Colorful sea swings and riders high above on the Beach Boardwalk, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, CA

Are you searching for a great town to explore on a 4-Day solo getaway? Then look no further than Santa Cruz, California: a historic coastal city that offers visitors the perfect mix of relaxation, adventure, and natural beauty.

Located approximately 75 miles south of San Francisco and 115 miles southwest of Sacramento, Santa Cruz is home to the University of California at Santa Cruz (go Banana Slugs!), boasts miles of ocean beaches and redwood forests, and has a charming downtown area filled with unique stores, tasty restaurants, and fun attractions.

A rattan Vespa inside Santa Cruz Bay Company on the Wharf, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana
A rattan-covered vintage Vespa adorns the window of Santa Cruz Bay Company | photo © Kate Dana

Whether you want to lounge on the sand, explore the Beach Boardwalk, or indulge in some delicious cuisine, Santa Cruz has something for everyone.

Sound good? Heck yes, it does. Let’s venture out into this legendary coastal gem with our 4-day solo getaway guide!

Day 1: Explore the Downtown Area

As a solo traveler in downtown Santa Cruz, California, you’ll appreciate all that there is to see and do. This vibrant coastal city is home to many attractions, ranging from the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the eclectic and diverse Pacific Avenue.

To kick off your 4-day getaway, head over to Cafe Brasil (1410 Mission Street) where you’ll find traditional Brazilian food and juices served in a cute, colorful restaurant house. They only do breakfast and lunch here, which means it’s OK to fill up on grilled fish and farofa, even if you want it for your first meal of the day.

A generous plate of delicious fish and farfoa with rice at Café Brasil, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Following your tasty brunch, make your way to Pacific Avenue, where you can explore the many surf shops, art galleries, and bookstores, including Book Shop Santa Cruz: an L-shaped bookseller offering unique items that easily double as souvenirs like humorous towels and UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs-themed tote bags.

A humorous towel reads “No One Wants to Watch You Eat that Banana,” just one of many gifts available from the Santa Cruz Book Shop during a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Next, immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Located near expansive Seabright Beach, the museum, or MAH as it is known by most, showcases the city’s rich history and artistic heritage while providing visitors with a fresh perspective on local and national talent.

The entrance to the eclectic Bookshop Santa Cruz, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

While you’re in the area, don’t miss a long walk on lovely Seabright Beach before heading up to Cliff Drive Vista Point. Soak in the sun, turn your face to the light, and show some love for Santa Cruz!

The welcome sign for Seabright State Beach, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Finally, head out on Seabright Avenue to a café for an afternoon libation. Popular spots like the Seabreeze Café and Verve Coffee Roasters offer delicious hot and iced beverages to take you through the evening.

If an afternoon coffee isn’t your thing, zip down Broadway across the San Lorenzo River and check out local favorites like Lupuló Craft Beer House, featuring global and local brews.

The outside view of patio tables on a warm, sunny evening at Lupuló Brewing in Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

After a spell at Lupuló, head over to Woodhouse Blending & Brewing, a short drive out of downtown and totally worth the journey for spectacular flights of beer and live music on the outdoor patio.

Whatever your interests may be, downtown Santa Cruz has a variety of spots for a solo traveler looking for an unforgettable experience.

Day 2: Enjoy the Beach Boardwalk and Wharf

On your second day in Santa Cruz, you can experience the same exhilarating rides and attractions entertaining visitors for over a century when you visit the Beach Boardwalk and the Wharf.

A person smiles at the camera at the entrance to the Beach Boardwalk as part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

From the iconic (and slightly scary) 100+-year-old wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, to the lounging enormous sea lions, the boardwalk and the Wharf are must-see landmarks for anyone traveling solo.

Use this handy interactive map to BOOK NOW and SAVE on places to stay near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

With a rich history dating back to 1907, The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic California landmark. As a solo traveler, the boardwalk offers a unique blend of nostalgia, adventure, and entertainment, with just enough fresh-air fun to make you feel like a kid again.

The colorful rides on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

In addition to the rides, the boardwalk is home to an enormous arcade filled with vintage and new pinball machines, modernized laser tag, and classic games like my favorite, Skee Ball.

Editor’s Note: One solo weekend birthday getaway, I visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and was in awe of the vintage Skee Ball arcade. I spent several hours tossing palm-sized, hard wooden balls into a huge target, bowling-ball style and used up all my points on my Boardwalk Card. (Being a Skee Ball nut, it was totally worth every dime!)

