Both seasoned travelers and those new to overseas travel to the U.S. can benefit from these insider tips when visiting Santa Cruz County. Described as encapsulating just about everything California has to offer – all in one place – Santa Cruz County’s laid-back west coast vibe is what attracts visitors year-round. The region’s agriculture, coastline, redwoods, and a beloved artist community are tremendous sources of pride for locals, and there are a multitude of ways every visitor can experience these unique attractions.  To prepare for your visit, here are a few things foreign travelers should know when planning their trip to “Surf City” Santa Cruz:

Coastal views along Highway 1


Located along the Central Coast, Santa Cruz County, California is approximately 60 miles/96 km south of San Francisco and 349 miles/562 km north of Los Angeles. Many visitors drive scenic Highway 1 along the California coastline to Santa Cruz, or Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Visitors can also choose to fly into San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport or Mineta/San Jose International Airport – which is the nearest airport to Santa Cruz County and an easy 30 mile/48 km drive.

County Orientation

Santa Cruz County is California’s second-smallest county, with San Francisco taking first place. However, diversity here is key: there are a multitude of settings, climates, habitats, and experiences for the long-haul traveler to enjoy in a relatively small amount of space. Santa Cruz County is the northern-most town on the Central Coast of California at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Region. Many regional visitors travel here from California’s capitol Sacramento, San Francisco, and the Central Valley. 

This map and sampling of the destinations around the county will help orient you!

Nicholson Vineyards Winery on the Corralitos Wine Trail


Santa Cruz County enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Warm sunny days turn into cool foggy nights, making the region perfect for agriculture and wine grapes.  Seasonally, the fog may burn off later in the morning or roll in earlier in the evening. Additionally, a variety of microclimates makes some parts of the county feel warmer than others. Dressing like a local means wearing layers of clothing during chillier months: a long-sleeved shirt with a sweatshirt and a light jacket should ensure that you can adjust your wardrobe as the weather changes. Sunglasses, a hat, and comfortable shoes if you’re planning to do some exploring are also a good idea. Of course, Santa Cruz County receives over 300 days of sunshine a year so pack some sunscreen in your bag and you’ll be good to go!


If you’re eating out at a casual restaurant or a café with self-service, tipping isn’t necessary – although many eateries provide a tip jar at the counter. Your change (round up to the nearest dollar) is generally the norm. At restaurants where you have a dedicated waiter, you are expected to tip. A 15 percent tip is standard, but 18 to 20 percent of the total bill is a good rule of thumb. If you’re just sitting down with your drink after ordering it and there’s no table service (such as at a coffee house), tipping is not necessary but a contribution to the tip jar is appreciated!

Shark Fin Cove Beach along Highway 1 in Davenport

Practice Stewardship

In Santa Cruz County, every day is Earth Day! Beaches, parks, forests, and other beautiful spots are a treasured locations that are tended with care from locals. Remember to pack your trash by leaving with what you came with, obey local ordinances and respect your surroundings to help keep our region beautiful!

Sleeping and Eating

Hotel guests should be conscious of their energy use and turn off lights when leaving their room for the day. This small but important practice will help conserve energy and is part of a larger sense of awareness about efforts practiced by Californians statewide.

When in restaurants, you may need to ask for drinking water due to the ongoing drought in California. Be sure to take only what you need to conserve this precious resource.

Fresh flowers at the local Downtown Farmer’s Market

The Santa Cruz County Culture

Whether you want to eat like a local or browse fresh produce, locally-grown flowers, and artisan-made treats at a weekly farmer’s market, or find the best hiking trails and “hidden gems” only Santa Cruz-area folks are aware of, you’ll find nothing but a welcoming atmosphere from friendly locals. Around town, visitors blend effortlessly with the local people. Some visitors are surprised at how friendly Santa Cruzans are. So when in doubt, say “Hi!” and you’ll be greeted in kind.

Health and Hygiene

Although the pandemic is largely behind us, if you are feeling ill stay home, recover, and reschedule your visit to Santa Cruz. We are looking forward to hosting your visit but we want to keep both you and our community safe.  Keep in mind that face masked are no longer mandated indoors, however seasonal face coverings are still a good idea to mitigate the spread of germs. 

Be mindful that since the pandemic, many businesses have ongoing safety measures to protect their staff and customers. When visiting a business or point of interest, please comply with their specific safety guidelines.

Get in Tune!

Ready to start packing? Get in the Santa Cruz spirit with this recommended playlist and follow these local Instagrammers before your arrival to get a flavor of the area.

We’ll see you soon!