Family fun on California beaches.

By Travel + Leisure
May 29, 2012

On California’s central coast, Santa Cruz is the very model of a beach town, with 29 miles of sand fringed by redwood-filled mountains. The weather is always mild (ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-50s), meaning that a visit here is pleasant any time of year—even during the spring and fall, when the vacation crowds ebb. Roller coasters, beaches, and inns, all cater to families.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Stroll down the old-fashioned strip, chomping on corn dogs and sneaking in an arcade game or two.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Stop by this university laboratory to watch jellyfish, hold starfish, and see the 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton.

Zachary's Restaurant

Start your day with “Mike’s Mess”—a mountain of eggs scrambled with potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon, topped with cheese and sour cream—at this local favorite. Kids, however, opt for the sourdough pancakes.

Seabright Brewery

Hang out on the patio with a burger and microbrew.

Sea & Sand Inn

Just steps from the Boardwalk, the property offers ocean views from every room and a neo-boho attitude that jibes with Santa Cruz’s surf-city heritage. Some of the 22 rooms have fireplaces.

Giant Dipper

Along with a sparkling strand and a gently honky-tonk wharf, Santa Cruz has a boardwalk graced with the Giant Dipper—one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country.

Santa Cruz Dream Inn

Santa Cruz’s only beachfront hotel, the just-renovated 165-room property has morphed (thanks to new management by the Joie de Vivre group) from tired 1960s cinderblock to jaunty retro-chic boutique—and has its own pool to boot. Light-flooded rooms have sliding green shutters, bright yellow 1960’s Panton chairs, and balconies with views of Monterey Bay. Try the fish-and-chips made with local Seabright Brewery beer at the hotel’s Aquarius restaurant.