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About Santa Cruz

A city of 250,000 with 300 days of annual sunshine, mild weather and 29 miles of beaches, Santa Cruz attracts nature lovers and naturists, artists and artisans, environmentalists and entrepreneurs.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk dominates the waterfront, featuring a 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1923 Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster, both National Historic Landmarks. In the water, average surfers prefer Cowell's, Capitola and Manresa Beaches while the top dogs seek world-class waves at Steamer's Lane. For those who'd rather sun than shred, Santa Cruz County's clothing-optional beaches include Bonny Doon and Red, White and Blue Beach. The 70-foot sailing yacht Chardonnay II offers bay cruises and a chance to join the Wednesday Night Regattas, when over 80 sailboats race just for fun.

Migrating monarch butterflies winter at Natural Bridges State Park, clustering in trees to keep warm and fluttering away in an orange-and-black cloud when morning sunlight strikes them. At Ano Nuevo State Beach, over 150,000 elephant seals swarm the sand every winter. Docent-guided tour groups marvel at mothers and pups lying undisturbed by the 2.5-ton males' bellowing battles for mating rights.

In the surrounding old-growth redwood forests, hikers tread Big Basin State Park's trails while Roaring Camp Railroad carries picnickers from forest to sunny beaches just like it has since 1875. Also in the mountains is the Mystery Spot. While clever use of perspective is the most plausible explanation for balls appearing to roll uphill and other puzzling effects here, some theorize that extraterrestrials buried metal cones in the hillside to guide their spacecraft.

Zachary's, Walnut Avenue Café or The Crepe Place serve hearty breakfast fuel for a day of surfing, sunning or shopping. Miramar Fish Grotto and Crow's Nest are top-rated seafood restaurants, and Casablanca offers great views and a romantic setting. Locals-in-the-know wait hours outside Pink Godzilla for their ocean-fresh sushi and innovative sushi rolls.

The Sea and Sand Inn, Coast Santa Cruz Hotel, Hilton, Hampton Inn, Terrace Court Motel and Best Western are good hotel options. If a B&B is your cup of tea, Pleasure Point Inn sits just across the street from the ocean and Babbling Brook Inn’s rooms have old-world artist themes. For a cheap sleep, try Santa Cruz Youth Hostel’s Carmelita Cottages.

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