California Travel: Planning a Road Trip to Santa Cruz

California Dreaming: Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

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It’s hard to plan a vacation for 10 people, difficult to find a house to accommodate such numbers, even more challenging to plan an itinerary that suits everyone’s travel style. But the central California coast wound up being perfect for our recent family reunion.

California Travel: Planning a Road Trip to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz may not be my favorite of California’s many cities—Santa Barbara nabs that honor—but its central locale and proximity to so many cool attractions made it the perfect choice for all of us, who were coming from Tennessee, the Bay Area, Sacramento and Folsom.
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

And its laid-back vibe was perfect for a lazy weekend with few plans on the agenda.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Heading to Santa Cruz and looking for help planning a quick getaway? Here are some things you need to know first:

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Stay on the outskirts. On past trips to Santa Cruz, I was not impressed with this seaside community, mainly because we made our base in one of the kitschy hotels downtown (and did I mention I got full-on punched on Pacific Avenue by some drunk? ugh). I had a much better weekend this time around staying in a more beautiful part of Santa Cruz right next to Natural Bridges.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruzt

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Skip staying downtown and check out Airbnb rental options on the West Cliff part of town or even down in Capitola.

New to Airbnb? Use this link for up to $55 off your first booking.

Seek out the kid-friendly restaurants before you go—and call ahead for reservations. While we had a long list of places we wanted to go—among them, Lúpulo Craft Beer House, West End Tap & Kitchen—none were accommodating of squads like ours or able to set aside space for us. However, we did find a few gems that were perfect for large groups to stop in on a whim: Mission St. BBQ, Kelly’s French Bakery and Betty’s Burgers. We saved an oldie but goodie, Walnut Avenue Cafe, for Monday morning when there were just five of us and the crowds weren’t as bad.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Hit up the boardwalk—preferably on a weekday—but allot the majority of your visit for exploring the myriad beach communities. In both directions north and south of Santa Cruz, the coast is peppered with state parks and protected beaches like Año Nuevo to Capitola that are, for the most part, pretty blissfully vacant.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Do a lil beach yoga. It’s a family bonding experience.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Forgo driving if you can and opt for a bike instead. Santa Cruz is a big biking destination and much of it can be explored by two wheels instead of four. Granted, we were dealing with some injuries, not to mention had a three year old in tow, so we stuck to cars but if you are in good health, I’d highly recommend renting bikes for the duration of your stay.

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Pack s’mores fixings. What family vacation isn’t made even better with s’mores?

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Unlike, say, San Francisco, Santa Cruz is very much a destination where you can just show up and figure things out as you go. That’s one of the many things I did like about it. If you’re not Type A like I usually am and prefer to just go with the flow, it’s definitely a good pick for you.

Of course, at the end of the day, we could have been anywhere and had fun with this crew, and fun is really all that matters, right? A wise soul once told me it’s the people who make the place after all.

California Travel: Planning a Road Trip to Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz
California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

California Travel: Planning a Family Vacation in Santa Cruz

Planning a California vacation? I have plenty of added ideas here:


 

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Santa Cruz Family Vacation: A California Planning Guide

COMMENTS
  • May 13, 2016

    Fantastic beaches simply i love it

  • May 13, 2016

    What a cute family! I won’t be planning a family trip anytime soon – it’s just me, my parents and my grandmother – but I can enjoy the photos and they look beautiful!

  • May 15, 2016

    How fun! I wish there were 10 people in my family who could get along for a family weekend! :/

  • May 17, 2016

    Nice family reunion. I bet it was challenging going to restaurants in such a big group… and with kids 🙂

  • May 26, 2016
    Yok

    Santa Cruz looks soooo fantastic! Why would you prefer Santa Barbara?

    SC has the redwoods close at hand and you can take a day trip to The City, if you wish!

  • May 27, 2016
    heather

    I was just there staying at the houses past the rv site the weekend of mothers day. I love that area and we stay either in aptos or capitola every may. my family photo album looks a lot like yours during our stay there. 🙂

  • May 28, 2016

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  • August 5, 2017

    Love your blog and post about your Santa Cruz trip. You found some great things to do and fab dining options — Betty’s is one of our favorite kid friendly restaurants. Next time you visit we hope you will consider staying at our dog-friendly vacation rental home Beach Haven at Seabright. We’d love to have you and your family come stay with us!

    • August 6, 2017

      That sounds lovely! I’m sure our pup would love your place. We had 11 people on this trip, but if we ever come back and don’t have the whole family with us, we’ll definitely look into your house =)

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