Fun Things to do in Santa Cruz, CA with Kids
Just minutes from Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley awaits an array of outdoor adventures that only the Santa Cruz Mountains can deliver. Here are a few fun things to do in Santa Cruz, CA with kids that my family has enjoyed together and highly recommend:
ROARING CAMP RAILROADS
If there’s a train enthusiast in your family, then you absolutely must visit Roaring Camp Railroads! Located in nearby Felton, your family will feel like they’ve stumbled over a piece of the 1880’s from the moment all of you cross over the small covered bridge leading into the place!
Complete with a mercantile, a tiny schoolhouse, an active depot and more, Roaring Camp is set up like a little train stop town that was common during the area’s early years. From that station a fleet of trains takes riders through majestic Redwood forests and out to the ocean. Whether you ride the holiday train while enjoying hot chocolate and carols or marvel at the Big Trees as you head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, you’re in for a unique travel experience that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time.
There are several route options and events to choose from, but here are several that we had wonderful experiences with:
Day Out With Thomas
Our first introduction to Roaring Camp Railroads came when we attended Day Out With Thomas, an event where little train lovers turn out in force to ride Thomas the Train and spend the afternoon on the island of Sodor with his friends.
Steam Train to Bear Mountain
After our initial visit, we’ve gone back to ride the Dixiana, a narrow gauge steam train up to Bear Mountain, a secluded and gorgeous spot above Roaring Camp. Along the thin corkscrew of track, the crew delighted us with train trivia and facts while pointing out sights in the natural habitat through which we coursed.
Beach Train to Santa Cruz Boardwalk
If you plan to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Big Trees Train is a terrific option for getting to the amusement park during the summer months when traffic can become pretty heavy with drivers seeking relief from the heat in nearby Silicon Valley. The train cruises through the lush mountain forests and into the coastal area dropping riders off right at the boardwalk’s front gates. Catch a later train back to your car instead of fighting traffic out of the area and allow the family to relax and decompress during the ride.
COVERED BRIDGE PARK
Named for the covered wooden bridge that provides an amazing and unusual backdrop for this playground, Covered Bridge Park is located next door to Roaring Camp Railroads. This bridge was once Felton’s only road link with Santa Cruz. It remained in use until the 1930’s when a concrete span was built to carry Graham Hill Road, a main artery into Scotts Valley and Felton, across the San Lorenzo River.
This playground has all of the amenities present in playgrounds everywhere — swings, slides, climbing structures — but how often do your kids get to test the “echo factor” of an historic covered railroad bridge?
SANTA CRUZ BEACH BOARDWALK
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has enjoyed a century by the sea. The last major seaside amusement park on the entire west coast, it was a magnet for glamor and celebrity in its heyday.
The rich history of this California Historic Landmark is hinted at everywhere. It’s in the ornate touches on the 100 year old Looff Carousel with its hand carved antique wooden horses and chariots, colorful organ, and the opportunity to grab gold rings from a dispenser and toss them into a clown’s mouth with pure childlike joy. It’s in the memories of fancy parties at the park’s Cocoanut Grove Ballroom and the photographic history on display in Neptune’s Kingdom. It’s also in one of the most popular rides in the place, the Giant Dipper, a wooden rollercoaster that has been thrilling riders with its dips and curves since 1924. It reaches speeds of 46 mph and if it looks a bit familiar, that’s because it has appeared in movies like The Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, and Dangerous Minds.
It could be argued that an endless summer is enjoyed here. While the smell of popcorn, garlic fries and cotton candy permeates the air, surfers are often seen headed to the nearby waves past sandcastles constructed by families playing on the beach. During warm summer nights movies are screened beachside and bands play on a stage constructed just for such events. Whether you’re looking to take part in that surfing safari, wish to exert your strength playing carnival games, or enjoy a plethora of amusement park rides and virtual games, there’s something at the boardwalk for you.
While corn dogs, chocolate dipped ice cream cones, large soft pretzels and pizza are awesome amusement park morsels, the nearby Santa Cruz Wharf has plenty of places to fuel up. Dine beachside at the Ideal Bar & Grill or enjoy some fresh fish at the Firefish Grill or Stagnaro Brothers; the wharf is the best place to cap off a day at the beach.
Take Time to see the Redwoods
Back up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, take time to explore the trails and pathways of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The park is home to a centuries old Redwood Grove with a self-guided nature path.
Why are the redwoods such a big deal? At one time redwoods grew throughout the earth’s northern hemisphere, today they’re native in only a 450-mile strip of the Pacific coast. The climate in the area helps them thrive. The unusual combination of moderate temperatures year round, close proximity to the ocean and the trees location in the mountains helps keep much needed moisture feeding the trees.
Santa Cruz is also less than 90 minutes from San Francisco and would make a great day trip.
You may also enjoy these ideas:
- Visit the Elephant Seals in California’s Ano Nuevo State Park
- Day Trips from San Francisco – Muir Woods and Sausalito
- Read more about family vacations to San Francisco.
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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…