Santa Cruz Is a Haven for an Active Lifestyle

In this adventure

To test four trucks and SUVs equipped with various bike racks carrying all-new Stumpjumpers, partnered with Specialized Bicycle Components, the giant bike company, and a group of outdoor enthusiasts for a mountain biking adventure in Santa Cruz, Calif.

The road-trip vehicles were the 2019 Subaru Ascent Limited, 2018 Range Rover Velar S, 2018 GMC Canyon Denali and 2018 Toyota Sequoia TRD Sport. They covered hundreds of miles along the Northern California coast and included stops to trailheads in the surrounding mountains. picked Santa Cruz for its coastal beauty and world-class mountain biking trails that meander through the redwood forest. The oceanside city is about 30 miles southwest of San Jose, which is where the nearest commercial airport is located. It’s also 70 miles south of San Francisco and 35 miles north of Monterey.

The roads in Santa Cruz are a mix of highway and mountain driving, sometimes at elevation, and offer a variety of landscapes, scenery and complexity. The drive route during the 2018 Summer Adventure stretched more than 80 miles each way through sleepy beach towns, up steep forest inclines and across the stunning Santa Cruz Mountains.

Santa Cruz is a launch pad for those in pursuit of an active lifestyle. Despite the community’s laid-back culture, the list of year-round action sports activities is long. They include surfing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and sailing. There also is zip lining and backpacking.

Some say Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing. The county features 29 miles of beaches, including Maverick’s, a break that sometimes produces 50-foot waves and attracts big wave surfers from all over the globe. Jack O’Neill, the inventor of the wetsuit, also lived in Santa Cruz from 1959 until his death in 2017. His flagship surf shop is in downtown Santa Cruz, and the O’Neill Coldwater Classic is Northern California’s longest-running surf contest.

The main beach in Santa Cruz is adjacent to a boardwalk with an amusement park. The attraction was built in 1907 and meant to mirror Coney Island in New York. Two of the rides — the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Looff Carousel — are considered national landmarks.

Other family friendly attractions include the Roaring Camp Railroad, a tour through the redwoods on historic steam trains used in the 1880s to haul giant redwood logs out of the forest. The tour takes passengers to the top of Bear Mountain. Visitors also can ride Pullman cars or open-air excursion cars through the 40 acres of old-growth redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The park features horseback riding, swimming and camping.

There’s also a budding wine and beer scene. There are several breweries to visit, including the New Bohemia Brewing Company, which opened in early 2018, and the more established Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing with a beer garden that features its own organic brew. The Capitola Art and Wine Festival also is a popular event.