Top 10 Things To Do In Santa Cruz in the Fall and Winter

Winter is coming to Santa Cruz! Many people consider the Fall months from late September through late December, and Winter through the end of March, the best time to visit Santa Cruz – especially over the holidays with plenty of organized events, activities and things to do for the whole family.

The weather is still mild with average high temperatures in the low to mid 60's, the Boardwalk and beaches are less crowded, and vacation home rental rates tend to be cheaper.

Here's our list of the Top 10 Things To Do in Santa Cruz during the Fall and Winter months, beyond the semi-obvious things you can do year-round, (lounging at the beach, surfing and paddle boarding, spending the day at the Boardwalk and Arcade, the Santa Cruz Wharf, visiting museums, or shopping and dining in downtown Santa Cruz), in no particular order.

1. Capitola Art and Wine Festival – September 9-10, 2017. You missed it. The good news is that this is an annual event so you can catch it next time. Fun for the whole family with 22 Santa Cruz wineries, gourmet food, fine art, live music, food court, and children's games, music and art. Admission is free. Capitola Village By The Sea. Phone: 831-475-6522. capitolaartandwine.com

2. Chili Cook-Off at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – October 28, 2017. Bring your appetite and some Beano and be prepared to taste a lot of meat and vegetarian chili prepared by some of the best professional and amateur chefs around, competing for top honors. You be the judge. Mark it on your calendars for next year. beachboardwalk.com/Chili-Cook-Off

3. Go Apple Picking – Pick a bag or three of delicious organic, farm-fresh apples at Cal Poly's Swanton Pacific Ranch organic apple orchard in Davenport and then go home and bake an amazing pie. Pick and choose from a number of different varietals – the orchard provides a handy map so you know where to find them all. Apple season runs from August through October. 480 Swanton Road, Davenport, CA 95017. Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday 9am-4pm. No dogs allowed. Tel: 831-458-5410.

4. Monarch Butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park. Starting in mid-October, the black and orange Monarch Butterflies start migrating from colder climates to Santa Cruz's moderate coastal weather and protected eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges, and there are a lot of them. The butterflies usually remain at this beautiful park until about mid-January. Free guided tours are available. santacruz.org/monarch-butterflies

5. Ice Skating at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – November 11, 2017 - January 7, 2018. The Boardwalk's main entrance plaza is transformed into a family-friendly winter wonderland. Skate like Charlie Brown in this special rink by the beach created each year for the holidays.Complete with holiday lights, rides, games and more. Make it a new family tradition. beachboardwalk.com/Boardwalk-Holiday-Ice

6. Holiday Train Rides – November 24 - December 23, 2017. Celebrate the holidays with a festive ride on the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Christmas Train and the Santa Cruz Chanukah Train adorned wiht thousands of colorful lights and operated by Roaring Camp Railroads. All trains depart from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. beachboardwalk.com/Holiday-Train-Rides

7. Capitola's Surfin' Santa – November 25, 2017, 12:00pm - 3:00pm. Forget reindeer, Santa comes to Santa Cruz by way of outrigger canoe and surfboard to the Main Beach at Capitola Village. Admission is Free. Tell Santa what you want for Christmas. Don't forget to bring the kids. master.capitolachamber.com/events/details/surfin-santa-235

8. Lighted Boat Parade – December 2, 2017.  This year marks the 32nd year of this festive parade on the water sponsored by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club, featuring decorated boats parading throughout Santa Cruz Harbor. The parade takes place in the South Harbor between the Murray Street bridge and the gas dock. This year's theme is Holiday Magic. It's family friendly and perfect for all ages. Rain or shine, 5:30pm - 7:30pm, Santa Cruz Harbor, 135 5th Avenue. santacruzharbor.org

9. Watch Elephant Seals Doing It at Año Nuevo State Park. Only 22 miles north of Santa Cruz along scenic Highway 1. Mating, birthing, nursing, fussing and fighting – it all happens on a three mile guided tour over sandy dunes from December 15 through March 31 (although the seals are present year-round). Reservations are recommended.

10. Whale Watching. You stand a very good chance of seeing some California Gray Whales in the Wintertime from December through April as thousands of them pass through the Monterey Bay as they migrate from the cold Arctic Sea to the warmer waters of the Baja Peninsula. Sightings of dolphins, otters, sea lions and other marine mammals are also quite common. You might even see a humpback or two (which are pretty much year round). Take a whale watching tour or a sailing charter for the best close up views. santacruzwhalewatching.com

Of course there's plenty more family-friendly things to see and do in Santa Cruz in the Fall and Winter months – these are just a few of our favorites. What's missing? Let us know what you like to do in Santa Cruz this time of year!

Reduced Winter rental rates for Beach Haven at Seabright are now in effect and with only a two night minimum. Check availability and book.

California Grey Whales can often be seen on the Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz from December to April.

California Grey Whales can often be seen on the Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz from December to April.

Apple picking season runs from August through October.

Apple picking season runs from August through October.

Elephant Seals lounging and doing what they do best at Ano Nuevo in Santa Cruz in the Wintertime.

Elephant Seals lounging and doing what they do best at Ano Nuevo in Santa Cruz in the Wintertime.

Monarch Butterflies seeking a warmer climate migrate to Natural Bridges State Beach every Winter from mid-October to mid-January.

Monarch Butterflies seeking a warmer climate migrate to Natural Bridges State Beach every Winter from mid-October to mid-January.

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