Just a short drive from the heart of Silicon Valley, lies California's Santa Cruz Mountains. Complete with beautiful redwood forests, funky beach towns, and a vibrant surf and skate culture. This area really has it all. And since it is just under 100 miles south of the San Francisco area and north of Big Sur - it makes for a perfect stop while exploring the California coast.

We have been fortunate enough to explore this area extensively and wanted to share some of our best tips and favorites with you. Enjoy!

Winnebago Vista underneath towering trees.

Where to Stay?

Nestled along the San Lorenzo River in Felton, CA, are several wonderful campgrounds that provide the perfect place to set up camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

These include the Santa Cruz Redwood RV Resort, Cotillion Gardens RV Park, and our personal favorite, Smithwoods RV Park. These are no frills RV parks, however, they are clean, offer full-hookups, and place you right in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern California.

These campgrounds also provide convenient access to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where you'll find great hiking and plenty of swim holes tucked away along the river.

Pro tip: Make sure you call these RV parks or visit their websites ahead of time. Some online maps may have you go routes that are not big-rig friendly, so confirm directions prior to visiting.

Winnebago Vista parked in campsite with picnic table and lounge chair outside.

Where to Go?

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a wonderful place to soak in the majestic beauty of the area while exploring their 40-acre redwood grove. While you're there, check out the dozens of trails for hiking and biking, as well as swim holes along the San Lorenzo River. There are also several options for dry camping in the area (trailers must be under 31ft and motorhomes under 35 ft).

Looking up at the towering Redwoods.

Roaring Camp Railroads

Located just minutes from the campgrounds is Roaring Camp Railroads - one of our favorite places to take the kids. With several train rides to choose from, you can travel through redwood groves, ride across truss bridges along the San Lorenzo River, or take a steam train all the way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The kids and grandkids will also be excited to learn that Roaring Camp hosts 'A Day with Thomas' several times a year. This includes a 20-minute ride through the redwoods on Thomas the Train himself, along with plenty of activities like bouncy houses and a magician, plus a variety of arts and crafts back at the depot. And for those who aren't as wowed by Thomas as our five-year-old, there are many other family friendly events and festivals throughout the year, including the Holiday Tree Walk and the Brewgrass Festival.

Roaring Camp train about to go through the redwoods.

The Mystery Spot

Billed as a gravitational anomaly, the Mystery Spot is a fun stop for the family that won't eat up your whole day (or the budget). With balls that roll uphill and floors that tilt to angles that make no sense, this place defies gravity. And guides add to the experience with their witty commentary and theories of how this place came to be, which will make your 45-minute tour fly by.

Pro Tip: Tickets are under $10, but tours fill up fast. You can visit their website and book your 45-minute tour and designated time slot to make sure you get a spot.

Sign reading "Entrance to the Mystery Spot"

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Since 1907 (that's right, 1907!), the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a destination for fun in Northern California. Admission is free (you just purchase tickets to play rides and games), and it is literally on the beach, The Boardwalk has become a favorite for our family. With attractions to suit thrill seekers of all ages, including the famous "Giant Dipper" roller coaster and plenty of rides for the little ones, there is a little something for everyone.

Fun Fact: During the fall months, The Boardwalk hosts an overnight campout at which families can pitch tents on the boardwalk itself. And when the weather heats up in the summer, they have a variety of summer concerts and movies on the beach.

Boardwalk sign.

For our family, the Santa Cruz Mountains provide the perfect way to experience the coast and the redwoods all at once. From coaster rides by day, to quiet campfires at night, and a whole lot of beautiful scenery and family fun in between, this area is truly a California gem!

Winnebago Vista with lights strung along the awning and family sitting outside by a campfire.Follow along with Karen, David, and their family on Instagram @thecampingplaylist.

For more tips on family friendly things to do in California, check out this article about activities in Northern California and this one about visiting Yosemite.


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