If you follow us on Instagram, you already know how alluring Santa Cruz County is on your phone. Yet, nothing compares to experiencing its dazzling scenery and relaxed vibes IRL. Santa Cruz County brims with sunny golden shores, lush redwood groves, and a vibrant surf scene that need no filter. Below, we’ve shared some local Instagram hotspots to fill your feed with mesmerizing imagery—and your followers with FOMO. Just remember to tag us and use #VisitSantaCruz for a chance be featured on our page!
Despite its diminutive size, the charming fishing village of Davenport hides some oversized scenery. After nabbing a pain au chocolat and latte from Whale City Bakery, head across the way to the town’s coastal bluffs where you’ll delight in a seaside garden of vivid wildflowers and colorful ice plant. A blufftop trail offers a primo vantage point for the breathtaking coastline dotted with secluded beach coves carved out by the churning sea. You might also notice the weathered remains of the old Davenport Pier. Yet, ignore the temptation to descend the perilous cliffside, or you’ll be Instagramming the less-than-fabulous interiors of the local ER.
Move over Museum of Ice Cream, these adorable Capitola Beach houses were the original Neapolitan ice cream-colored delights of Instagram. Built circa 1930, the Venetian Court was the work of a Canadian oil millionaire who dreamed of turning Capitola into a second Venice, Italy (note the wooden door carvings that depict Venetian tales). Yet, the colors are pure Caribbean. In the 1960s, the complex was sheathed in an exceptionally un-Instagrammable beige. After one of the homeowners vacationed in Bermuda, they were inspired to paint their facade a creamy pink. The neighbors followed suit, and it became an integral part of the local color.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Awash in creamy pastels and bright marquee lights, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a visual delight. Point your phone in any direction, and the likes are sure to follow: pink cotton candy, the brilliant retro-Googie details of the Octopus’s Garden building (pictured above), or the candy-colored pods of the Sky Glider soaring overhead.
Shark Fin Cove
It’s little wonder Shark Fin Cove became a local Instagram phenomenon. The secluded beach cove tempts with soaring cliffs, a wondrous sea cave, and the monumental, namesake outcrop rising from blue waters just offshore. It’s a favorite locale for night photographers who capture the fin-shaped monolith against a field of stars, and oftentimes, the glowing Milky Way. Yet, you needn’t brave the chilly, wee hours to get the perfect, mesmerizing shot. Snap pics from the shore or peering down from the blufftops above; the dramatic beach cove doesn’t have a bad angle.
Our bronze pal overlooking Steamer Lane is the official greeter to the vibrant Santa Cruz surf scene (we don’t need to tell you that Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing). Dedicated to all surfers “past present and future,” it was commissioned by the Santa Cruz Surfing Club and sculpted by artists Thomas Marsh and Brian W. Curtis. Like us, Marsh is a fan of the many seasonal adornments the statue sports—from floral leis to a Halloween pumpkin head or holiday Santa hat.
The Penny Ice Creamery
Sunny Santa Cruz days—300 days per year to be exact—wouldn’t be the same without the Penny Ice Creamery. Opened in 2010, the humble Santa Cruz shop changed the game with organic ice cream made entirely from scratch in their small onsite dairy. Enjoy rotating seasonal flavors such as Pink Peppercorn with Dirty Girl Farms strawberries and Caramel Doodle with Verve Coffee at their four locales in downtown Santa Cruz, Pleasure Point, Aptos, and Scotts Valley. Just make sure to opt for the toasted marshmallow topping.
Perched at the end of a tetrapod-studded breakwater sheltering Santa Cruz Harbor, Walton Lighthouse is a photo-ready local landmark. Despite it’s classic design, the lighthouse is only 16 years old, named for Derek Walton, a prominent donor’s brother who was lost at sea in WWII. For close-up shots, you’ll have a squeal with delight—and, depending upon how much your camera cost, maybe a little concern—dodging the crashing tide. Or do like us: snap your pic from the Crow’s Nest second floor deck (with happy hour margarita in hand, natch). Bonus points for capturing it during the holidays when the beacon is strung with lights.
UC Santa Cruz Arboretum
Welcome to the jungle! This hidden Westside gem in Santa Cruz’s modern-day Garden of Eden with lush gardens brimming with exotic blooms from the Mediterranean and Pacific islands. Seek out the vivid cactus garden and give your followers what they really want: succulents! Just ask our pals at Santa Cruz Succulents.
Be prepared for several creek crossings on your way to this 30-foot waterfall. Your pics will be a great reward for the 8.5 mile trek along abandoned railbeds and trails tracking Aptos Creek. Situated deep within The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Maple Falls is one of the most popular destinations within the park and a social media mainstay. Need more scenic waterfall hikes? We’ve got you!