Santa Cruz makes a perfect day trip from San Francisco. There are few different routes you can take down but the Pacific Coast Highway or more commonly the Highway 1 definitely offers the best sights and scenery along the way.
The distance from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is around 70 miles (112km). The drive down takes roughly two hours along Highway 1 but as there are so many cool places to see along the way, it’s good to reserve at least 3 hours for the drive.
1. Mavericks Beach
About 25 miles (40km) south from San Francisco you’ll find Mavericks Beach which lies just north of Half Moon Bay.
Mavericks beach is one of the most famous surf destinations in California as the waves here get enormous due to its unique location. Waves can get up to 16 feet high so it’s definitely not meant for beginners.
The best way to get to the beach is to park at Tide Pools parking lot and walk down the trail until you reach the open ocean.
2. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Roughly 30 minute drive down from Half Moon Bay lies the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1871, it’s the highest lighthouse on the west coast of US.
For those who love it here, there is an option to stay the night at a hostel which is right next to the lighthouse itself. Hike down the coast to get the best views of the lighthouse.
3. Pescadero Village
Many people tend to drive down Highway 1 without realizing there are great places to visit not far from the coastline.
Just a few miles inland from Highway 1 you get to experience a real old farming town feel at Pescadero Village .
This small town has a few great restaurants like Duarte’s Tavern which was first opened in 1894. This place has a proper classic American restaurant feel and the menu includes delicious seafood dishes, sandwiches, steaks and more.
The town has some nice artisan shops, antiques, and souvenir shops with local handicrafts.
4. Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Santa Cruz or “Surf City” is a great beach holiday destination or perfect for a day trip from Bay Area.
The best way to drive into the city is via W Cliff Drive where you get to see amazing coastal views while driving towards the Santa Cruz Wharf and the famous boardwalk.
The city is famous for the Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park. The best ride is arguably the 1924 built rollercoaster, the Giant Dipper.
5. Sunset at Natural Bridges State Beach
Santa Cruz is famous for its beautiful sunsets. One of the best spots to watch the sunset is the Natural Bridges State Beach.