Vintage Skee Ball arcade games lined up at the Beach Boardwalk, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

The Beach Boardwalk is open on Saturday and Sunday during the “off-season” (fall, winter, and spring when it’s colder) and daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is free, and games and rides come with their own price points. Special coupons, information about season passes and wristbands, and operating hours are available on the Beach Boardwalk’s website.

Colorful surfboards in the background with a smiling solo traveler on the Beach Boardwalk, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

The Beach Boardwalk offers super-fun (but not always super-healthy) food, from traditional treats like funnel cakes and cotton candy to more substantial items like tacos and clam chowder.

One place to visit is Marini’s, a candy and sweets store selling salt water taffy, fine chocolates, handmade fudge, and other confections to Boardwalk visitors since 1915.

Colorful Sea Swings on a carousel in the sky with a hand holding a piece of fudge from Marini’s Treats Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Located very close to the Beach Boardwalk is the equally-iconic Santa Cruz Wharf. Completed in 1914, the Wharf is the longest wooden pier in the United States. It measures about 837 meters (2,745 feet) and is supported by over 4,400 pilings made of Douglas fir. 

The Wharf features a collection of fantastic shops and eateries, with everything from 5-star dining to grab-and-go gelato: the perfect snack for a walk with a view of the Beach Boardwalk and Pacific ocean.

A person enjoys a cup of gelato from Riva fish market next to a bamboo wall on the Santa Cruz Wharf, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Riva Fish House is famous for its thick clam chowder and huge fish platters, but insiders know they also serve gelato made by The Latest Scoop in Berkeley, CA. The slow-churning process removes all air content, yielding dense, creamy results. Riva’s flavors vary by season. Recommended if they have it: Sea Salted Caramel.

For solo travelers, the boardwalk and Wharf are great spots to people-watch and soak up the lively atmosphere. Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline rush from the rides or just a place to relax and enjoy the ocean views, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Wharf are excellent destinations to find and reconnect with your inner kid.

A view from The Wharf looking over the water to the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Day 3: Bike Ride In and Out of Town

If the weather is sunny and warm on your third day in Santa Cruz, you’ll discover a fantastic place to explore by bicycle. Even if there are clouds in the sky, you can still enjoy a few hours of riding through friendly neighborhoods and along the beach.

From the city to the beach, a bicycle is a great way to see the area during a 4-Day Solo Getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Tower Elect Bikes for Unsplash

Whether you bring your own set of wheels or rent them from one of many bike rental places, you’re sure to have fun with so much to see and do. Santa Cruz is full of colorful, quirky shops, busy cafés, and stunning ocean views sure to wow solo visitors of all ages.

Since it is such a bike-friendly town, many streets in Santa Cruz feature paths and lanes dedicated to bikes and public racks for locking up your bicycle to avoid theft.

Be sure to lock up your bicycle when you’re out in the area during a 4-Day Solo Getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Depending on the type of bike you rent, the cost may range from $25 to $75 a day. Beach cruisers, for example, typically are not as expensive as fixed-gear road bikes or multi-geared mountain models.

Consider the riding you want to do and your hotel or hostel to make a recommendation. It seems like everyone knows someone who has what you want in Santa Cruz. Once you’ve found a shop, ask their staff or a local expert for their advice and their favorite place to ride!

From beach cruisers to fixed gears, a bicycle is a great way to see the sights on a 4-Day Solo Getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

If you venture out of town on your bicycle, you’ll find several winding trails that will take you through lush redwood forests and parks, where you can soak up the fresh California air and enjoy the surroundings. The campus of UC Santa Cruz is amid tall trees, and some parts are open to the public, but be sure to ask the security staff posted at the entrance before entering.

A field on the UCSC campus overlooking the downtown and ocean, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

There are also trails along roadways with scenic views of the ocean and seaside cliffs, including the West Cliff Drive Bicycle Path, which starts at the Santa Cruz Riverwalk and is a mostly-flat ride ending at the Natural Bridges State Park, with lovely views along the way.

From challenging uphill climbs to leisurely rides along the coastline, a day spent on a bicycle in Santa Cruz is a great way to enjoy the area. So, hop on your bike and get ready to discover the beauty of this charming coastal town!

The Redwoods are a gorgeous place to visit and make part of your 4-Day Solo Getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Caleb Jones for Unsplash

Day 4: Check out Capitola and Chill

On your fourth day as a solo traveler in Santa Cruz, you’ll love visiting nearby Capitola, with its colorful seafront houses and charming, small downtown. The short journey to this cute coastal town is a treat in itself, with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A yummy slice of pizza inside Paradise Pizza, perfect for a 4-Day solo getaway in Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Depending on your route – East Cliff Drive past Soquel Point is an easy, slower favorite – you’ll pass right by iconic surf spots like Opal Cliffs and Pleasure Point, two locations boasting delicious pizza and coffee places to stop for a quick bite.

