Family Vacation in Santa Cruz County: Places for Adventurous Kids 

Many kids have an adventurous streak, and they may have inherited this trait from you: their parents. If you’re planning to visit Santa Cruz County with your family, there are several thrilling activities and exciting venues to explore. Here are a few recommendations to create a successful, adventure-filled family vacation. 


Adventurous older kids and teenagers love the concept of hurling your body speedily down a cable—at soaring heights, no less—and Mount Hermon Adventures is a great place to zipline. Plus, you get to do it amidst towering redwood trees! There are two options: a guided adventure with several zip lines and two sky-high bridges, and an aerial obstacle course that includes swinging logs, cargo nets and cables. Those who want even more thrills can add the Hang Ten (put all 10 toes over the platform and look down to the forest) and the Lean Back (lean out and away from the platform). Note: you must be 10 years old to participate.  


Santa Cruz Harbor is a fantastic place for kayaking. SUP Shack offers single, double, or family kayaks (two adults and one child); lessons; and guided tours – plus SUPs (stand-up paddleboards), boogie boards, and wetsuits. Kayak Connection offers single and double kayak rentals, plus SUPs and boogie boards. Kids five and older are allowed on the water; teenagers 15 and older can get their own boat. There are lots of rental options: for the most adventurous, a 2.5-hour “ocean rental” is recommended. Venture into the vast Monterey Bay to see whales, sea otters, and other creatures in their natural habitats. Or choose to stay and glide across the calm water in the beautiful harbor. Gaze at iconic scenery such as Twin Lakes Beach and Walton Lighthouse.  

Want to visit the waters near the Santa Cruz Wharf? Check out Venture Quest on the Wharf, where kids are welcome. There are single and double kayak rentals including “closed deck” boats for more experienced participants, and SUP rentals. Choose a three-hour or all-day timeframe and explore kelp beds and beyond as you spot seals, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, and whales. 


Gravity-defying experiences await you at Santa Cruz’s Mystery Spot, which entertains adventure-seeking folks of all ages. A bonus: you get to simultaneously enjoy a magnificent redwood forest. After you walk up a steep slope, expect to feel off-balance when you enter the two-room tilted cabin during your tour. Humorous guides will display strange gravitational feats like a ball rolling uphill instead of downhill. This attraction is a California Historical Landmark and is sure to mystify. 


Seeing whales up close opens up a world of wonder. With several whale species in the waters all year long, it’s no surprise this area boasts many whale watching tours. At Santa Cruz Whale Watching via Stagnaro Charters your crew includes marine biologists. You may see dolphins, porpoises, otters, and even sharks! Nomad Sailing Charters and Ocean Safari also have knowledgeable crews plus private sails to witness whales and other ocean creatures. Whichever you choose, you will have fun on your memorable adventure. 


With the twists and turns of roller coasters and rides that go upside down and high in the sky, the Boardwalk is perfect for adrenaline junkies. Add a backdrop of palm trees and a sandy beach: the whole family is happy. Thrill rides include Double Shot, Cyclone, Typhoon, and Fireball. The legendary Giant Dipper roller coaster has been a Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk icon for a century but gained even more fandom from appearing in The Lost Boys. Today’s teenagers recognize the Boardwalk from movies like horror film Us or sci-fi film Bumblebee. Don’t miss the Fright Walk attraction for some scary sights. In between rides, pop into the arcade for video games or Laser Tag.  


Ocean adventurers, from beginners to experts, will find plenty of options in Capitola Village. At the Esplanade, look for the surf and stand-up paddle trailer from Capitola Beach Company—near the patio of Britannia Arms—to rent surfboards, SUPs, boogie boards, and wetsuits. The local business offers surf and paddle lessons, as does Capitola Surf and Paddle. And everyone will love the beauty and convenience of Capitola Beach with volleyball courts on the sand, and lots of tasty food to discover within walking distance.