Some people think the only reason to visit Santa Cruz is to go to the Beach Boardwalk and ride the Giant Dipper. As one of California’s oldest wooden roller coasters, it is definitely worth standing in the ridiculously long lines for, at least once. But if you’re looking for a relaxing weekend destination that’s slightly off the beaten path, there’s much more to see and do in the area. Since Santa Cruz is only about an hour and a half drive from Mills, it is worth the trip.
For starters, Santa Cruz is home to the world famous Mystery Spot, an attraction known for its unusual gravitational field that causes visitors to question the laws of physics. The effects of the area are difficult to explain, but visitors will likely be amused by their ability to stand on walls and balls that roll uphill.
Though the Mystery Spot may be a little hokey for some, admission is only $5. Tours usually last about 45 minutes and, depending on the time of day you go, it can get a little chilly, so bring a sweater or a sweatshirt.
After your tour of the Mystery Spot, you might want to take a stroll through historic downtown for some dining and shopping. Pacific Avenue mixes independent shops and restaurants with commercial establishments. Big chains like Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Borders are nestled in between locally-owned bookstores, pizzerias, bars, coffee shops and vintage clothing stores.
If you’re looking for something to eat that is both quick and cheap, check out one of the many burrito places nearby. Taqueria Vallarta, located right on Pacific Avenue, and Planet Fresh Gourmet Burritos a block away, are two local favorites.
Santa Cruz also offers a variety of vegan and vegetarian dining options. Dharma’s Restaurant, located just outside of Santa Cruz in Capitola, has a large selection of veggie and gluten-free meals.
For the coffee-lovers, Santa Cruz offers a variety of coffee shops specializing in Fair Trade and organic products. Santa Cruz Coffee Company has one of the largest selections of organic coffee in the area and will brew a fresh individual cup of coffee while you wait. Another hot spot is Café Pergolesi, a coffee house located in an old renovated Victorian house.
If you’re looking to hang out at the beach all weekend, it’s best to avoid the ones directly in Santa Cruz, which are often crowded and dirty. Natives often opt for Seacliff State Beach, located in Aptos, just a 15 minute drive from Santa Cruz. It offers beautiful views of the entire Monterey Bay. Some days you might even spot a dolphin or seal swimming close to shore.
After a day in the sun, you might want to have a few drinks and catch a movie or a concert. Santa Cruz has a variety of venues, bars and independent movie theaters. The Crepe Place, located on Soquel Avenue, is great to check out for drinks – if you’re 21 or older – and concerts. It hosts small local bands, as well as larger acts like Rilo Kiley. Just across the street is the Rio Theatre, which usually showcases slightly larger acts and will host She & Him later this summer. The Nickelodeon Theatre and the Del Mar are two independent movie theaters locals enjoy visiting for their dose of art house films.
Even if you only chose to go to Santa Cruz for a day, it’s still a great place visit when you want to get away from campus.