Known as a world-class surfing destination in California, Santa Cruz is one of those places you should never underestimate.
Located on the coast of Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco and San Jose, the city sits nestled between the gorgeous pacific ocean and expansive redwood forests. Its natural beauty and location make it a top destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and all water sport enthusiasts.
Downtown Santa Cruz and the nearby boardwalk form the beating heart of the city. From classy restaurants, boutique shops, and live music venues, downtown is where all the magic happens.
For surfers and water lovers: head straight to Pleasure Point or Steamer Lane where you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches to surf from. Those more interested in nature will love to head inland to the expansive woodlands of Boulder Creek and its surrounding redwood forests.
Needless to say, Santa Cruz has it all, which makes finding a place to stay all the more challenging. That’s why we have prepared this guide to the best vacation rentals in Santa Cruz to help you locate the best place to stay to make your trip more memorable.
Whether you’re looking for a luxury beach house or a budget-friendly cabin in the woods, we got it all. So, let’s take a look!
Quick Answer: These are the Top 5 Vacation Rentals in Santa Cruz
Central 3 Bed House with Rooftop Deck
- > $$
- > 7 Guests
- > Steps from the beach and boardwalk
- > Fully-remodeled, open-plan family home
Eclectic 1 Bed Cabin with Sunroom
- > $
- > 4 Guests
- > Hidden between trees in Mount Hermon
- > Colorful boho interiors surrounded by forest
Private Studio Cottage Surrounded by Trees
- > $
- > 2 Guests
- > A short walk from top dining options and beach parties
- > Detached studio with kitchenette and BBQ
Bright 3 Bed Beach House with Yard
- > $$$
- > 8 Guests
- > By the beach in Opal Cliffs, near the surf breaks
- > Traditional wooden beach house with a games room
Palatial 7 Bed Mansion with Ocean Views
- > $$$$
- > 16 Guests
- > 20 minutes from Santa Cruz, on the beach in Watsonville
- > Includes a recreational room, library, and landscaped gardens
Looking for other types of accommodation? Check out our guide to Where to Stay in Santa Cruz!
Types of Accommodation in Santa Cruz
Most tourists who visit Santa Cruz come for its pristine beaches and perfect waves. The most sought-after beachfront neighborhoods include Natural Bridges, Twin Lakes, Opal Cliffs, and Capitola Beach.
Part of what makes this city so unique and special is that this coastline hasn’t yet been built up like other coastal American cities. While some states have lined their beaches with high-rise condos, Santa Cruz is still lined with quaint beach bungalows that do not block the views.
Beach bungalows range in size and price depending on their location and how modern the amenities are. Many bungalows retain their historic slack-wood exteriors, yet have undergone complete interior makeovers. These spots are ideal for surfers, swimmers, sunbathers, and anyone seeking a holiday filled with sunshine.
Villas, Estates, and Mansions
When the rich and the famous venture down the coast from Silicon Valley and SFO, (or up the coast from LA), they typically blow a few bucks on a luxurious villa or estate. If not located directly on the beachfront, villas, estates, and mansions will, at the very least, enjoy beautiful coastal views.
In addition to prime locations and views, this type of holiday home in Santa Cruz often includes private pools and Jacuzzis, games rooms, and even theatres. If you’re lucky, you might find an inland estate with acres worth of landscaped gardens.
However, these beach vacation rentals in Santa Cruz come at a steep price, yet can conveniently accommodate many guests – so if you are splitting the cost between ten or more, then it can work out to be quite affordable. They’re best suited to large families, groups of friends, or even extended family gatherings over the holiday season.
Ideal for hikers, mountain bikers, and those just looking for a quiet retreat away from city life, forest cabins are one of the most peaceful spots to rent out in the area.
Depending on their size and sleeping arrangements, couples, small families and even larger groups will easily find a cozy wooden cabin for rent. This type of rental is a year-round gem and often fitted with fireplaces and cozy European chalet interiors, they are as lovely during the colder months as they are in summer.
