SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Walking along the bluffs of Santa Cruz, wind in your hair, sparkling blue ocean at your feet, you can spend a happy few hours taking in the million-dollar views without spending a dime.
But beautiful scenery isn't all that's available at no cost in this laidback surf city just 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of San Francisco. (There are a few ways to get here but the scenic route is to take Highway 1 straight down the coast.)
Here's a rundown of five ways to have fun by the sea for free.
LIFE'S A BEACH
Set on Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is known for its wide, sandy beaches and surf-happy waves. The Cowell Beach-Main Beach stretch of sand off of, you guessed it, Beach Street, draws the biggest crowds and is closest to restaurants, the Municipal Wharf and other attractions. A hiking and biking path that starts on Beach Street and continues up a short, steep hill to West Cliff Drive is worth a stroll.
Just below the Jack O'Neill Lounge at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, check out the mural honoring local hero and wetsuit pioneer O'Neill. The path ends after about 3 miles (5 kilometers) at Natural Bridges State Beach, which has tide pools and a Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve. (If you are bringing a car, there is a free lot outside the entrance with short-term parking only, or a pay lot inside the park.)
ALL ABOARD THE BOARDWALK
Riding the rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk does cost money but there's no admission fee to walk around and soak up the ambience of this classic seaside park overlooking the beach. Be sure to check out the Laffing Sal automaton: You can hear her creepy cackle for free. And on Friday nights in high summer, enjoy the sound of free concerts on the beach bandstand. Smash Mouth and Eddie Money are among the acts booked this season, which runs June 13 through Aug. 29 and features two shows a night, at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Also free, a display of vintage photographs of Santa Cruz can be seen on the upper floor of the Neptune's Kingdom building, which once was home to The Plunge, an indoor swimming pool, and now holds a miniature golf course and other games.
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