Santa Cruz Harbor is a small town best known as a tourist destination and for its University of California campus. As a counter-culture hub, the Santa Cruz Harbor area offers a waterfront celebratory atmosphere where panhandlers sometimes make visitors a bit uncomfortable. Local skaters and surfers rule the traffic. It's an unashamed liberal town that can be intolerant of more conservative views. This beach town's boardwalk and beaches can get crowded in the summer, and there's plenty to see and do, especially for lovers of the outdoors.
Santa Cruz Harbor enjoys year-round mild weather. It has a Mediterranean climate with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. Being on the shores of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz Harbor frequently has foggy, overcast nights and mornings that clear for sunny days and afternoons. Temperatures range from an average of 15°C (60°F) in January to an average high of 24°C (76°F) in September. Most rainfall comes from November through April.
Downtown Santa Cruz Harbor is a great place to take in the town's character and to enjoy the area's great restaurants and unique shops. It also offers an entertaining nightlife. The Beach Boardwalk has been home to an amusement park since the 1900s, and it boasts one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the US that is still being used. Entrance to the boardwalk is free, and rides are inexpensive.
Natural Bridges State Beach is a great place to enjoy nature trails, view shore birds and migrating whales, and watch seals and otters play. Tidepools along the beach offer a view of life beneath the sea, revealing sea stars, crabs, anemones, and other ocean life at low tide. Moore Creek flows to the ocean through coastal scrub meadows that are bright with color in the spring. The park includes a picnic area located in a eucalyptus and pine grove. The area includes tables, barbecue grills, water, and restrooms. The park also has a visitors center that features local natural history. The park's Monarch Grove is the winter home for more than one hundred thousand Monarch butterflies that stay here from October through February. The Monarch Grove is a Natural Preserve, and their winter habitat is protected. Access to the grove is limited to a boardwalk and observation area.
Santa Cruz Harbor is full of great beaches. Main and Cowell Beaches bring many people to the boardwalk during summer weekends. Beginning surfers fill the waters north of the municipal wharf, and beach volleyball games are played south of the wharf. While Steamers Lane is not a beach, it does offer a famous surf break near the lighthouse. The biggest waves come in the winter, and spectators gather there to watch the surfers and sea lions.
Santa Cruz Harbor has many open space parks that provide ample hiking opportunities. The inland wooded parks include redwood groves and rivers where swimmers enjoy the atmosphere of the coastal hills. Wilder Ranch state park, in the hills, offers panoramic views of Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains. It also contains several historic buildings where docents talk about daily life on the ranch. Just north of Santa Cruz Harbor is Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where historic redwood trees adorn the San Lorenzo River and a canyon that transports visitors to a far-away setting. Swimmers enjoy the Big Rock Hole in the park.