Top 20 Vacation Rentals in Santa Cruz
Whether you’re a surfer looking to catch the perfect wave or a mountain biker seeking out some exciting terrain, you’ll find an awesome place to stay in this list.
We have catered to all types of travelers, whether you’re traveling solo, in a group, with family, or looking for long-term stays, here you’ll find the best holiday rentals in Santa Cruz from low-budget to super luxury.
Best Overall Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 3 BR Home W/ Rooftop
Whatever you’re visiting the city for, you can’t go too wrong basing yourself by the beach and central boardwalk. This stylish home is a stylish and contemporary build, which has been furnished with beautiful furniture and state-of-the-art fittings.
From the moment you step through the doors, you’ll feel like you’re ready to relax, which is definitely the point of a vacation, right?
Pick out some fresh produce from the nearby farmers’ markets and make sure to spend some time cooking up a storm in the beautiful, fully-equipped kitchen. With a large center island surrounded by bar stools, this self-catering vacation rental in Santa Cruz is one of the best spots for a cookout evening with the family.
Best Budget Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 1 BR Cabin W/ Sunroom
As with most Northern Californian cities, Santa Cruz is a relatively pricey area when it comes to vacation rentals. In my opinion, this budget home isn’t just affordable, but it’s also one of the most beautifully decorated. For those backpacking California, stopping by here to do your laundry wouldn’t be a bad shout.
While it doesn’t give one the beachy vibe most tourists go for, the colorful furniture, funky patterns, and mismatched textures create a unique and enticing atmosphere in the home.
The best part of this forest cabin is without a doubt the sunroom, which is surrounded by doors, windows, and a clear ceiling, inviting tons of natural light into the space as well as being the ideal place to do some stargazing at night.
Budget Tip: Dorms in Santa Cruz start from $10USD per bed. They’re the cheapest accommodation in the city. Search for hostels in the area!
Most Beautiful Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 3 BR Coastal Home
With gorgeous nature surrounding the city for as far as the eye can see, it’s not too difficult to find beautiful beach vacation rentals in Santa Cruz. This is one of those homes that could easily have been used as the setting for a romantic Hollywood film.
It’s located on the dunes overlooking stunning beach and ocean views. Furnished with coastal blue tones and warm wooden touches, you’ll feel right at home from the minute you walk through the front doors.
With three king-sized bedrooms, each with its own private bathroom, this property can sleep up to seven guests comfortably without anyone needing to queue to use the bathroom in the morning.
Most Luxurious Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | Palatial 7 BR Mansion
I’m not sure it’s physically possible to walk past this house and not do a double-take – yes, it’s that impressive. As a small taste of what this palatial home has to offer, the symmetrical building has a grand entrance hall with two identical winding staircases, hanging chandeliers, triple-story high ceilings, and roman marble pillars.
Each arched window overlooks exquisite views of either the estate grounds or the ocean and city below it. If you can get past the opulence, it’s also a practical home for families with a recreational games room and a library.
With seven bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, there is more than enough space for up to 11 guests to enjoy.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Families | 3 BR Beach Home
Muted tones and textures give this luxury vacation rental in Santa Cruz a coastal feel. The single-story beach bungalow has high vaulted ceilings fitted with glass skylights, bringing lots of natural light into the open-concept living area.
With its marble-topped center island and beautifully-lit glass cabinetry, the kitchen is by far the most beautiful room in this house. Fitted with stainless steel appliances, this kitchen is so stunning it will make you want to cook for your family, even while on vacation.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for a Weekend | 2 BR Beach Bungalow
Being so close to San Francisco and San Jose, Santa Cruz is a top destination for weekend vacationers looking to escape the big city. This quaint beach cottage is a perfectly affordable and well-located spot to rent out for a quick visit.
