While California’s big cities grab the most attention, the essence of the state’s laid-back vibe can be found in its relaxed, sunny beach towns. Santa Cruz has plenty of exactly that, with an impressive 29 miles of beachfront.
For vacationers looking for a summer escape, Santa Cruz offers good weather and surfing culture—here’s even a surfing museum to commemorate Santa Cruz’s status as the U.S. entry point for the sport when it came over from Hawaii in the 1940s. The sun is almost always shining (300 days a year), a redwood forest is within city limits, and vacationers will find plenty to explore in nearby Carmel, Monterey and Capitola. Not exciting enough for your city slicker kids? Santa Cruz is just 80 miles south of San Francisco.
While the city not being a metropolitan hub means that accommodations in Santa Cruz are usually more low-key and choices are limited, many hotels are right on or very near the beach, and what could be better than that?
1. Beach Street Inn and Suites
With just 45 suites, the Beach Street Inn and Suites can book up quickly, so plan in advance if you want one of these spacious ocean-view rooms with private balconies. The inn’s pool, while standard, overlooks the ocean, so you don’t even have to leave if you want to take a dip. Guestrooms have king and queen beds, kitchenettes with refrigerators, microwaves and coffeemakers, and some suites can sleep six people. Barbecue pits and fire pits are on the property, and while the onsite cafe is just about snacks, there are restaurants within walking distance. Parking is free.
2. Sea & Sand Inn
Like many accommodations in Santa Cruz, Sea & Sand Inn sits right on the beach—but this hotel stands out for its free continental breakfast (served daily), as well as afternoon refreshments from 3 to 5 p.m. (summer only) and in the fall, a nightly wine and cheese reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Rooms range widely in size, and some have kitchenettes, Jacuzzi tubs and separate living areas. DVD players, mini-fridges and microwaves are also available. Given the comparatively low prices and very limited number of rooms, reservations are recommended—even if you’re vacationing months from now.
3. Edgewater Beach Motel
Traveling with your pooch? The Edgewater Beach Motel not only allows dogs for a fee, but there are also two dog beaches within walking distance. With most of the 17 rooms decorated in beach and seaside motifs, this is a homey destination that can accommodate your whole family (some suites sleep up to eight people). Murphy beds, sofa beds and bunk beds make the best use of the space, and many rooms have kitchens, microwaves and coffeemakers. Cable TV and free Wi-Fi are available. Steps from the beach, the hotel also has a heated pool, and a complimentary breakfast is served daily.
4. Dream Inn
If you’re looking for a hotel with plenty of amenities located right on the beach, the Dream Inn might deliver the goods. Each of the hotel’s 165 rooms have balconies with views, iPod docking stations, full baths with rainwater shower heads, 36-inch flat-screen TVs, irons and ironing boards, snack baskets, refrigerators and more. Choose between a king bed or two queens; some rooms also have sitting areas and queen sofa beds. There’s also a heated beachfront pool (with a seasonal swim-up bar), room service and laundry facilities. The oceanfront restaurant, Aquarius, only uses fresh, local produce.. Close to the boardwalk, this isn’t a bargain choice, but it’s likely to be the luxurious beach getaway you’ve imagined.
5. Hampton Inn Santa Cruz
While it’s a 2-mile trek to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the clean (and reasonably priced) Hampton Inn Santa Cruz makes up for it with spacious suites and a complimentary hot breakfast (fresh waffles and pancakes!). The indoor pool is small and there’s no onsite restaurant, but a 24-hour Denny’s is next door.
6. Holiday Inn Express Santa Cruz
While closer to the freeway than it is to the beach, the Holiday Inn Express Santa Cruz is a reliable and clean hotel that’s only a few miles from the city’s hub. The hotel has a heated outdoor pool, a daily breakfast buffet and spacious rooms with mini-fridges, microwaves and flat screen TVs. There’s a fee to park in the underground garage, and the fitness centers and business centers are open 24 hours a day.
7. Chaminade Resort & Spa
Located 20 minutes from the beach, the Chaminade Resort & Spa may be off the beaten path, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot onsite to entertain family. With a heated outdoor pool, four lighted tennis courts, sand volleyball, badminton, croquet and hiking trails, driving to the beach may drop to the bottom of your to-do list. Rooms have sofas, coffeemakers, flat-screen TVs and complimentary Wi-Fi and the largest suite can sleep up to five guests. There’s a spa, as well as two restaurants on the property (plus room service is available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.).
8. Super 8 Santa Cruz Boardwalk East
One of the best family hotels in Santa Cruz, Super 8 Santa Cruz Boardwalk East is an intimate choice (there are just 24 guestrooms) just a few blocks from the beach and boardwalk. While there’s no onsite dining, there’s a free breakfast daily and parking is free. Rooms can sleep up to four people and have mini-fridges, cable TV and free Wi-Fi. An additional family perk? Children under 18 stay free with an adult, and some rooms are pet-friendly.
9. Comfort Inn Beach/Boardwalk Area
Clean and comfortable, The Comfort Inn Beach/Boardwalk Area may not be chic, but it’s walking distance from the beach and boardwalk and offers some appealing amenities. Rooms have mini-fridges, microwaves, in-room coffeemakers, free Wi-Fi and cable TV, and the largest rooms can sleep up to six people with a sofa bed. There’s no onsite restaurant and parking can be a squeeze, but don’t overlook the positive. Customers rave about the service, breakfast is free, there’s an outdoor pool and it’s a centrally-located choice for families on a budget.
10. Ocean Pacific Lodge
Ocean Pacific Lodge provides easy access for disabled guests in first-floor rooms and is just a short walk from the beach and boardwalk. Rooms have amenities like mini-fridges, microwaves, coffeemakers and flat-screen TVs, and rollaway beds are available for $20. Pets can stay for a $30-per-night fee, parking is free, and the onsite pool is heated. While there’s no onsite dining, a free continental breakfast is served daily and there’s a variety of restaurants within easy walking distance. The staff makes an effort to enforce the 10 p.m. quiet time rule, which guests with kids will appreciate.