Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
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Set in central California, Santa Cruz is the epitome of west coast cool. It has pristine beaches and a laid back atmosphere, while also boasting incredible food, lively nightlife and lush natural surroundings. In short, Santa Cruz is without a doubt one of California’s best-kept secrets.

But, despite its small size, choosing the best neighbourhood to stay in Santa Cruz can be a challenge. Which is exactly why I put together this guide to the best places to stay in Santa Cruz.

This article was written by travellers for travellers. It breaks down the best areas to stay in Santa Cruz by interest and budget, so you’ll know exactly where to stay based on what you want to do.

Get excited – here are our best recommendations for where to stay in Santa Cruz, California, USA.

 

Quick Tips – Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

  • Where to stay in Santa Cruz for your first time – Downtown
  • Where to stay in Santa Cruz on a budget – The Boardwalk
  • The best area to stay in Santa Cruz for nightlife – Midtown
  • The coolest place to stay in Santa Cruz – Capitola
  • Best neighbourhood in Santa Cruz for families – Aptos

 

In a hurry? Here’s my top neighborhood for first timers:

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Downtown
Downtown is a large neighbourhood located in central Santa Cruz. It is our pick for the best neighbourhood to stay in Santa Cruz if you’re visiting for the first time because it has plenty of cultural attractions; is packed with bars, restaurants and shops; and, allows for easy access throughout the city and the wider county.
 
Places to Visit:
  • Catch a show at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
  • Enjoy delicious food and drinks at Red Restaurant and Bar.
  • Grab a drink at the Asti, an old-school dive bar.

 

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Santa Cruz.

 

Best Hostel in Santa Cruz: HI-Santa Cruz Hostel

This is the best hostel in Santa Cruz. It is conveniently located near the Boardwalk and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars within walking distance. This hostel has comfortable beds, modern amenities and boasts a friendly, welcoming and social atmosphere. There’s also a large, fully-stocked kitchen.

View on HostelWorld

 

Best Airbnb in Santa Cruz: Beautiful apartment in downtown

Furnished with an eye for detail, this Downtown Airbnb is the right place for visiting Santa Cruz for the first time. The beautiful interior design will make you feel comfortable and at home. Located in the best position, you won’t have to walk far to the main hotspots – you’ll definitely enjoy your time at this place.

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Best Hotel in Santa Cruz: Rio Vista Inn & Suites Santa Cruz

The Rio Vista Inn is our favourite hotel in Santa Cruz. It is ideally located at the heart of the city and is a quick walk to the restaurants, attractions and bars of the Downtown, the Boardwalk and Midtown neighbourhoods. It is comprised of 16 modern rooms with an excellent array of amenities and features.

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Santa Cruz Neighbourhood Guide

Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Santa Cruz

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Downtown

  • Downtown is a large neighbourhood located in central Santa Cruz. It is our pick for the best neighbourhood to stay in Santa Cruz if you’re visiting for the first time because it has plenty of cultural attractions; is packed with bars, restaurants and shops; and, allows for easy access throughout the city and the wider county.
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The Boardwalk

  • Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk neighbourhood is one of the liveliest and most vibrant districts in the city. Situated south of Downtown, the Boardwalk spans the seaside and is home to buzzing attractions, busy restaurants, and cosy cafes.
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Midtown

  • Midtown is an eclectic neighbourhood located east of the city centre. It is an up-and-coming hipster hub that boasts a vast array of bike shops and furniture stores as well as rustic cafes, hip restaurants, and buzzing live music venues.
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Capitola

  • Capitola is a beachside neighbourhood bursting with a European flair. It is an artsy neighbourhood located to the east of the city centre and is well-known for its colourful and vibrant buildings along with its great restaurants and artisanal shops.
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Aptos

  • Aptos is a serene and stunning neighbourhood located just east of Santa Cruz. It is a large area comprised of three main neighbourhoods – Seacliff, Rio Del Mar and La Selva – and is a great place to stay if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk.
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The seaside town of Santa Cruz is one of the coolest places in California. Located at the north end of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is a relaxed and laid-back city known as a counterculture and artistic hub with a bohemian feel and youthful vibes.

Santa Cruz seamlessly blends its relaxed beach lifestyle with a vibrant culture and some high tech industry. It has great shopping, delicious dining, buzzing nightlife and some of the most beautiful beaches in the state.

In this Santa Cruz neighbourhood guide, we’ll look at the best places to stay based on what you want to do.

Downtown Santa Cruz is the best neighbourhood in Santa Crus to stay in if you’re visiting for the first time. It is centrally located and within walking distance of the beach. It also boasts plenty of shops, restaurants, bars and landmarks.

