Are you looking for things to do in Santa Cruz with kids? Here is an example 48 hour (or weekend) itinerary for kid-friendly activities and things to do in Santa Cruz!

Just a short drive away from San Francisco, Santa Cruz is a perfect beach vacation away from the city and an easy weekend trip where you can come home *sort of* relaxed, not exhausted from traveling so far away. Here is an example itinerary for you and your family!

Friday Night: Beachfront dinner at your hotel

Woof. You must be exhausted traveling on a Friday with your kids! The only thing to do tonight is to check into your hotel, unpack your kids and head to the beach for a beach front dinner. If you stay at the Dream Inn, you won’t even have to leave your hotel! This hotel has a nice heated pool, so if it’s before sunset, you can even go for a quick dip and have dinner there. Your weekend vacation can’t get to a better start!

Saturday Day: Beach it! Or other activities if you are up for it.

If you want to step away from the pool of your hotel and go to a beach, there are many options but here’s our favorite:

  • Santa Cruz Main Beach – Right off of the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk! Big sunny beach and conveniently located.
  • Seabright State Beach – Another sunny beach that’s dog-friendly! Great sunsets can be seen here.

Up for more activities than the beach? Here are some of our other favorites in the area!

  • Seymour Marine Discovery Center: If you need a quick break from the sun, this museum is open Tue-Sunday 10am-5pm and a quick drive from downtown. It’s perfect for ocean animal lovers of all ages. (Bonus: If you are part of the San Francisco library’s discover and go program, they have free passes to this museum!)
  • University of California, Santa Cruz Farm and Garden Tour: Walk around and take in the views, the farm, and garden (flower tunnel anyone?)! They are open to the public daily from 8am-6pm. If you happen to be there on a first Sunday of the month from April – November, they have a free tour of the farm.
  • Natural Bridges State Park: Beautiful park with tidepools! A quick detour, but if you are here in the fall/winter, you may be able to see tons of butterflies at the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve!
  • Santa Cruz Children’s Discovery Museum: Another quick trip from downtown in Capitola (super cute town worth checking out on its own), check on their website for opened dates and times. (E.g. they are closed this labor day.)
  • Sea lions and Surfing Museum at the Santa Cruz Wharf
  • Bamboo Giant Nursery (aka Bamboo Forest): Open to the public, where you can check out their nursery and purchase bamboo!
  • Wilder Ranch State Park: Easy trails perfect for hiking with kids and there are farm animals!

Saturday Night: Dinner Downtown and Boardwalk

Santa Cruz has such a cute downtown! It will be sad to miss it. Stroll before dinner (if your kids will allow it) through the cute little shops, or head straight to dinner to one of the many family-friendly restaurants!

We like to save the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for night time. There’s something about going there when it’s all lit up, and the kids are so excited to stay up later than usual. It just makes it all so magical. Note though, starting September, they will have limited hours for rides and only until 7/8pm. So might want to check them out during the day!

Sunday: Swanton Berry Farms or Roaring Camp Railroad

If you are taking Highway 1 up the coast (our favorite way to ease back into the city life), stop at the Swanton Berry Farms! They are right off of Highway 1 and have delicious jams, hot strawberry cider, and u-pick berries depending on the season.

As much as we love going up Highway 1 through the scenic route, if you want to get back to the Bay Area or San Francisco quickly, Highway 17 is most likely your best bet (please be careful driving on that freeway!). On your way up, stop by at the Roaring Camp Railroads! It’s right off of Highway 17, and they have trains departing daily going through the redwood forest. They also hold fun events like ride the Thomas the Train, which is when we visited. They are open 9am-5pm, don’t forget $10 cash for parking!

Have you been to Santa Cruz? What were your favorite things to do there with your kids?

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