Beach Town Getaway: Santa Cruz

This laid-back summer destination is a university town with a famous beachside boardwalk
Sea Swings at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photograph by Thomas Hawk

GETTING THERE Southwest flies nonstop from John Wayne Airport to San Jose International. Rent a car and drive 45 minutes to Santa Cruz.

LODGING The Dream Inn ($309 and up) was built to ensure that every guest enjoys an ocean view. Paying tribute to the town’s surfing roots, the hotel’s bar is suitably named the Jack O’Neill Lounge, after the local surf legend. Just outside, a mural tells his life story through large black-and-white photographs. O’Neill, who still lives locally, collaborated extensively with the hotel on the project.

DINING For lunch, try Stagnaro Bros., near one end of the boardwalk. You can’t go wrong with a plate of its classic fish ’n’ chips ($16). Lightly battered and served with lemon wedges, the fish is just what you want after a morning stroll. Also stop by The Pacific Cookie Company—now in its 35th year. One of its most popular varieties is the Almond Joe, with toasted almonds, coconut, and chocolate chips, but we also love the Mint Condition and Lemon Drop ($1 each).

CAFFEINE For a latte that dreams are made of, stop at Verve Coffee Roasters. The line out the door is almost as long at 2 p.m. as it is at 9 a.m., a testament to just how good it is.

ACTIVITIES Open year-round, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum ($5) contains an impressive display of more than 300 plant families. Downtown’s BookShop Santa Cruz is the perfect spot to grab your beach-day reading. It even has a section devoted to local authors. And no Santa Cruz evening is complete without a beach boardwalk stroll. Have some fun at the arcade, or give your lungs a workout on the Giant Dipper ($6), a 70-foot-tall wooden roller coaster that’s been operating since 1924.

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