Travel south from here and you’ll arrive in the busy and buzzing Boardwalk neighbourhood. A hub of activity and attractions, the Boardwalk is our best recommendation for where to stay in Santa Cruz for one night or if you’re on a budget.

East of the city centre is the Midtown/Seabright neighbourhood. Our top pick for where to stay in Santa Cruz for nightlife, this area is bursting with bars, restaurants and clubs where you can enjoy plenty of after-dark fun.

Continue travelling east along the coast to Capitola. This colourful and European-esque neighbourhood is one of the coolest places to stay in Santa Cruz because it has great dining, pristine beaches and lots of things to see and do.

And finally, Aptos is the best area in Santa Cruz to stay in for families because it has excellent beaches and outdoor activities as well as great dining, shopping and sightseeing.

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Santa Cruz’s 5 Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in

Still not sure which of Santa Cruz’s best neighbourhoods is right for you? Well, don’t worry because in this next section we’re going to break each of them down in much more detail.

 

#1 Downtown – Where to Stay in Santa Cruz for Your First Time

Downtown is a large neighbourhood located in central Santa Cruz. It is our pick for the best neighbourhood to stay in Santa Cruz if you’re visiting for the first time because it has plenty of cultural attractions; is packed with bars, restaurants and shops; and, allows for easy access throughout the city and the wider county.

Santa Cruz’s downtown district is also where you’ll find the local arts scene. Tucked throughout the neighbourhood are a good variety of galleries and shops that showcase the excellent works of local artists, musicians, actors and writers.

 

Downtown, Santa Cruz
Source: Lynn Yeh (Shutterstock)

 

Things to See and Do in Downtown

– Browse the incredible and creative exhibits at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

– Catch a show at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

– Cheer on the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors or the Santa Cruz Derby Girls at the Kaiser Permanent Area.

– Enjoy delicious food and drinks at Red Restaurant and Bar.

– Feast on mouthwatering pub fare at 99 Bottles Restaurant & Pub.

– Find your new favourite book at the legendary Bookshop Santa Cruz.

– Grab a drink at the Asti, an old-school dive bar.

– Listen to live music at the Catalyst.

– Shop until you drop at the Pacific Garden Mall.

 

Best Inn in Downtown: Oceana Inn Santa Cruz

This charming Inn is centrally located in Santa Cruz. It is a great option for Santa Cruz accommodation because it has comfortable rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and free wifi. Rooms are equipped with A/C and also feature hair dryers, showers and ceiling fans.

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Best Airbnb in Downtown: Beautiful apartment in downtown

Furnished with an eye for detail, this Downtown Airbnb is the right place for visiting Santa Cruz for the first time. The beautiful interior design will make you feel comfortable and at home. Located in the best position, you won’t have to walk far to the main hotspots – you’ll definitely enjoy your time at this place.

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Best Hotel in Downtown: Rio Vista Inn & Suites Santa Cruz

The Rio Vista Inn is our favourite hotel in Santa Cruz. It is ideally located at the heart of the city and is a quick walk to the restaurants, attractions and bars of the Downtown, the Boardwalk and Midtown neighbourhoods. It is comprised of 16 modern rooms with an excellent array of amenities and features.

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Best Hotel in Downtown: Carousel Beach Inn

This delightful hotel is one of the best places in Santa Cruz to stay in because it has a great central location. It has large rooms with air conditioning, private bathroom and contemporary amenities. A continental breakfast is also included in each reservation.

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#2 The Boardwalk – Where to Stay in Santa Cruz on a Budget

Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk neighbourhood is one of the liveliest and most vibrant districts in the city. Situated south of Downtown, the Boardwalk spans the seaside and is home to buzzing attractions, busy restaurants, and cosy cafes. It also offers easy access to the beach as well as many of Santa Cruz’s most famous attractions and landmarks.

The Boardwalk is also our pick for the best neighbourhood in Santa Cruz to stay in if you’re on a budget. Not only will you find the city’s only hostel here, but this neighbourhood is packed with delicious cheap eats and inexpensive activities to enjoy.

The Boardwalk, Santa Cruz

 

Things to See and Do in The Boardwalk

– Delve deep into history at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

– Dig into an amazing meal any time of day at Ideal Bar & Grill.

– Feast on fresh and delicious seafood and more at Stagnaro Bros.

– Go for a stroll along the Santa Cruz Wharf and spot local wildlife like sea lions, whales, birds and more.

– Listen to live music at the Kuumbwa Jazz Centre.

– Satisfy your sweet tooth with delicious salt-water taffy.

– Sip a glass of wine aboard the Chardonnay II.

– Visit the free-admission Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a day of fun, games, rides, sweets, treats and so much more.

 

Best Hostel in The Boardwalk: HI-Santa Cruz Hostel

This is the best hostel in Santa Cruz. It is conveniently located near the Boardwalk and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars within walking distance. This hostel has comfortable beds, modern amenities and boasts a friendly, welcoming and social atmosphere. There’s also a large, fully-stocked kitchen.

