Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is very popular with surfers, as well as other water-goers, as the beaches are protected from the ocean currents that sweep other areas on the California Coast. The water is clean -- but also cold. In addition to the surfing, other water sports available are charter fishing, sailing and boogie boarding. There's a lively beach boardwalk area, as well as an amusement park and an indoor arcade. Volleyball, bicycling, tennis and golf are also popular activities. The conditions and amenities at Santa Cruz area beaches vary, so be sure to choose the one most appropriate for your family's style.

* Cowell Beach is the main beach in the Santa Cruz area. It boasts a small amusement park, a boardwalk, restrooms, lifeguard service, adequate parking and a host of restaurants and snack bars. Although this beach offers the most amenities, it is also one of the more crowded ones. Keeping track of your little ones might be less difficult at one of less crowded beaches.

* Seacliff State Beach is good for swimming and surf fishing, but watch out for the riptides. There are lifeguards on duty during peak season. This beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter, The Palo Alto. Unfortunately, the ship, once hosting a ballroom and dining facility, is unsafe and closed to the public. It now provides nesting for the sea gulls and harbors a variety of fish. Dolphins and harbor seals ride the waves along the shore much to beach combers of all ages delight. Only the pier is open for fishing. The beach is also a popular swimming spot. There is a long stretch of sand backed by bluffs. There is a covered picnic facility. The camping facilities along the beach are in great demand and must be reserved months in advance. Parking is no longer along the shore but above on the cliff (the beach's namesake) providing wonderful views of the entire bay and unique cliff stairpath down to the ocean level.

* Lighthouse Field State beach is not a beach for swimming. Also known as Point Santa Cruz, this area forms the northern boundary of Monterey Bay. It is one of the last open headlands in any California urban area. Surfers, tourists, birds - including the rare Black Swift and wintering Monarch butterflies are drawn to this area. Sea lions populate the offshore rocks. As for surfing, it is good, but only the more experience ones should head out. Most people watch the surfers from atop the cliffs overlooking the rocky shoreline.

* Capitola City Beach is reputed to be the oldest seaside resort on the Pacific Coast. Previously, the land had been occupied by Ohlone Indians. Today Capitola Village is a popular visitor destination. The pleasant beach and wharf are surrounded by shops and restaurants. It is also good for swimming, as the tide is gentle and the pier offers decent fishing. The parking, however, is scarce and not for free. The many beach rentals are a walk aisle away from the sand!

* Twin Lakes State Beach, known as the small craft harbor in downtown Santa Cruz, offers warmer water for swimming, as well as public restroom facilities and showers. Lifeguards are on duty during peak season. The beach has a mile of sandy shoreline, popular for swimming and picnicking. The park's adjacent Schwan's lake is a good location for bird watching.

Santa Cruz offers a variety of places for families to stay, including the following:

Terrace Court Hotel: Most of the rooms at this moderately-priced property, just across the street from the beach, are relatively spacious, and offer kitchenettes. Free parking, outdoor heated pool, limited kitchens and air conditioned rooms are available. For more information, call (831) 423-3031.

West Coast Santa Cruz Hotel (Dream Inn): This ten-story property is located on a hill overlooking Santa Cruz Beach, near the wharf and the boardwalk, has long been a favorite for locals on a weekend get-away. All of the rooms here face the ocean, and are large and comfortable. The upper level rooms have particularly beautiful views. For more information, call (831) 426-4330.

Aladdin Hotel: If you're looking for an inexpensive, basic room relatively close to the beach, this may be a good option. Rooms are small but serviceable. For more information, call (831)-426-3575.

For more information on Santa Cruz, call the Santa Cruz Conference and Visitors Council at ( 800.833.3494) or 831-425-1234. For more information: Traveler's Guide to Santa Cruz County, California

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