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 Zone, but that’s not all that’s free! Here’s what you need to know for 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 from June 12th to September 4th at 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM. For a more laid back night on the beach, the Boardwalk also offers free classic movie viewings Wednesday nights from June 17th to August 12th. All you need to do is bring your blankets- and your friends!
2. Concerts and Movies in Capitola
California’s oldest seaside resort town has lots to offer in the spring and summertime. Wednesday Nights June through August, Capitola Beach holds Twilight Concerts that provide a perfect night of free music and dancing. They also offer free movies on four Fridays throughout the summer: August 21st and 28th as well as September 4th and 11th. Capitola also offers free weekend and holiday shuttle, which takes visitors from the parking lot to Capitola Village!
3. Year-Round Events
Have you ever watched sailboat races at sunset? Every week from March 11th through October 28th, the Santa Cruz Harbor hosts the ever popular Wednesday Night Sailboat Races. Have a picnic on beach blanket and enjoy the beauty of the sailboats, sunset and sea. More year round events are accessible on the Visit Santa Cruz County website.
4. Tour the Historic and Eclectic
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. Nearby, a new plaque pays tribute to the Santa Cruz Surf Club. Adjacent to this 55-foot-long mural is the Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge located in the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, where you can find photos and memorabilia from the O’Neill legacy.
5. Go Wildlife Watching Around the County
Free weekly guided nature walks of the Wetlands of Watsonville are an up-close way to experience the area’s bird population. VSCC’s free Wildlife Watching Guide is a great way to get your bearings on where to go and what to look for! Or, head over to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and where the sea lions play and sunbathe. You might even catch a glimpse of a dolphin or sea otter! On weekends, the Wharf offers guided tours where you can learn more about marina research, red tides and more.
6. Discover Museums
Learn about Santa Cruz surfing legends, the farming methods of a bygone era, and more at the following free-admission museums!
- Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
- Agricultural History Project
- San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum
- Capitola Historical Museum
- Aptos History Museum
During the first Friday of every month, these museums offer free admission:
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center features state-of-the art displays, an exploration theater, interactive exhibits and more – and it’s always free to the public! And for those willing to spend a little green, there gift shop is full of unique and wonderful souvenirs to memorialize your visit.
7. Savor Fine Art
Peruse galleries exhibiting the work of local watercolor artists, metal sculptors and more. Free-admission galleries are as follows:
- Parjaro Valley Arts
- Mary Porter Senson Gallery at UC Santa Cruz
- Santa Cruz Art League
- Santa Cruz Mountain Arts Center
You can also take a tour of Annieglass in Watsonville on weekends at 1:30 p.m. or by appointment. Finally, head over to Capitola Village for Art and Music at the Beach on select days in the summer!
8. Get Outdoors!
Hike among the towering Redwoods of Santa Cruz County this spring and summer. California State Parks offer free parking on the second Saturday of every month, a great opportunity for you & some friends to explore scenic paths at Henry Cowell or Big Basin. The 30-acre Arboretum at UC Santa Cruz also offers free admission the first Tuesday of every month – another great place to plant with the some friends for the day!
9. Enjoy the Beach
With 29 miles of coastline, finding an admission-free beach for playing in the surf or lazing the day away on the sand is easy. Favorites include Main Beach, Capitola Beach, Rio del Mar Beach, Twin Lakes Beach & Seabright Beach. Traveling with a four-legged friend? Check out dog-friendly beaches here.
10. Hang Out Downtown
Stroll through Downtown Santa Cruz, where pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets boast unique shops and sidewalk performers. Abbot Square Market hosts a full schedule of events, including outdoor movies, children’s activities, trivia nights and live music! This is a perfect way to spend an evening on a budget.