Micro Tour: Santa Cruz Harbor

Nestled in the center of the coastal expanse that stretches across Santa Cruz County is the Santa Cruz Harbor. The Harbor is a relatively small coastal nook with a ton to offer visitors and locals looking for a perfect 24 hours of great food, beach time, and ocean activities. Whether kayaking on the tranquil waters, enjoying fresh seafood with waterfront views, or watching the sunset on a yacht, this itinerary has something for everyone. So pack your sense of adventure and appetite and escape to Santa Cruz Harbor for a day of coastal bliss.


Photo by Monica Multer

Start your morning in the Harbor with some great coffee and breakfast at an assortment of great local businesses serving the Santa Cruz community for years. If you want to stay directly in the harbor area, grab breakfast at Cafe Palomar, which has beachfront views and delicious casual Mexican fare. Then head next door to Java Junction for your morning caffeine fix while sitting out front to watch beach volleyball players frolic in the sun. Or, if you’re willing to head just a few blocks away, the classic breakfast institutions of Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe and Harbor Cafe have some of the best brunch services in town! Around the corner from the Seabreeze Cafe is Verve’s coffee roastery, where you can enjoy some of the best coffee in town.

Photo and Header Photo by Liz Birnbaum, The Curated Feast

After fueling up with breakfast and caffeine, visitors can spend the morning on either side of the harbor enjoying the fantastic state park beaches. Seabright State Beach is on the north side of the harbor and has bonfire pits, a stony rock outcropping with views of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and the Walton Lighthouse, which you definitely have to visit if you explore the harbor area. Twin Lakes State Beach is on the harbor’s south side, lined with great food spots, and backed by Schwann Lagoon, where visitors can take a quick walk. Either side of the Harbor offers an excellent beach experience!

If you want to head out onto the water, there are excellent fishing charters and whale-watching expeditions that leave from the harbor in the mornings and will let you experience our local wildlife firsthand! Want a more hands-on experience? Try a stand-up paddle tour with SUP Shack or a kayaking adventure with Kayak Connection.


Photo by Ben Ingram

With a sunshine-filled morning spent enjoying good eats and beach time, begin your afternoon either with some water activities or a great lunch. The Harbor has options to rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and sailboats so everyone can find something great to do in the water. If you prefer to stay on land, you can hike in Arana Gulch Open Space Park, which backs up to the harbor. This beautiful little park has cows, river views, and harbor overlooks, making it a great afternoon adventure spot. Families can head to Frederick Street Park, a great local spot with playgrounds, dog parks, a mini-skate park, and shady picnic spots. Another great spot to visit in the afternoon is the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum, the best little museum around! The cement whale out front is an icon of Santa Cruz, and the museum has been serving the Santa Cruz community for over 100 years.

Enjoy lunch on the water at spots like Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant or the Crow’s Nest Beach Market. Both places are directly on the water in the Harbor and serve great food. Aldo’s has excellent seafood fare, and the Beach Market for the Crow’s Nest has grab-and-go sandwiches and pizzas that are perfect for the beach. Or head just outside the Harbor to Seabright Deli for excellent sandwiches.


Photo by Rachael Anne Photography

As evening approaches, make your way to Johnny’s Harborside for a relaxing dinner with waterfront views. This casual restaurant offers an extensive menu with options for everyone. Enjoy their fish and chips, seafood pasta, or juicy burgers as you watch the sunset over the harbor. You can also head to The Crow’s Nest for a nightcap with a view. This lively restaurant and bar overlooks the harbor, providing the perfect ambiance for a relaxing evening. Sip on a cocktail or local craft beer as you reflect on the day’s adventures and enjoy the twinkling lights of the boats in the marina. Just a short stint from the Harbor, several great dinner restaurants like La Posta and Tramonti also serve delicious Italian food.

Finish up your day anywhere in the Harbor to enjoy a spectacular ocean sunset. Spend your evening on a sunset cruise aboard a yacht charter like the Chardonnay or the O’Neill Yacht Charters to experience Santa Cruz from the ocean. Enjoy the sunset sipping wine and eating pizza aboard the Chardonnay or glide on a giant catamaran aboard the O’Neill. Both are exceptional opportunities to see a unique side of Santa Cruz. Whether you go out on the water or not, every corner of the Harbor is a perfect scenic spot to sit back and watch the cascading colors of the sun descend into darkness.

This 24-hour itinerary offers just a glimpse of the many experiences this coastal gem has to offer. Whether you’re exploring the harbor by kayak, savoring fresh seafood with waterfront views, or watching the sunset on a cruise, you’ll find yourself immersed in the beauty and charm of this seaside destination. Small but mighty, the Santa Cruz Harbor is full of adventure, just waiting to be discovered.