Santa Cruz Day Trip: Ultimate 24 Hour Itinerary

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When you think of quintessential Californian coastal towns, Santa Cruz is probably one of the first to come to mind. Nestled between the rolling Pacific waves and the towering redwoods, it’s a haven for surfers, nature lovers, and anyone looking to catch the California vibe. If you’re short on time and wondering how to truly experience Santa Cruz in One Day, don’t worry—I’ve got you covered. Having lived in California all my life, I’m here to share some of the can’t-miss spots.

6:30 AM – 8:00 AM: Sunrise Surf or Beach Stroll 


Location: Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz  

Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz California

Santa Cruz is renowned for its surfing culture. If you’re an early riser, there’s nothing quite like greeting the day with a surf session at Cowell Beach. If you’re keen on catching some beginner-friendly waves, or if you want to refine your skills, reserve a lesson at Cowell Beach. Not into surfing? A beach walk at dawn will give you all those serene, oceanic vibes where you can absorb the morning hues or simply walk along the shoreline collecting shells. 


8:30 AM – 9:30 AM: Breakfast at The Buttery

Location: The Buttery

What to Eat: Dive into their delicious croissants, savor a hearty breakfast burrito, and sip on a freshly brewed coffee.


10:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Downtown Santa Cruz Exploration

downtown Santa Cruz, California at night

Location: Downtown Santa Cruz

What to Do: Shop for unique trinkets, peruse through Bookshop Santa Cruz, and maybe even enjoy a mid-morning latte from one of the local coffee joints.

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM: Lunch at Taqueria Los Pericos

Location: Taqueria Los Pericos

What to Eat: Bite into a sumptuous burrito or relish some flavorful fish tacos.


2:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Adventures

Santa Cruz, California Beach Boardwalk

Location: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Activities: Ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster, indulge in some carnival games, walk along the pier, and perhaps even grab an ice cream cone or cotton candy.


5:30 PM – 6:30 PM: Sunset at Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach Santa Cruz, California

Location: Natural Bridges State Beach

What to Do: Catch the sunset, take photographs of the natural bridge rock formation, and look out for playful sea otters.

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM: Dinner at Lillian’s Italian Kitchen

Location: Lillian’s Italian Kitchen

Recommendations: Start with some bruschetta, indulge in the classic lasagna or a flavorful pasta dish, and if there’s room left, go for a dessert!


9:00 PM – 10:30 PM: Nightcap at Red Room Cocktail Lounge

Location: Red Room Cocktail Lounge

What to Do: Unwind from your packed day with a cocktail or two, enjoy the ambiance, and maybe even strike up a conversation with locals or fellow travelers.


Follow this itinerary and you’ll navigate Santa Cruz in One Day like a true Californian. Happy exploring!

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