum.

Monterey is about 45 minutes south - you can go for an easy day trip. The aquarium there is very good. The coastal recreation trail is great for walking and biking. You will likely see plenty of sea mamals in the harbor and along the rocky coastline.

You might consider going out to Wilder Ranch - this is a neat place with living history demonstrations and things. It sounds like something your family would enjoy:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=549

The San Lorenzo river isn't really a river to explore. It runs through the middle of town, but there are levies on each side until it gets to the ocean so there aren't any real beaches or anything to wander around on, and the water itself is of questionable quality - signs warn against swimming. Further up in the Santa Cruz mountains, the river is better for exploring, but not in town.

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2. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

Fantastic! Thank you for all the information!

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3. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

november_moon has given you a good overview of what to do in Santa Cruz. I second the advise to visit Natural Bridges State Park for a beach. It has been recognized by a national group as one of the best in the country, and it is just at the north end of town. There are some excellent tide pools around to the right of the beach as you are facing the Bay. Also picnic tables and a very informative Visitor Center.

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541

Here is a traveler's article for a general overview of Santa Cruz

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g33048-c133677/Santa-…

Notice Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad, which is near Henry Cowell State Park. The children might enjoy a ride on the old fashioned steam train which goes up into the woods and back.

I think the children would enjoy the Boardwalk. It is an old fashioned historic (101 years old) amusement park. The merry go round is also historic and has the original wooden carved horses by Looff, beautifully restored, and the original calliope. There is also a special section with rides for children the ages of yours. They might want to watch the taffy pulling machine also.

You can rent kayaks and have a wonderful experience spotting sea life at Elkhorn Slough, which is at Moss Landing, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, about 20 minutes or so. Or you can take a "Safari Tour" which will get you out into the slough to see the otters and sea lions and etc.

As for lodgings. To be near the Boardwalk and Municipal Wharf (where there are sea lions) I would look into the Seaway Inn, across West Cliff Drive from the Wharf or the Coastview Inn a short distance towards the Boardwalk from there, Also the Beach Street Inn and Suites.

http://www.seawayinn.com/

http://www.coastviewinn.com/

http://www.beachstreetinn.com/

Also in this area, but more expensive are the Dream Inn, the Sea and Sand Inn, and the West Cliff Inn. the Dream Inn is a joie d'vivre property where every room has a patio or balcony facing the Bay. The Sea and Sand is smaller, but next door with the same views. West Cliff Inn is a Four Sisters bed and breakfast in a lovely Victorian house.

I would not stay in a motel on the other side of the Boardwalk than these, nor on lower Ocean Street in town, as the properties in these areas are not particularly attractive, and are close together. You will be tempted by their bargain prices. Don't bite. :~)

Let me know if you have questions.

.

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4. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

Hello,

You'll have a great time here in Santa Cruz!

I second the Roaring Camp and Henry Cowell recommendations. You might even want to stay in Felton or Boulder Creek, as it will be very different than the beach that you are used to.

Wilder Ranch is a fantastic place to hike, bike, or just hang out with kids. There is an amazing tree by the buildings that is immensely climb-able, and these humungous aloe plants next to it that are super fun for hide-and-seek. Great spot for a picnic before or after your hike. Long Marine Lab (might be called the Seymour Center) is nearby with some nice exhibits and with a nice touch tank area... my kids both love it there. That would be a nice, full day.

I do not recommend biking on West Cliff with a three year old however. This is a very crowded sidewalk in August with lots of bikes and pedestrians attempting to maneuver around each other.

This might sound like a weird place to take kids, but UCSC is so beautiful and really mellow in the summer -- lots of bike paths that won't be crowded in August. Beautiful vistas and tons of redwood paths. The arboretum at UCSC is wonderful for kids, with lots of paths to run up and down. Also there is a Life Lab Garden at the UCSC farm and garden with chickens, a nasturtium house to hide in, etc... really fun for kids.

The harbor is SUPER mellow for kayaking and also stand up paddleboarding if your 5 year old is ready. A word about kayaking here: The ocean is MUCH colder than socal. The harbor will not be as exciting but will be warmer, with less chance of fog. When we went kayaking on elkhorn slough last Father's Day, we dressed in our warmest jackets and were still freezing when we came out, sleeves drenched and teeth chattering. They give you waterproof items but if the fog is there, which it often is, it is cold! (We thought it was worth it, though :) But my kids were 8 and 11 at the time.) Lots of otters, seals, and sea lions at Elkhorn Slough, but at the harbor you'll hopefully see one or two seals, that's it.

There are some really nice parks here too if you just want to chill... Oceanview park, Frederick St Park, and Skypark in Scotts Valley are not destinations but good to keep in mind if you are nearby and want somewhere pleasant to swing or climb for an hour.

The San Lorenzo River is easily accessible from Henry Cowell, and super fun to play in. You may want one Henry Cowell/Roaring Camp day for hiking and trainwatching, and another day for river play. Just take the Pipeline Road trail or River Trail till you find your spot.

Hope this helps!

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5. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

I think West Cliff drive would be fine on a weekday in August - and I assumed that the 3 year old wouldn't be on his or her own bike, but rather in a bike trailer or a seat on a parent's bike since it sounds like they want to go sightseeing by bike. If the 3 year old would be on his or her own bike, then definitely pick someplace less travelled and away from the street.

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6. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

Yes, you're right, a bike trailer would be fine!

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7. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

If you've got the time and the inclination for a 40 minute (or so) drive your kids will LOVE the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My two year old goes crazy there. Go first thing in the morning to beat the crowds or late afternoon to avoid school groups. Also, there's the Boardwalk Bowl and the Roller Palladium for old school fun. When I was a kid I also loved fishing and crabbing off the wharf, but I'm afraid I don't know what the rules are about that sort of thing these days...there are definitely tackle shops on the wharf who could advise.

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8. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

Monterey Bay Aquarium is great but it can get crowded. I've seen older kids get overwhelmed by the crowds. Long Marine Lab is sort of mini MBA and had a touch tank and it's in town and much cheaper. So that's a good option. The Boardwalk has a section of kiddie rides.

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9. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

In addition, another idea for hiking would be at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park on Aptos Creek Drive in Aptos, not far south of Santa Cruz. From what I've seen driving through it, should be easy hike for kids, and you might enjoy going to the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. .I think there are several entrances, but I've only been to the one on Aptos Creek Drive, and have not gone all the way through as part was closed to vehicular traffic that day, but I do know that it is a very popular spot for the local hikers, joggers, walkers and bikers.

Regarding the note on Elkhorn Slough - the Safari Tour would probably be a good choice for kids of your ages since it is a pontoon boat ride. Dress warm almost anytime of year. Not sure how the otter/seal population is in August, though, but maybe one of the locals will know..

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10. Re: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz?

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