Santa Cruz is best known for its attractions located along the boardwalk. From rides like the Giant Dipper and Cyclone, games like Break-a-plate and Bob’s Fishing hole, to eateries like Corndogs & Fries, it’s hard to run out of things to do while exploring the famous amusement park. However, this colorful beach town has much more to offer besides touristy carnival rides and fresh-dipped corndogs.

To get a better idea of less known restaurants to try and activities to enjoy during a day visit to Santa Cruz, I spoke with a few locals to learn about their favorite places to eat and things to do. Food brings people together like nothing else. It’s typically at the end of a long day when we sit with our loved ones over the course of a meal to catch up and rekindle connections as well as immerse ourselves in rich cuisine. Fortuantely, Santa Cruz has many delicious local eateries where we can continue to enjoy the universal language that is food.

Straight from the locals’ mouths, one place I know and love that everyone has to try is Taqueria Los Pericos. Open since 2000, Los Pericos is well known for its generous portions, high quality dishes, and authenticity. Although a low profile hole in the wall at first glance, the diverse line of college students, families with kids, and business people that usually goes out the door is hopefully enough to persuade newcomers to give this taqueria a try… and then come back again and again. Whatever you order (and there is a lot to choose from), be sure to visit the condiment bar and pick up one hot pepper (that’s all you need) along with your preferred sauces if you like a good kick.

Among others, Point Market on East Cliff Drive is another great place, especially for breakfast burritos. For desserts, The Buttery is a great place for a wide variety of fresh, custom-made pastries (it’s also known to make the best wedding cakes in the Santa Cruz area for those getting married) and The Penny Ice Creamery for organic, made-from-scratch… you guessed it, ice cream. Although there are many more restaurants to discover, hopefully this variety inspires some to take a trip down to beautiful Santa Cruz. 

There are many activities that go beyond the thrilling and family rides from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that can pique the interests of many. There are numerous beaches in Santa Cruz to explore, hold bonfires at, and to go surfing. For those looking to surf, favorite locations seem to depend on the crowds and time of day, but 26th Avenue Beach and The Hook are two popular spots that came up a couple times among those I spoke with. Nonetheless, there are many beaches for newcomers to traverse through on their own and see which beaches speak to them. For those who love nature, there is Wilder Ranch State Park, which is great for Mountain biking, and Nisene Marks State Park, which is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains with over 10,000 acres of terrain and many trails to discover. For those cold days or for the crowd who prefers the indoors, Bookshop Santa Cruz is a wonderful independently owned bookstore that is curated towards the interests of its local readers with its wide selection of new and used books as well as sections for magazines, gifts, cards, and toys. It’s pleasantly surprising that a local family-owned book store has successfully stayed open and has been passed on to different generations since 1966; its success goes to show what a community favorite it is. Although these activities and locations only scratch the surface of the gems scattered throughout Santa Cruz County, it is a wonderful reminder that Santa Cruz is made up of more than its common tourist attractions.