Top 5 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz is great year-round, but the winter months offer some very special reasons to visit our beach town that you might not expect. During the winter months, Santa Cruz gets quieter, and life moves slower. If you’re interested in experiencing Santa Cruz like a local, winter time is your chance! While Santa Cruz is known for soaking up the sunshine in the summer months, winter provides a unique way to experience some of Santa Cruz’s best features like huge waves, extremely low tides, and even monarch migrations! If you’re considering exploring Santa Cruz in the winter, here’s a short list of the top 5 best ways to enjoy the area during the holiday season.

Yearly Christmas decorations at 2580 Bean Creek Rd in Scotts Valley

1. ) Go Christmas Lights Viewing

Watching Santa Cruz come to life with Christmas lights is the best way to get in the spirit of winter festivities! December kicks off with the Lighted Boat Parade at the Harbor where 50 beautifully-decorated power and sailboats parade through the Santa Cruz Harbor. This year, you can watch the boat parade at 5:30 pm on December 3rd, 2022. Another great spot for Christmas lights and decorations is Farley’s Christmas Wonderland in Midtown, a walk-in Christmas experience. This festive exhibit celebrates the traditional wonders of Christmas and visitors can wander through elf villages, sit on fairy benches, and enjoy the holiday spirit. The Farley’s is open from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year’s day. Across all of Santa Cruz, locals get in the holiday spirit and decorate their homes with fantastic displays of Christmas lights you have to see to believe. From iconic homes like 2580 Bean Creek Rd in Scotts Valley to neighborhoods like Depot Hill in Capitola, just driving around to find your favorite decorations is a wonderful way to enjoy winter here in Santa Cruz.

Post Street Farm Christmas Trees and Wreaths

2. ) Pick the Perfect Christmas Tree

If you’re looking to get into the festive spirit by shopping for Christmas trees, Santa Cruz has a wealth of local farms to support. Whether you want to visit Post Street Farm in the heart of the city or head into the Santa Cruz mountains for a u-pick farm like Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm, there is an option for everyone! At Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm you choose your own tree and cut it or grab a pre-cut tree. You can even have a picnic at this location and enjoy tree swings for some holiday fun while finding your tree of choice. Post Street Farm offers pre-cut trees and beautiful holiday wreaths all without ever having to leave Santa Cruz! Several Christmas tree lots in the area give locals and visitors many choices to find their perfect Christmas tree.

A Monarch Butterfly feeding on nectar

3. ) Witness the Monarch Migration

The Monarch butterflies congregate in Santa Cruz and the wider Monterey area around mid-October through mid-February, with a peak season of November – January. Santa Cruz is home to Natural Bridges State Park, the only State Monarch Preserve in California, and it welcomes thousands of monarchs each winter. At the beginning of October, the monarch butterflies flood into Santa Cruz looking to escape colder weather along their migration route and stay here throughout the winter to enjoy our moderate coastal temperatures. The butterflies cluster on the eucalyptus branches and form a “city in the trees,” according to State Park officials, that offer visitors a perfect viewing opportunity of these little wonders. Winter is also the best time to enjoy our other small creatures like the banana slug or the California newt, which emerge during the winter’s wetter months. For more winter wildlife viewing information, check here.

Sea Anemones and Abalone Shells in a tide pool at Scott Creek Beach

4. ) Experience Winter Swells and King Tide Lows

Experience Santa Cruz’s abundant coastal life in an entirely new way during the winters as the extreme tides and rising winter swells transform the ocean. The yearly predictable tidal event known as King Tides, which features the year’s highest and lowest tides, allows visitors to experience the extreme ends of coastal life. This year’s King Tides will take place on December 23 and 24, 2022, and January 21 and 22, 2023. During the winter months, the wind frequently blows from offshore, resulting in huge swells and consistently good surfing conditions that make winter one of the best times to surf in Santa Cruz. Whether you’re interested in exploring tide pools to find colorful sea anemones and starfish or hitting the waves on your surfboard, winter offers the best of the ocean!

The Sunset from West Cliff Drive

5. ) Watch Spectacular Winter Sunsets

During the winter months here in Santa Cruz, the sunsets are truly phenomenal. The early setting sun sets the sky on fire with deep rich pink, orange, and red colors that will leave you awestruck. Santa Cruz winters bring cooler weather and rain, resulting in low humidity and crisp clean air. As a result, the winter air contains fewer particulates that can dull sunset colors or leave the air looking hazy. The daily light show of sunsets that look more like paintings than reality is best viewed in the Santa Cruz area between November and February. Find the best sunset viewing spots in the winter along West Cliff Drive or north at the beaches and bluffs along highway 1 near Davenport like Four Mile Beach or Davenport Landing.

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