Iconic, relaxed and stunningly beautiful, Santa Cruz County boasts a unique combination of tranquil natural beauty, exciting outdoor recreation, delicious local cuisine, and entertaining attractions. The county is home to a variety of cities and areas that range from the rural Soquel and quaint redwood-populated Aptos to the vintage Capitola Village, regarded as the Pacific Coast's oldest seaside resort town. Visitors frequent Capitola for its seaside charm, Davenport for its art galleries and cafes, San Lorenzo Valley for its campgrounds, trails, and scenic redwood drives, Scotts Valley for its mix of business and leisure attractions, and Watsonville for its pristine beaches, wetlands, and outstanding birdwatching. The pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets of downtown Santa Cruz serve as the heart of the county, and feature an eclectic mix of galleries, nightclubs, spas, shops, public art, coffeehouses, restaurants, and street performers. Santa Cruz features such attractions as the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum; as the world's first surfing museum, the space showcases photographs, surfboards, videos, and more to chronicle the origins and culture of surfing. The county is also home to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which sits perched on a hillside overlooking Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay. The university welcomes visitors to enjoy its performance halls, galleries, gardens, trails, and famous arboretum.
One of the original counties in California, Santa Cruz County originally served as the home of the Ohlone Native Americans before the arrival of Spanish missionaries and colonists in the late 18th century. A centerpiece of the Mission and Pueblo period, Santa Cruz County has grown to become a center of liberal and progressive activism, and still celebrates its rich past in its array of attractions, museums, and architecture. Beyond its history, Santa Cruz County also celebrates its stunning natural beauty, which comes in the form of towering redwoods, white sand beaches, and surf-ready waters. Many of the county's most beloved highlights center on its natural beauty. The classic seaside amusement park, home to two National Historic Landmarks, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk sits along Santa Cruz's Main Beach and adjacent to the Santa Cruz Wharf. A fantastic spot for fishing, whale-watching and kayaking expeditions, the wharf is also the place to go for fresh seafood and seaside shopping. The popular Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of 14 federally protected National Marine Sanctuaries in the U.S., has a visitor center a block from the Santa Cruz Wharf. The sanctuary boasts intertidal touchpools, a submarine canyon, and more natural features. The county encompasses 14 state parks, as well as a variety of wildlife-watching experiences focusing on gray and humpback whales, dolphins, sea otters, and coastal birds. The Santa Cruz Wharf itself is home to a group of sea lions that like to sun themselves at the end of the half-mile walkway.
Santa Cruz County's bounty can also be experienced in its fresh cuisine, local wines, and organic food movement. The county is known for its apples, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables, as well as its fresh salmon, Dungeness crab, sand dabs, calamari, and more, pulled in daily from Monterey Bay. Visitors can explore the county as one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the country, thanks to such groups as the Surf City Vintners, a collection of a dozen micro-boutique wineries that welcome guests to learn about the wine-making process and talk with the winemakers themselves. Visitors frequent the Santa Cruz and Capitola Food Tours, which take hungry travelers to off-the-beaten-path gems throughout downtown Santa Cruz and Capitola Village. Santa Cruz County's commitment to local foods and its wine-making excellence are reflected in its rich culinary scene. Santa Cruz's Hula's Island Grill & Tiki Lounge is a throwback to the tiki restaurants and bars of the 50s and 60s, while Laili Restaurant brings the flavors of the Silk Road to the California coast. The downtown Santa Cruz 515 Kitchen & Cocktails showcases local, sustainable, organic, and seasonal ingredients, while the beachside Crow's Nest Restaurant offers breathtaking Santa Cruz Harbor views and summer beach parties. Nestled beside Soquel Creek in Capitola, the romantic Shadowbrook Restaurant is best reached by its own cable car or scenic garden path.