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Best Airbnb in The Boardwalk: Convenient private room

This room allows you to have a great home while not having to empty your bank account completely. You’re steps away from Boardwalk and the beach, as well as cafes, restaurants and other hot spots. The room is spacious, with a comfy bed and has a private bathroom. Wake up early and enjoy the beautiful view of the sea, beach and wharf right from your window.

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Best Hotel in The Boardwalk: Comfort Inn Boardwalk Santa Cruz

The Comfort Inn is centrally located near the Boardwalk, one of the best areas to stay in Santa Cruz. This shabby-chic hotel is just steps from the beach, the Boardwalk, great restaurants and lively nightlife. Guests can enjoy a variety of on-site amenities, like a swimming pool and free wifi.

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Best Motel in The Boardwalk: Ocean Pacific Lodge

This historic motel is one of the best places to stay in Santa Cruz. It is located at the heart of Santa Cruz and is just a stone’s throw from great dining, shopping and nightlife options. Rooms come complete with A/C and include refrigerators. There’s also an outdoor swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.

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#3 Midtown – Where to Stay in Santa Cruz for Nightlife

Midtown is an eclectic neighbourhood located east of the city centre. It is an up-and-coming hipster hub that boasts a vast array of bike shops and furniture stores as well as rustic cafes, hip restaurants, and buzzing live music venues.

This is also the best area in Santa Cruz to stay in for nightlife. The Midtown/Seabright neighbourhood is packed with bustling bars and buzzing breweries where you can enjoy a laidback drink or two.

If live music is more your thing, Midtown is also where you’ll find a great selection of concert halls and karaoke parlours, open mic nights and street-side buskers. No matter where you are in the neighbourhood, you’ll find yourself surrounded by great tunes. Note that nightlife is laregely confined to weekends in Santa Cruz.

Midtown, Santa Cruz

 

Things to See and Do in Midtown

– Catch some rays at Seabright Beach.

– Dine on delicious dishes at 100 Mile Meals, a concept restaurant that only uses local goods.

– Drink fresh and handcrafted beers at the Seabright Brewery.

– Eat an amazing meal at Hindquarter Bar & Grill.

– Enjoy a great selection of sweet and savoury dishes at the Crepe Place, a longstanding Santa Cruz favourite.

– Excite your sense at Tacos Moreno.

– See a show at the intimate and awesome Rio Theatre.

– Sip drinks and enjoy cheap bars games at lively One Double Oh Seven Club.

 

Best Inn in Midtown: Surf City Inn & Suites

Surf City Inn & Suites is your best bet for budget Santa Cruz accommodation in Midtown. It has a great central location and is within walking distance of bars, bistros and the beach. Guests can enjoy a heated swimming pool, free wifi and a delicious daily breakfast.

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Best Airbnb in Midtown: Entire home (+ a cute neighbour dog)

Privacy can be the best cure for a hangover, which is why we chose this Airbnb for all of the nightlife enthusiasts. The apartment is very bright, furnished beautifully and offers so much comfort – from a massive bed to a great living area. Be aware that the hosts live next door with their well-behaved dog (previous guests loved him).

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Best Hotel in Midtown: Hyatt Place Santa Cruz

This excellent three-star hotel is set in central Midtown, one of the best places in Santa Cruz to stay for nightlife. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and clubs nearby, and the beach is just a short walk away. It has 63 spacious rooms, free wifi and an outdoor pool.

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Best Hotel in Midtown: Continental Inn Santa Cruz

The Continental Inn is set at the heart of Santa Cruz. It is close to popular tourist attractions as well as dining, nightlife and shopping options. This hotel has 49 cosy, clean and comfortable rooms. There’s also an outdoor swimming pool and on-site parking.

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#4 Capitola – Coolest Place to Stay in Santa Cruz

Capitola is a beachside neighbourhood bursting with a European flair. It is an artsy neighbourhood located to the east of the city centre and is well-known for its colourful and vibrant buildings along with its great restaurants and artisanal shops.

One of the coolest places to stay in Santa Cruz, Capitola is packed with incredible things to see and explore. Here you’ll find a vast array of independent boutiques, delicious restaurants, charming inns and lively bars. Although it might be a little more upmarket compared to other areas of Santa Cruz, trust me when I say, it worth the splurge!

Capitola, Santa Cruz
Source: Lux Blue (Shutterstock)

 

Things to See and Do in Capitola

– Browse the buzzing Sunday Art & Music at the Beach events throughout the summer.

– Delve deep into the history of the neighbourhood and region at the Capitola Historical Museum.

