Free Summertime Fun in Santa Cruz County
Free fun on tap in California’s iconic beach destination
Visiting Santa Cruz County is more affordable than ever. This season, there are plenty of free activities and events to enjoy that won’t cost a penny. Santa Cruz County may be known as a Nuclear-Free and Hate-Free Zones but that’s not all that’s free! Listed below are the top 12 free things to do and see this spring and summer:
1. Visit the “World’s Best Seaside Amusement Park”!
The legendary Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is always admission-free. Enjoy a self-guided free walking tour of this historic seaside gem. The Boardwalk also hosts Free Friday night summertime concerts and other free and fun events! Every Friday night from June 16th through September 1st, bands from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s perform two free concerts at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. And on Wednesday Nights, at 9:00 p.m. from June 21st to August 16th, bring your family and friends, your blankets and low back chairs, and settle in for some free classic movies, right on the sand.
2. Concerts and Movies in California’s Oldest Seaside Resort Town
In Capitola Village, the tradition of free Wednesday Night Twilight Concerts continues in Esplanade Park, adjacent to the beach, June 7th through August 30th. An array of musical styles from jazz, western, Latin, swing, orchestra and rock and roll will perform at this family-friendly venue from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Gather on the sand Friday August 25th, and in September on the 2nd, 8th, and 25th for free movies. Capitola also offers a free weekend and holiday shuttle, which takes visitors from the Crossroads Center parking lot on Bay Avenue to Capitola Village Memorial Day Weekend through mid-September!
3. Year-Round Events
Have you ever watched sailboat races at sunset? Every week, from March 15th through November 1st, the Santa Cruz Harbor hosts the ever popular Wednesday Night Sailboat Races. Have a picnic on a beach blanket and enjoy the beauty of the sailboats, sunset and sea. Visit Santa Cruz County helps find free, fantastic, and always fun events and festivals to enjoy, all with the click of a mouse. For your up-to-date Santa Cruz County event information go to www.LetsCruzEvents.com!
4. Tour the Historic, Eclectic and Nature of the area
A variety of free walking tours bring to life the history of Capitola, the logging days of Boulder Creek, the Victorian homes and public murals of Watsonville, the outdoor art and historical architecture of Santa Cruz, and more. Visit the Jack O’Neill Mural near the Santa Cruz Wharf entrance and see the original site of the O’Neill Surf Shop, a California Historical Point of Interest. Adjacent to the 55-foot-long mural is the Jack O’Neill Lounge located in the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, where you will find photos and memorabilia from the O’Neill legacy. For more information and brochures on these fun free tours, stop by our year-round visitor information center.
5. Wildlife Watching
Free weekly guided nature walks of the Wetlands of Watsonville are an up-close way to experience the area’s bird population. Visit Santa Cruz County’s free Wildlife Watching Guide is a great way to get your bearing on where to go and what to look for. Or, stroll to the end of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and watch the sea lions play and sunbathe, and shorebirds gliding across the sky. You may also catch the glimpse of a dolphin or sea otter. On weekends, take a guided tour on the wharf and learn about marine research, red tides and more.
6. Discover Museums
Learn about Santa Cruz surfing legends, the farming methods of a bygone era, and more at admission-free museums such as the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, Agricultural History Project, San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum, Capitola Museum, and the Aptos History Museum. The Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center and Museum of Natural History offer free admission the first Friday of every month. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center features state-of-the art displays, an exploration theater, interactive exhibits and more and is always free to the public. Visitors can also check out the Seymour Marine Discovery Center for free during Community Days on March 3rd, September 8th, October 6th, and November 3rd.
7. Savor Fine Art
Peruse galleries exhibiting the work of local watercolor artists, metal sculptors, and more. The Pajaro Valley Arts Council, Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at U. C. Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Art League, and Santa Cruz Mountain Arts Center are some of the free galleries you’ll find around town. Guests are invited to take a free studio tour of Annieglass in Watsonville Thursdays - Saturdays at 1:30 pm., or by appointment. For six Sundays throughout summer, Capitola Village is also the place for Capitola’s Art and Music at the Beach from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on June 25th and in July on the 2nd, 16th, and 30th, and in August on the 6th and 20th. And you can check out live music, artist demonstrations and featured loft artists every Thursday at 3:00 p.m. at the Tannery Arts Center Art Market. On the first Friday of each month, visit a wide array of venues and free art exhibits during the First Friday Art Tour. Also, Scotts Valley hosts its Art and Wine Festival August 19th – 20th.
8. Take in a Summer Concert
Summertime means several opportunities for free seaside concerts! Friday nights on Main Beach, original artists and bands from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, sponsored by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, will have you singing along and dancing in the sand to your favorite hits. And in Capitola Village every Wednesday evening, you can unwind at Esplanade Park at a free twilight concert while enjoying a picnic supper on the sand. In Scotts Valley, take in the tunes at Music at Skypark, held the last Sunday of the month from June through August. Visit www.LetsCruzEvents.com for dates and times!
9. Hike Amid Towering Redwoods
A number of parks in Santa Cruz County with great hiking trails are admission-free, including DeLaveaga Park, Quail Hollow Ranch and others. State parks like Big Basin Redwoods State Park or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park charge a small fee for parking; other parking fees vary. And for more things to do outdoors, Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville boasts a Championship Disc Golf Course. You can also play disc golf at DeLaveaga Park and San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz.
10. Enjoy the Beach
With 29 miles of coastline, finding an admission-free beach for playing in the surf or lazing away on the sand is easy. Favorites include Main Beach, Capitola Beach, Rio del Mar Beach, Twin Lakes Beach and Seabright Beach. Are you traveling with your pooch? Browse our website to find dog-friendly beaches as well as other attractions, restaurants, hotels and events that welcome your pup!
11. People Watch, Window Shop and Enjoy Art
Stroll Downtown Santa Cruz, where pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets boast unique shops and sidewalk performers. Pick up a Sculp-Tour Walking Tour Map from Visit Santa Cruz County and discover the new sculptures installed in Downtown Santa Cruz as part of a rotating public art exhibit. Or peruse collectibles and treasures at the outdoor Antique Faire held the second Sunday of every month from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (weather-permitting).
12. Explore Magical Gardens
Wander through bamboo gardens, smell the scents of rare roses, and see exotic plants from around the world. Bamboo Giant Nursery, Roses of Yesterday and Today, Sierra Azul Nursery and many other gardens are free to explore. The Arboretum at UC Santa Cruz offers free admission the first Tuesday of every month. Also located at UC Santa Cruz, enjoy free docent-led tours of UCSC Farm & Alan Chadwick Garden year-around between 8AM and 6PM.
In addition, visitors who choose to travel mid-week can save money on lower hotel rates. And, Visit Santa Cruz County makes it easier than ever to plan a vacation online with lodging and booking information available at www.VisitSantaCruz.org. Special summertime activities like surfing, kayaking, and visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or Roaring Camp Railroads can all be arranged online.
If you’re on foot, head over to the year-round visitor center at 303 Water Street in Santa Cruz, where you can find free information on a variety of topics, as well as Santa Cruz County Traveler’s Guides, Bicycle Adventure Kits and Wildlife Viewing Kits.