Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Santa Cruz County delivers added value once summer ends, when mild temperatures, fewer crowds, and lower hotel rates help make travel more affordable. This season, there are plenty of free activities and events that won’t cost a penny. Below are a few of our favorite tips! For more info, check out our Top 12 Free Things to Do in Santa Cruz County for Fall and Winter.
Photo by Mark Barnes
Watsonville and Pajaro Valley
The Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery is a free gallery, open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM. From there, take a free studio tour of Annieglass, also located in Watsonville, Thursdays through Saturdays at 1:30 PM or by appointment. Move outside and experience a free walking tour that brings to life the history of the Victorian homes and public murals of Watsonville. Venture a bit further into nature by joining a free weekly guided nature walk of the Wetlands of Watsonville, which offers an up-close way to witness the area’s bird population. Be sure to pick up a copy of Visit Santa Cruz County’s free Wildlife Watching Guide, which is a handy tool for knowing where to go and what to look for. For more fun in the South County outdoors, pack your disc and play a round or two at Pinto Lake County Park’s Championship Disc Golf Course.
Bonus: Watsonville turns 150 this year, and the city has compiled a comprehensive guide of 150 things to do and see in Watsonville. (Take note, some of these items may not be free!)
The Monte Foundation is coming back to Capitola on October 8th with their fireworks fundraiser on the wharf. You'll definitely want to check out the mysterious “Missing Arm of William Waddell” event at Big Basin Redwoods State Park on Saturday, October 20th. Before appearing in countless parades and department stores, Santa rides onto Capitola Beach on Saturday, November 24th for free visits with families. Accompanied by wetsuited “reindeer,” Surfin’ Santa then settles into a beach chair to greet children and families with candy canes and cheer. Or check out the Lighted Boat Parade at the Harbor on Saturday, December 1st.
In fact, there are over 100 free year-round events throughout Santa Cruz County hosted annually at www.santacruz.org!
California Coast Redwoods
You don’t have to spend green to see green! A number of great hiking trails and parks throughout Santa Cruz County are admission-free, including DeLaveaga Park and Quail Hollow Ranch, among others. State parks like Big Basin Redwoods and Henry Cowell Redwoods charge a small parking fee, but if you plan your trip for the second Saturday of the month, your parking will be free (fee waived the second Saturday of every month through 2018)! Want a more interactive experience in the great outdoors? Play disc golf at DeLaveaga Park and San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz.
Photo by Dianne Derin
On Campus at the University of California, Santa Cruz
There are no student loans required to soak in the gorgeous sights of the university, which sits atop a steep hill and boasts rolling fields and elusive charms around every turn. Start at the base of campus, where the Arboretum offers free admission the first Tuesday of every month. Take a self-guided tour of the unique UCSC Farm & Alan Chadwick Garden, free every day year-round between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. On the other side of campus, discover Pogonip Open Space; take the Rincon Trail down to the eastbound Spring Box Trail, and a few steps will lead you to a spring-fed koi pond underneath a redwood tree. After you head back to the Rincon Trail, veer north and you’ll come upon 19th century limestone kilns and a spectacular rock garden decorated with handwritten notes left by visitors.
In addition, travel mid-week and save money on hotel rates! Information and ideas for summertime fun like surfing, kayaking, and visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or Roaring Camp Railroads can all be found online at www.VisitSantaCruz.org. Or chat in person with us at our visitor center, located at 303 Water Street in Santa Cruz. We have a variety of free materials that you can take with you, like the Santa Cruz County Traveler’s Guide, Bicycle Adventure Kit, and Wildlife Watching Kit.