Winter Events & Things To Do

Winter in Santa Cruz means occasional 60 degree days, sunshine, fewer crowds, and plenty of things to do. From wildlife viewing to surf competitions and clam chowder cook-offs, there is something new to do every weekend. Here are my top picks for winter activities and events.

Monarch Butterflies at Natural Bridges State Beach

October through February

The return of the monarch butterflies to the Eucalyptus Grove at Natural Bridges State Beach is something the locals look forward to every year. Thousands of monarchs make the flight from the valleys of the Rocky Mountains to Natural Bridges, where they spend the winter. Santa Cruz’s mild climate and the protection provided by the eucalyptus trees make it the perfect spot to stay. If the temperatures drop below average, these winged creatures huddle together for warmth. You can view these amazing butterflies from October to mid-February and the best time to view them is in late October and during the month of November.

Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park

December through March

Another animal that migrates annually to Santa Cruz in the winter is the Northern Elephant Seal. These large seals can measure up to 16 feet long and weigh 2.5 tons. The majority of their lives are spent at sea but they come to shore to mate, give birth, and molt. Their breeding season is December through March, which is the best time to see these unique mammals and their pups. Docent-led tours are run daily and required during those months. Ticket prices are only $7 per person. More information is available here.

USA Surfing Prime Junior Event

January 9th through the 12th

Hosted at Steamer Lane on the Westside, this two-day event brings the top 100 surfers under 18 to Santa Cruz. This bi-coastal event is invite-only and the top scoring surfers then have the opportunity to compete at the national championships. With an unobstructed view of Steamer Lane from the path on West Cliff, you’ll definitely want to stop by and watch these young and talented surfers! Details here.

Fungus Fair

January 10th through 12th

Held at the Louden Nelson Center in Downtown Santa Cruz, this annual two-day event celebrates fungus and the ways it is used in our everyday lives, such as bread, cheese, and even beer. Run by the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz, the Fungus Fair features hundreds of varieties of fungi, cooking demonstrations, a kids room, speakers, taxonomy panel, fungi to eat, and a store to buy fungi themed items and books. If you’d like to learn more about fungus and the varieties you can find around Santa Cruz, Fungus Federation membership and event info can be found here.

Clam Chowder Cook-Off

February 22nd & 23rd

Clam chowder, a warm, hearty soup often enjoyed in a classic sourdough bread bowl, is a coastal treat all year round. You may already have a favorite spot to find this soup somewhere in Santa Cruz, but if you’d like to try new and unique chowders, head to the Clam Chowder Cook-Off at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This two-day event features amateur and professional chefs who cook up both Boston and Manhattan style chowders. Details here.

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