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Now Is the Perfect Time to Play Hooky in Santa Cruz

Hit the sweet spot between the beginning of the school year and the end of summer.


Summer’s not over, but kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time to head to Santa Cruz, where all that beachy, kitschy, fun summer stuff—from saltwater taffy to wooden roller coasters, from mystery spots to kayaking—is yours for the taking. Shorter lines, sunny beaches, and a few weeks left until Labor Day mean that it’s time to head south and over Highway 17.


Make your way down to the boardwalk and hop on classic rides like the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster first erected in 1924 and immortalized in movies like The Lost Boys and Dangerous Minds, and the Loof carousel, which has been entertaining beachgoers since 1911. When your stomach needs a break, there’s no shortage of entertainment, from the arcade to minigolf to the bowling alley—not to mention free Friday night concerts along the beach. Check out the last three of the season: Blue Oyster Cult (Aug. 21), Smash Mouth (Aug. 28), and Papa Doo Run Run (Sept. 4).

 Penny Ice Creamery, via nielsenarchitects/Flickr

When you’re over all the noise and the funnel cakes, drive over to the Santa Cruz Harbor, where you can rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks from Kayak Connection for $35. Start out in the protected harbor, then make your way into the ocean, or take one of the sunset or wildlife tours.

Drive about 15 minutes outside of Santa Cruz to the Mystery Spot, a “gravitational anomaly” in the redwood forests just outside the city. Take a guided tour to a cabin where water flows uphill and nothing is as it seems. It’s old-school entertainment that’s been around since 1940, sure, but it’s a pretty fun hour to spend in the woods.


On a hot day, head to the Penny Ice Creamery, which churns out small batches of flavors from New Orleans coffee to pluot sorbet. Chef Kendra L. Baker—formerly of Bar Tartine and Manresa—and business partner Zachary E. Davis are so serious about their ice cream that they even make their own custard base.

Or, if you’re looking for something more substantial, go to Assembly, the duo’s rustic California restaurant, which serves dishes like burrata with English peas, mint pesto, and green garlic bread, and flat iron steak with asparagus, fried peanuts, and pickled onions.


As far as location goes, it’s hard to beat the Dream Inn. It’s walking distance to downtown, next door to the wharf and boardwalk, and has a pool and hot tub if you’re not exactly an ocean swimmer. And a laptop-size safe means you can resist the temptation to work.

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