With the cost of plane tickets subtracted from most people’s spring and summer travel plans, we are looking harder at drivable destinations like Santa Cruz. A few years ago, my family chose this beach town for Spring Break, redirecting our airfare funds toward splurgey lodging, and I highly recommend our five-day getaway. We left our house around 9 am the first morning and we were dipping our toes in the water by 11 am. No shuttle buses or security lines.
The Dream Inn is a modern hotel, situated right on the beach with a hip, LA-style pool area. A toddler pool offers non-swimmers a place to splash around. The poolside food is quite good and makes for a flexible outdoor lunch solution. We stayed in a suite that had a queen-sized bed in the living room area, where we slept, enabling us to close off the bedroom during naptime. We still had a large space to play on the floor with our older child and could watch tv when they both slept at night in the bedroom.
We spent our time on the boardwalk, at the beach, in the pool, and in the downtown area. Here’s what you’ll want to know for a 2021 trip to Santa Cruz, a Red Tier county as of this writing.
- The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is accomodating COVID restrictions by offering outdoor food options, outdoor games, and select rides: Boardwalk Racers is a pedal car attraction and Wave Rider is an oversized slide. More rides could open on April 1 as California safety rules will allow for outdoor amusement parks to expand their offerings. Firepits can be reserved for your party, with add-ons like smores. Learn more here >
- The beaches are open, free, most are lovely for little kids with a fair amount of shallow area.
- Drive-in movies are happening at 8 pm on Saturday nights.
- A restaurant with a patio called Malabar. Depending on how old your kids are, and how picky they are, I’d suggest you check out the menu to see if you can risk it. It’s possible that our kids ate only mango and rice for dinner. But we enjoyed ourselves.
- The Taco Bar in The Palomar restaurant is super casual and has a full bar. The main restaurant is too fancy for the way my kids treat black beans. They are supporting a great takeout package for families that has everything you need to go back to your lodging and assemble a Mexican feast.
- San Lorenzo Park features large play structures and a duck pond.
- Roaring Camp Railroads has trains in rotation. Reserve tickets for a ride because capacity is limited.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
Here’s a map of Santa Cruz Airbnbs. The closer you are to the beach, the higher the price.
What I would not do again: See that lovely skyway ride in the picture? Riding on it with my three-year-old was terrifying. There are no modern-day seatbelts on it.
Recently my friend Karen suggested a restaurant for a kid-friendly dinner in Santa Cruz. It’s a pizza joint where they make a big show of throwing the dough up in the air. Has anyone been?