It has everything you might need and more to create a memorable stay, including a fully-equipped kitchen. On a cool weekend, you can cozy up by the indoor fire with your loved ones. On a warm day, lap up the sunshine outside on the lounge deck – this home truly is great for all seasons.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz with a Pool | 4 BR Family Home
Unless you’re prepared to really splash out, finding an affordable home with a pool isn’t too easy. This beach vacation rental in Santa Cruz has a large fenced-in deck with a pool, Jacuzzi, and BBQ gazebo – perfect for families who want a little more privacy.
The home is classically furnished and includes four private bedrooms, one of which has an added sleeper couch. Great for long-stay visitors as well as families with young kids, this home has private a laundry room with a washer and a dryer.
Super Accessible Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 3 BR Beach Cottage
You won’t need to worry about any steps throughout this one-level home, making it an ideal spot for wheelchair users and parents with strollers. Although it might look low-key and modest from the road, the interior of this home has been refurbished with granite countertops and high-end shelving and cabinetry.
The backyard is a beautiful spot to catch some rays and enjoy a BBQ with friends and family on the patio. The home is spacious and modestly furnished making it easy for people with mobility issues to move around freely.
Most Central Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 2 BR Beach Cottage
Hidden beneath green trees in a lush neighborhood between Twin Lakes and the coast, this bungalow is no doubt one of the best vacation rentals in Santa Cruz for its central location.
From the house, you’ll be able to walk to the beach, the boardwalk, the park, or the lakes. Even better, you’ll be able to browse some boutique local shops and enjoy a delicious meal at one of the high-end eateries, all a few minutes’ walk from the house.
The home comes with two spacious bedrooms, each with a double bed plus an additional single bed in the second bedroom. There is plenty of space for up to five guests to enjoy this house.
Best Vacation Rental for a Large Family in Santa Cruz | 5 BR Villa
As one of the best vacation rentals in Santa Cruz for large families, this stunning Spanish-inspired home has five spacious bedrooms as well as tons of indoor and outdoor spaces to relax in.
The home features a large garden with an infinity pool overlooking views of the bay as well as a gourmet-standard kitchen fit for a high-end chef.
While the outside of the home looks like something out of your favorite fairy-tale, the inside is equally as impressive, decorated in trendy yet rustic Mediterranean furnishings. Think pine floors, limestone walls, and arched ceilings – talk about luxury!
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Friends | 4 BR Townhouse
Sometimes all we feel like is a well-deserved vacation with friends in the sun – cooking together, sunbathing and surfing, and exploring local shops and eateries.
Centrally located between the beach and a bunch of dining options, this four-bedroom home is the ideal spot for just that.
The home has a huge open-concept living space with a gourmet kitchen fitted with stainless steel appliances. There is also a propane BBQ on the deck, perfect for a warm summer evening.
Most Unique Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 1 BR Barn W/ Forest Views
If you’re up for a break in nature, away from the busy beach crowds, pack your bags and head straight for the redwoods.
This beautiful barn retreat is an unusual stay located on a lush property drenched with sunlight between redwood trees.
This secluded self-catering vacation rental in Santa Cruz has been kitted out with contemporary fittings, warm wooden touches, and cozy furniture. Although it seems super rustic, you’ll find a brand new kitchen with wooden countertops and top-of-the-range appliances, as well as a stunning marble bathroom in this barn.
Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Honeymoons | 1 BR Beach Bungalow
With world-class beaches, trendy street life, and a great dining scene, Santa Cruz is a solid option for a honeymoon destination.
This cozy bungalow has one spacious bedroom and is located just a few minutes from the beach and boardwalk. Its central location makes it perfect for those without cars, as you can pretty much walk anywhere you wish.
The home includes a great kitchen, perfect for those hoping to spend a quiet evening in, and even has a quaint porch overlooking the road – just like a traditional American cottage would.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Nightlife | 2 Bed Chalet
The best nightlife in Santa Cruz, in my opinion, is located near the surfing beaches and boardwalk. From trendy beach bars to rooftop eateries and underground nightclubs, this gorgeous two-bedroom beach chalet sits bang-smack in the center of the best nightlife in the city.