Editor’s Note: Californians and cinema buffs alike agree on the theory that Alfred Hitchcock’s cult classic drama/horror film The Birds was loosely inspired by an aggressive attack on people by poisoned birds that happened in Capitola in 1961.

As you arrive in Capitola, you’ll see a small, vibrant downtown area filled with quaint shops, art galleries, and delightful breweries and eateries. Many places offer outdoor seating for patrons to enjoy nearby sea breezes. You may notice that, in Capitola, it feels good to sit and chill.

A kite flies past a lifeguard stand on the sand of Capitola Beach, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Since Capitola is a small town, exploring its hidden gems on foot is easy. Take a stroll along Capitola beach as the sun sets and catch a glimpse of paddleboarders and kayakers basking in the twilight, making the most of the day.

A curved iron sign welcomes a walking guest to the long, wooden Capitola Wharf, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

Editor’s Note: the winter storms of 2022 in California beat down Santa Cruz and Capitola, damaging The Wharf in both towns. While they are repairing and rebuilding, access to these landmarks may be limited for some travelers, but don’t let this discourage you from visiting either place!

Most of the locals in Capitola are friendly and welcoming to tourists and are happy to share insider tips on the best things to discover about their small town. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or just a change of scenery from nearby Santa Cruz, Capitola is the perfect place for a solo traveler on a getaway mission.

Colorful hotels and houses dot the landscape of Capitola Beach, part of a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

OK, now you know! Santa Cruz, California, is a fantastic destination for solo travelers seeking recreation and relaxation. With its chill-party vibe, enjoyable downtown, and salty-surf culture, Santa Cruz has something for almost everyone. So whether you’re an experienced explorer or a first-time solo traveler, consider Santa Cruz, California for your next adventure!

4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California ©Kate Dana

How to Get There:

Bus or Train

Solo travelers heading to Santa Cruz without a personal vehicle can reach the area by public transportation, including bus and train. Buses are available from several cities including Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco heading towards San Jose, with a transfer to the Highway 17 Express bus that runs directly to Santa Cruz.

Another option is to take the train. There are two, CalTrain and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, each offering its own timetable and amenities. The CalTrain leaves from Sacramento and San Francisco towards San Jose with a transfer option from the train to the Santa Cruz Metro bus to downtown Santa Cruz.

The Amtrak Capitol Corridor train departs from Sacramento and San Francisco heading towards San Jose. As with Caltrain, Amtrak travelers transfer to a bus service to complete the journey to Santa Cruz.

The train, bus, motorcycle, and car are all great modes of transportation on your way to a 4-Day Solo Getaway in Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Levi Meir for Unsplash

These transportation options offer frequent departures throughout the day, and the total travel time ranges from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the route and time of day.

Car or Motorcycle

Santa Cruz is easily-accessible from San Francisco by car or motorcycle. Solo travelers will enjoy driving on California’s scenic Highway 1, with views of the Pacific Ocean, passing by towns like Half Moon Bay and Pescadero before reaching Santa Cruz.

Similarly, traveling solo from Sacramento to Santa Cruz by car or motorcycle, you’ll go through some diverse landscapes, from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley, joining Highway 152 over the Pacheco Pass and into the Santa Clara Valley. From here, Highway 1 will take you to Santa Cruz.

Driving or riding a motorcycle is a great way to travel on a 4-Day Solo Getaway to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Hari Panicker for Unsplash

Of course, as a solo traveler, you’ll want to consult a map and use GPS for the most seamless, trouble-free trip driving or riding a motorcycle to Santa Cruz.

Where to Stay:

Santa Cruz Hostel

Like many tourist-friendly beach towns, hotels in Santa Cruz range from 5-star luxury to surf-shack-relax. One of the best places by far for a solo traveler is the Santa Cruz Hostel.

The Santa Cruz hostel and a vintage Vespa: the perfect combo for a 4-Day Solo Getaway Guide to Santa Cruz, California. Photo © Kate Dana

With its excellent location in a vibrant neighborhood just blocks away from the Beach Boardwalk, this historic hostel, made up of small cottages, dormitories, and common areas – including a spacious kitchen and cozy garden patio – has been hosting visitors to Santa Cruz since 1992.

Depending on when you visit, the Santa Cruz Hostel may have availability, although, as is the case with most smaller, in-town places, you’ll want to check early as the dormitories often sell out fast.