Gray Whale Display Skeleton

Getty Images

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Top choice in Santa Cruz

This educational center is part of UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory. Interactive natural-science exhibits include tidal touch pools and aquariums, while outside you can gawk at the world’s largest blue-whale skeleton.

Guided 45-minute tours run at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm (free with admission; first come, first served) and teach you about the research taking place at the lab. There's also a 30-minute family tour at 11am.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Santa Cruz attractions

1. Natural Bridges State Beach

0.43 MILES

Great for sunsets, this sandy beach fronted by a natural sandstone bridge is a family favorite and tops for wildlife viewing. Scan the bay for whales,…

2. Its Beach

2.02 MILES

The only official off-leash beach for dogs (before 10am and after 4pm) in Santa Cruz is just west of the lighthouse. The field across the street is…

3. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

2.13 MILES

A mile southwest of the wharf along the coast, this tiny museum inside an old lighthouse is packed with memorabilia, including vintage redwood surfboards…

4. UCSC Arboretum

2.32 MILES

Amble around this peaceful arboretum and picturesquely decaying 19th-century structures from Cowell Ranch, upon which the UCSC campus was built.

5. Sanctuary Exploration Center

2.45 MILES

Operated by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, this educational museum near the beach boardwalk is an interactive multimedia experience that…

6. University of California, Santa Cruz

2.45 MILES

Check it: the school mascot is a banana slug! Established in 1965 in the hills above town, UCSC is known for its creative, liberal bent. The rural campus…

8. Santa Cruz Wharf

2.52 MILES

Seafood restaurants, gift shops and barking sea lions all compete for attention along Santa Cruz's wharf, the longest wooden wharf in the US.