Kidding in California: Santa Cruz County
by Bob Carter

How long has it been since you rode a painted pony, ate pink cotton candy, wiggled your toes in the sand, or road a train through the red woods? You and the family can do all this and more when you plan holiday in Santa Cruz County. Situated along California's central coast, the county is located approximately 65 miles south of San Francisco, 30 miles southwest of San Jose, 35 miles north of Monterey, and 375 miles north of Los Angeles.

You'll may want to stay forever. Here's a two-day, family weekend itinerary to get you into the swing of things. Prepared by the Santa Cruz County Convention & Visitors Council, it's designed to give families a quick overview of all the region has to offer. But, I bet once your exploration begins, you'll find dozens of additional things to see, places to go, and experiences to share with loved ones. Be creative! Kick back, relax, and come back often.

Day 1

Start the day as a farmer, but not quite to early. South county has many "U-pick" farms and ranches where your family can pick their own fresh fruit and vegetables. Tour the land, go on a hayride, shop for arts and crafts, and take home lots of fresh produce and other goodies.

A visit to the beach is always fun and Santa Cruz County has miles of shoreline to spark your interest. Try building an architectural masterpiece in the sand, or dip your toes in the water and take home a bucket of shells to remember your visit.

If you're yearning to see more of the sea, take the family on a cruise. Kids love whale watching and the trip can even be educational as you see and learn more about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The Mystery Spot is a section of woodlands, 150 feet in diameter, where the laws of gravity seem to be suspended. It's perplexing, but fun. You can watch a ball rolling up hill, climb the hillside yet find yourself walking as if on level ground, and visit the tilted wooden house, used for the demonstrations, that makes the change in your perspective more obvious. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., plan about an hour to visit. Located about two and miles north of Santa Cruz on Branciforte Drive.,

There's no need to spend the evening in front of a television when you can experience Neptune's Kingdom and Casino Fun Center to play a round of miniature golf, laser tag, or try a high-tech virtual reality attraction.

Day 2
Be up bright and early and take a ride through the redwoods and a trip back in time to the 1880s on a steam locomotive at Roaring Camp. You'll learn about the history of the Santa Cruz Mountains and logging days gone by, as you share the pleasures of a spectacular train ride.

Net, head for one of my favorite spots...The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California's last remaining seaside amusement park. Here the family can spend hours riding the historic Giant Dipper, the 1911 Looff carousel, Pirates' Ship, Log Ride and other enticing attractions. Don't miss trying your skills at Neptune's Kingdom with its two-story miniature golf course.

Take a nature break before the sun goes down and visit Natural Bridges State Park. It's where thousands of monarch butterflies spend the winter months. Don't forget to take time out and explore the tidepools and trails.

Before heading out of town, stop by the Long Marine Laboratory and Aquarium and explore hands-on the tidepool touch tanks and an 85-foot blue whale skeleton. Or, take a bicycle ride. The Bicycle Rental Center has all types of bicycles including mountain, tandem, and ones suitable for children.

The following, listed in no particular order, are a few dining establishments recommended for family dining. Look around and you'll discover many more. There's enough variety to satisfy most any tastes and budget. Many have special kid's menus and prices. Jeffery's Restaurant. Home style cooking, desserts baked on the premises. Pontiac Grill. '50s-style diner complete with soda fountain and awesome hamburgers. Red Apple Cafe. The extensive menu features good food and service. Stellini's. Serves "old-fashioned" burger favorites in a redwood's environment. Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill. Watch the whales pass by while you enjoy your meal. Hobee's Restaurant. Specializing in wholesome meals. Children friendly; kids menu. Tony & Alba's Pizza and Pasta. Good food served in a comfortable family setting.

Santa Cruz County camping facilities are as varied and plentiful as its restaurants. Some of the family-friendly accommodations offer seasonal. Check out several and take your pick. Here are some that might be the perfect spot to build a campfire and snuggle under the covers. In addition to these, several backpacking and primitive campground are available. A word of warning: Many of these parks are extremely popular and it's a good idea to make reservations early to avoid disappointment.


Big Basin Redwoods State Park (408-338-8860; reservations, 800-444-7275)

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (408-335-4598; reservations, 800-444-7275)

New Brighton State Beach Park (408-464-6330; reservations, 800-444-7275)

Seacliff State Beach Park (408-685-6442; reservations, 800-444-7275)

Sunset State Beach Park (408-763-7062; reservations, 800-444-7275)


Carbonero Creek RV Park (408-438-1288; reservations, 800-546-1288)

Cotilllion Gardens RV Park (408-335-7669)

Santa Cruz KOA Kampground (408-722-0551; reservations, 800-562-7701)

Smithwoods RV Park (408-335-4321)

Want to know more? Contact the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council, 701 Front Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, 408-425-1234. They offer a complimentary traveler's guide that provides plenty of family-friendly options. Check their website: //www.scccvc.org/. When you get to the area, pick up a free copy of the publication for families entitled "Growing Up in Santa Cruz." It's a suggestion-packed activity guide and calendar to all that's great about family-oriented activities in Santa Cruz County.

Copyright 1998 by Bob Carter. May be copied for personal use only.

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