– Escape the crowds at artsy and secluded Capitola Beach.

– Explore the streets, shops and bars of colourful Capitola Village.

– Grab a pint at Brittania Arms.

– Kickstart your day with a filling and delicious breakfast at Zelda’s.

– Sip seaside cocktails at Bay Bar and Grill.

– Spend a day basking on the sands of New Brighton State Beach.

– Try local wines at It’s Wine Tyme.

 

Best Hotel in Capitola: Best Western Plus Capitola

The Best Western is ideally located in Capitola, Santa Cruz’s best neighbourhood for hipsters, trendsetters and cool kids. It offers easy access to shops, restaurants and bars, and is close to the beach. Rooms are well-equipped with a kitchenette and guests can enjoy on-demand movies and a spa bathtub.

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Best Airbnb in Capitola: Architect apartment 

Visiting the coolest area of Santa Cruz requires staying at an even cooler place. This unit was designed and built by an architect who has a great eye for style and detail. The home is incredibly airy and bright, equipped with only high-quality amenities and comfy furniture. The outdoor area is shared with the other unit but offers a cute patio and a BBQ.

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Best Hotel in Capitola: Quality Inn & Suites Capitola

This charming hotel is an excellent place to make your base in Capitola because there are plenty of shopping, dining and nightlife options nearby. Each room comes complete with a minibar, kitchenette and wireless internet access. There’s also a laundry service and pool on-site.

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Best Hotel in Capitola: Capitola Venetian Hotel

The Capitola Venetian Hotel is close to everything the neighbourhood has to offer. You’ll find plenty of bars, shops, restaurants, and the beach is within walking distance. This contemporary hotel has comfortable rooms with excellent features and amenities. There’s also complimentary wifi.

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#5 Aptos – Where to Stay in Santa Cruz for Families

Aptos is a serene and stunning neighbourhood located just east of Santa Cruz. It is a large area comprised of three main neighbourhoods – Seacliff, Rio Del Mar and La Selva – and is a great place to stay if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk.

It is known for its European style houses, cosy cafes, and luxe restaurants, which is why Aptos is one of the best places to stay in Santa Cruz.

This neighbourhood is also our best recommendation for where to stay in Santa Cruz with kids because it has a great variety of family-friendly fun, activities and adventures.

Aptos, Santa Cruz

 

Things to See and Do in Aptos

– Browse the tiny but interesting Aptos History Museum.

– Eat incredible and fresh seafood, pasta and more at Café Rio.

– Enjoy an awesome meal with a great view at Sanderlings Restaurant.

– Go for a hike through Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

– Indulge at the Bittersweet Bistro.

– Pop by the La Selva Library, which regularly hosts family-friendly events.

– See the ruins of the S.S. Palo Alto Concrete Ship.

– Shop for everything from souvenirs to fine art and pottery in Rio del Mar.

– Splash, swim and play at Rio del Mar beach.

 

Best Hotel in Aptos: Rio Sands Hotel

This charming hotel is one of our top picks for where to stay in Santa Cruz with kids if you’re on a budget. It has great features, like a swimming pool and tennis courts, and each room is well-equipped with a private bathroom and a kitchenette.

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Best Airbnb in Aptos: Family bungalow next to beach

Comfortable, big and close to the beach – this family Airbnb is perfect for holidays together. All amenities are in great condition, the beach is right around the corner and the living area is perfect to gather the whole family for dinner after a long and exciting day.

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Best Hotel in Aptos: Best Western Seacliff Inn

The Best Western in Aptos is one of our best recommendation for where to stay in Santa Cruz for families. It has a great central location and is close to restaurants, shops, the beach and more. Guests can enjoy a variety of amenities, including a swimming pool, laundry facilities, a golf course and a restaurant.

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Best Bed & Breakfast in Aptos: Flora Vista Inn

This stunning three-star property is ideally located in La Selva Beach. It offers easy access throughout the neighbourhood and is close to restaurants, the beach and bars. This property has five bedrooms with great features and stunning views.

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Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of California’s best-kept secrets. It is a laid-back and funky town the offers great restaurants, independent shops, lively nightlife and some of the best beaches in the state. So whether you’re looking to relax, surf, eat or party, Santa Cruz is a city that has something amazing for travellers of all ages, styles and even budgets.

In this guide, we’ve looked at the best places to stay in Santa Cruz. If you’re not sure which is right for you, here is a quick recap of our favourite Santa Cruz accommodation options:

HI-Santa Cruz Hostel is the best hostel in the city. It has a convenient location, comfortable beds, and a great range of amenities and features.

Another excellent option is the Rio Vista Inn & Suites Santa Cruz. Set at the heart of the city, this hotel is a short walk to great dining, nightlife, shopping and sightseeing options.

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Where to Stay in Santa Cruz