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5 Things To Do in Santa Cruz (Besides the Boardwalk)

I grew up in the liberal beach town of Santa Cruz, Calif.  So when people hear where I’m from, the first thing they usually ask is, “So, did you go to the Boardwalk a lot?”  Well, the answer to that question is "of course," but there is much more to this oceanside city than just surfing, beaches and roller coasters.

By all means -- visit the Boardwalk, it’s a classic amusement park and always a good time.  It’s more than 100 years old, but still kicking as the Giant Dipper thrills a new generation of riders.  But here are five of my favorite local attractions that will keep you entertained while in Surf City.

  • Roaring Camp Railroads: Everyone likes a good old fashioned train ride right?  The Roaring Camp recreates the feel of an 1880s logging town, complete with authentic steam trains that tour the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains and beach trains that carry passengers into Santa Cruz. There are festivals and events throughout the year, so it’s always a unique experience no matter what time of the year you go. 
  • Mystery Spot: While growing up, I remember many of my friends being spooked by this place. It’s not scary in the haunted house sense, but just bizarre and unexplainable. I won’t give away all the details, but it’s only $5 per person and a fun afternoon excursion while you’re in town. And at the end of the tour, you get a free bumper sticker!
  • Natural Bridges State Beach: OK, I got to No. 3 before I mentioned the beach and surfing. But this attraction, one of my favorite field trips from grade school, is mostly known as the home to the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve. This spectacular sight is where up to 150,000 monarch butterflies migrate south from October through early February.  From the beach you can view the natural bridge that arches over the ocean -- a fantastic photo opportunity. Year-round recreation includes surfing, swimming and hiking, as well as viewing the local marine mammals and birds.
  • Santa Cruz Warriors: The newest addition to Santa Cruz, the Warriors are an NBA Developmental League basketball team that relocated from North Dakota for the 2012-'13 season. They are the affiliate of the Golden State Warriors of the NBA -- in essence the minor league team, where players can develop their skills and work to prove they belong on a professional roster. The newly constructed Kaiser Permanente Arena will host the first home game Dec. 23.
  • Santa Cruz Wharf: Built in 1914, it is the longest pier on the West Coast in the U.S. Some of the best seafood in town can be found at the eight restaurants, which all feature ocean views.  Visit the sea lions at the end of the wharf, or book a fishing trip on the Monterey Bay. Other activities on the pier include kite flying, boating, and kayaking.

Travelzoo Tip: While in Santa Cruz, stay at the hippest new hotel in town, Hotel Paradox. And cap off your visit with dinner at Solaire Restaurant & Bar at 50% off regular prices.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, San Francisco
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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Gary Lue