During the day, it’s a quiet neighborhood, overlooking both lake and ocean views. The best spot to enjoy the view is from the upstairs balcony. From the open-plan kitchen and dining area, you can enjoy a drink with your friends during sunset before heading out for the evening. You’ll always be near to the best things to do in Santa Cruz.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz with a View | 2 BR Beachfront Home
Location, location, location. We all know that the best view usually goes hand in hand with the best location. This luxury vacation rental in Santa Cruz sits right on the well-known Rio Beach, offering guests 180-degree ocean views from every balcony and window in the home.
The home has been decorated using eclectic coastal and island-inspired interiors, including wicker and bamboo furniture, and colorful linens. This property even has a large pool, which you’ll be able to share with your nearby neighbors.
With two bedrooms and two bathrooms, this would be the ideal vacation rental for a group of friends or two couples.
Romantic Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Couples | Studio Cottage
Not only is this secluded hideaway cottage super romantic, but it’s also extremely affordable. Conveniently located a few blocks from Twin Lakes Beach, the cottage is hidden beneath a canopy of tropical ferns and trees, making it feel completely private from the rest of the city.
The studio is laid out like a hotel room, with a small but practical kitchenette, a TV console, and a personal workspace all in the main bedroom.
Best of all, a quiet outside deck offers the perfect spot to enjoy a romantic meal with your loved one.
Best Beach Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 4 BR Beach House
Another ideal beachfront property, this low-key home could not possibly be closer to the ocean. With more windows and doors than walls themselves, you’ll be able to admire views of the beach from almost every corner of the house. Even from the comfort of your bed, you’ll feel as if you’re on the beach!
Flooded with natural light, the home has been remodeled using wooden floors and an exposed ceiling. Furnished simply yet elegantly, there is plenty of room in this seemingly small self-catering vacation rental in Santa Cruz to host friends and guests for a memorable beach day.
Best Forest Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz | 1BR Tiny-Home
The tiny home craze has reached Northern California and is adding more beautiful properties to the rental market by the minute. This small container home looks a bit like a downsized mansion, with different levels and loft spaces making it look larger than it is.
However, there is a surprising amount of space when you walk inside the house which has a top-of-the-range gourmet kitchen, a spacious lounge perfect for a small family, and a beautiful bedroom and bathroom.
Hidden in a sunny property in the forest district, the home includes a gorgeous deck. I can just imagine sipping my morning coffee in this sunny spot.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Surfers | 3 BR Surfer House
Aside from the fact that this spot sits right on the point at Pleasure Point surf spot, which makes it the perfect rental for surfers, there are also complimentary surfboards and SUPs that the hosts allow guests to make use of.
This marvelous wooden home has been renovated using a mix of wooden exposed beams and cabinetry, white walls, and contemporary furniture.
On top of its trendy interiors, the corner property has almost unrivaled views of the ocean. Head to one of the many decks and balconies to gaze across 180-degree views of Monterey Bay and you’ll see that we’re right.
Best Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz for Digital Nomads | 3 BR Beach Home
If you’re a digital nomad family who has chosen Santa Cruz as your next destination, it’s likely because of the summer weather and excellent surf found in the area.
This modern beach house is the best vacation rental in Santa Cruz for digital nomads looking to be in the center of the city bustle, while also being on the beachfront.
The home has been decorated using lots of white fittings, bringing tons of natural light into the space. Barn style sliding doors, a touch of modern glass, and retro-surfboard decorations bring a homey feeling into this contemporary home.
Santa Cruz is one of those Californian oases that every traveler should make the time for. The surf-culture, laid-back culture and beautiful scenery make it a world-class travel destination for a wide range of clientele.
Choose to spend a night in a remote forest cabin, or splash out and rent a beach villa for your entire extended family. Whatever you visit for and whoever you visit with, we have no doubt the city has tons of amazing vacation rentals to offer you.
Did you find somewhere to stay from this list? Let us know in the comments.
And don’t forget to take out Travel Insurance for your trip! I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
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