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 Pacific Coast Highway town of Santa Cruz was the perfect family vacation destination.
We’ve taken family vacations to Southern California—there are so many things to do in Los Angeles with kids—we’ve had family get-togethers up in Gold Country, we’ve had plenty of family day trips where we all met up in the Bay Area, but this was a first for the VV clan.
And its laid-back vibe was perfect for a lazy weekend with few plans on the agenda.
Heading to Santa Cruz for a family vacation? Here are some things you need to know first:
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.
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.
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.
Do a lil beach yoga. It’s a family bonding experience.
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.
Pack s’mores fixings. What family vacation isn’t made even better with s’mores?
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.
But still, a family vacation in Santa Cruz wound up being the perfect way to reconnect with all of SVV’s family. I can’t wait till our next reunion.
Planning a California vacation? I have plenty of added ideas here:
- Windswept + Wild Down Highway 1
- A Day Trip to Half Moon Bay
- A Detour to Point Reyes National Seashore
- A Magical Weekend in Muir Beach
- Sunny Days on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
- Planning the Ultimate California Road Trip
- Art and Food in San Francisco’s Mission District
- Berkeley in Bloom: 24 Hours in the East Bay
- Skiing Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort