The beauty of Santa Cruz is that it is one of the few cities to combine the Redwood forests and the beach, and you don't need a ton of money to stay here for a few days. Santa Cruz is also ranked as one of the happiest places in the U.S.

Hotels

One of the areas you may want to stay in is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk hotels, which can cost between $150 to $200 a night. The best time to go is mid-week when hotel prices dip and the crowds are thinner. If you're really looking to go on a budget, however, consider camping in the Henry Cowell State Park. It's only 20 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, and it costs roughly $25 a day. Plus, once you camp there, you get free entry into the incredible Redwood trails.

Getting Around

Although Santa Cruz is a small city, you'll probably need a car to get around. You can also use Uber or take the bus. Fortunately, everything is within a 20 minute drive, meaning you can get from the Redwoods to the beach in 20 minutes or you can get from the beach to the main restaurant strip on Pacific Ave in roughly 10 to 20 minutes. If you're driving in, use your own car. If you need to rent a car, make sure to factor that cost in.

Things to do

For such a small city, there is a quite a lot to do. When you're creating your travel budget, consider these inexpensive options: Cost Vacation Santa Cruz

Beaches

  • You can explore the Santa Cruz beach at the boardwalk or go further up to the gorgeous Natural Bridges beach. While the boardwalk has access to bathrooms and restaurants, the Natural Bridges beach does not. In both cases, consider bringing your own food so that you can lay out a blanket and have a picnic. This will save you a good deal amount of money if you're there for three to four days.

Henry Cowell Redwood Forest:

  • The Redwood forests in Santa Cruz are beautiful, and it really is worth it to spend a day there. Why a day? In the morning, you may want to hike the Redwood trails, and in the afternoon you can swim in the Garden of Eden river. The fee for an average size vehicle is $10 for the day to visit the Redwood trails. However, the Garden of Eden is free. If you have an extra $25 to spare per person, consider the train ride through the Redwoods.

The Lighthouse:

  • If you like lighthouses, walk down to the Walton Lighthouse, which is on the southern tip of the Santa Cruz beaches. This is also a great vantage point to watch the boats coming back into the harbor at sunset.

The Mystery Spot:

  • One of the most unique places you'll ever see is the Mystery Spot, where the rules of gravity don't seem to apply, and people can lean over without falling. Tickets are $8 per person, and parking is $5.

The Boardwalk:

  • The Santa Cruz boardwalk is probably the most expensive activity in Santa Cruz. You can get an all-day wristband for $39.95, which gives you access to unlimited rides.

University Campus sites:

  • Besides the main attractions in the city, you can plan a peaceful retreat at the botanical gardens on the University of California Santa Cruz campus. Admission is just $5. If you can, stop by the Porter Squiggle sculpture by the Porter college bus stop.

Pacific Avenue houses most of the city's restaurants, and you'll find quite a few inexpensive and casual dining options along this strip. You can find Thai, Japanese, Indian or simple American fare.

When planning a trip to Santa Cruz, look to spend $150 - $200 daily for hotel fare and then $50 a day for one person on food. Except for the boardwalk, activities in Santa Cruz run cheap. To save on cash, consider buying some food items from grocery stores.