Top Picks for Family-friendly Activities in Santa Cruz  — From exploring local beaches to strolling along West Cliff Drive to building sandcastles on the local beaches, Santa Cruz has many family-friendly activities that can cater to just about any age.

To review our top picks for family activities, please scroll down the page or click on year round or seasonal activities.

Top Year Round Family Friendly Activities

Building sand castles#1 pick — Santa Cruz State Beaches

Picnicking, swimming, building sandcastles, and kite flying are just a few of the activities that you will find at Santa Cruz State Beach. Click here to learn more Half Moon Bay’s outdoor recreational areas. More information at

#2 pick — Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab

100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA  (831-459-3800

Although the facility is only a fraction of the size of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is just big enough to keep families with smaller children engaged through exhibits, aquariums, and especially the touch tanks.  The very low key environment allows children to explore and learn without becoming overwhelmed.  Other activities include touring the marine mammal research overlook, and taking in the beautiful views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Also, between 1 to 3:00 the Center offers craft projects for children.  Adults and older children (10 years+) may enjoy the Marine Mammal Research “behind-the-scenes” tour.  The 75-minute tour starts at 2:15 on selected Thursdays and Sundays of each month.  Be sure to call for information and to reserve your spot on the tour!

Located in: University of California Santa Cruz
Address: 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 459-3800

#3 pick — West Cliff Drive / Lighthouse Field

The wide paved path that parallels West Cliff Dr. is ideal for walking, strolling, biking and skating.  You can also just sit, relax and and take in the sweeping Monterey Bay views from the bluff top benches or watch the surfers at Steamer Lane next to the historic lighthouse.

#4 pick — Gilroy Gardens

3050 Hecker Pass Rd Gilroy, CA 95020 (408) 840-7100

Excellent family oriented theme park — especially for families with younger children. The rides are pretty tame and there are lots of activities geared toward the little ones.

Although the food at the park seems to be better than most theme parks, most families opt to bring their own snacks and drinks. It’s healthier and a lot more cost effective.

Gilroy can be extremely hot in the summer, so make sure to take plenty of water and sun screen! bring their own snacks and drinks. It’s healthier and a lot more cost effective.

Major rating websites rate Gilroy Gardens 4 to 4.5 stars out of 5.  Because of the beautiful gardens and younger children rides and activities, we rate it 4.5 stars. Again, the park is really designed for parents and younger children.

Address: 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy, CA 95020
Phone: (408) 840-7100

#5 pick — The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Yes it is a big tourist attraction with a lot of big scary rides.  But they’ve also done a pretty good job of developing a number of activities and rides for younger children too. And the best part of the boardwalk is its proximity to the beach, waves and the municipal wharf.  When the park crowds become too much, you can always break away and enjoy the beach life.

Major rating websites rate The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 4 to 4.6 stars out of 5.  Children of all ages will enjoy this park. We rate it 4.4 stars.

Address: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 423-5590

#6 pick — Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad

The Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railway Company operates the train between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Roaring Camp.  Although, the beach train ride is enjoyable, our favorite train is the narrow-gauge steam locomotive that operates from Roaring Camp and travels into towering redwood groves, over trestles, and up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain.

Major rating websites rate The Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad 4.5 to 4.6 stars out of 5. We rate it a solid 4.5 stars.

Address: 5401 Graham Hill Rd, Felton, CA 95018
Phone: (831) 335-4484

Hidden Villa#6 pick — Hidden Villa

Located in the Los Altos Hills, it’s worth the drive to visit this real working farm.  Its mission is to educate, and that it does with its organic gardens and animals.  Children love to get up close and personal with chickens, cows, pigs and much more.  Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the afternoon….

Address: 26870 Moody Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Phone: (650) 949-8650


Family Favorite Seasonal Activities

Christmas Tree CuttingChristmas Tree Cutting

During the Holidays, you can create a cherished family memory by cutting your own tree at one of the Christmas tree farms located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. More information at

Santa Cruz Pumpkin PatchesSanta Cruz Pumpkin Patches

A great Fall activity is to take the whole family out to a Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay pumpkin patch and select the perfect pumpkin.  Most of the larger farms have other activities too that range from gigantic hay labyrinth to petting pens to pony rides and haunted houses. More information at

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival 

The Pumpkin Festival has plenty of activities designed specifically for younger attendees.  From face painting to pie eating and pumpkin carving contests, there is something for just about everyone!

Berry PickingBerry Picking

During the Spring and Summer, many local farms between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay open their fields to the public for berry picking.  This can be fun, educational, and yummy activity for the whole family!

Swanton Berry Farm

Swanton Berry Farm is best known for organic berries and produce. They do grow pie pumpkins from mid-October and into November for our made-from-scratch pumpkin pie. Sometimes they bring them to market for a few months. If you are interested in their organic pie pumpkins, call before going to make sure they are available!

Address: 25 Swanton Rd., Davenport, CA 95017






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