Vampires, Horses, and Churros: Things to do When You Visit Santa Cruz, California With Chase Freedom Unlimited

Friday, October 4, 2019

This is a sponsored post in partnership with Chase Freedom Unlimited. All opinions are my own.
Lunch idea for kids

My wife and I have been having so much fun fulfilling this year's goal of traveling with our whole family more, but sometimes you have to just get away as a couple for a day to spend time without kids. We love our kids, but we also love those rare moments when we can leave the children with their grandparents and head out of town for twenty-four hours. Recently, we were given one of those moments and took full advantage of it by grabbing our Chase Freedom Unlimited card and steering our car towards the beach, child-free meals, and a day long date!

Every summer, my family packs up and drives out west to spend time with our extended family and friends in Northern California. You can read about our trip in a previous blog post, but it is basically a whirlwind of quality time spent with loved ones. Usually our wedding anniversary also falls during this trip. So far, our family has been meeting our goal by traveling together, but on our most recent trip we had the opportunity to spend one night away from home as a couple...and it was glorious!

Lunch Ideas for Kids

Sometimes you just need to reconnect and enjoy being together as adults. We chose Santa Cruz because it is on the beach, has roller coasters, is not too far from the San Francisco Bay Area, but is far enough away to escape the busyness of the city. It was the perfect place for a relaxing trip where we wouldn't have to make any decisions based on bedtimes, if kids would be asking for snacks, or if our hotel room could fit five people. If you are looking for a fun few hours in the bay area, here are our tips on how to spend your time.

One of my best tips is to use your cash back credit card on purchases while traveling. My Chase Freedom Unlimited card allows me to earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase. When I was home buying supplies for my kids’ lunch boxes or thinking up fun and healthy lunch ideas for my kids, I was earning cash back for this trip. Then on this trip, I was earning cash back for everyday purchases back home!

Lunch Ideas For Kids

This trip actually started before we left when we booked our hotel online. We wanted to find a place within walking distance of the beach, but also one that wasn't too expensive. Having lived in the bay area before, we knew there were some pretty creepy looking hotels around Santa Cruz, so we made sure to check all of the reviews first. We were happy with the one that we found but ended up using a ride-share app most of the time anyway!

After we checked in, we found a fun little hidden Thai food place down the street that was pretty good and inexpensive. When you are traveling, always ask around for a place where the locals go. Don't settle for convenience next door when a much better restaurant could be just around the corner!

Lunch Ideas For Kids


After we filled up at the local Thai spot, we headed straight to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is one of our favorite places to experience the sand and the waves, be thrilled on rides, and taste unhealthy but delectable treats! After a twenty-minute trek down a few streets and across a bridge, we arrived. I love inhaling the smell of salty sea air, but when it comes to the actual beach, I can take it or leave it. Who wants sand in every crevice of their body? My wife, on the other hand, gains life from visiting the ocean, so, we took a long walk on the beach, holding hands, talking about life, and letting the waves lap our toes. However, in the middle of our romantic beach walk, we encountered a vampire hangout.

Lunch Ideas For Kids

No, I'm not joking about this. One of my favorite vampire films of the 1980's, The Lost Boys, actually filmed scenes around Santa Cruz and the boardwalk. The movie features a young Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, among other stars. In one famous scene, Kiefer Sutherland and his vampire gang hang from a bridge and fall into the mist. The bridge in the photo above is the actual bridge from the movie. If you look closely, that is me posing on the walkway of the bridge. It is one of my favorite attractions near the boardwalk!

Lunch Ideas For Kids

After our romantic rendezvous with vampires, we spent the rest of the afternoon on the boardwalk. I always have to ride the main attraction there; the historic wooden roller coaster called The Giant Dipper. You can see my pretend scared face above. This National Historic Landmark opened in 1924 and is the fourth oldest coaster in the United States, continuously operating in its original location. 

Our big decision was if we should pay full price to ride it during the day or get a deal by riding it at night. Since we are always earning on every purchase with our Chase Freedom Unlimited card, we opted to ride it once during the day, but then also buy extra ride tickets for later. Why not, right?

Lunch Ideas For Kids

After riding the coaster, and walking up and down the boardwalk, we decided to walk back to our hotel room to get ready for dinner. I had picked out a local favorite called The Crow's Nest. It is right on the water and has been open since 1969. It is an absolute must if you are visiting Santa Cruz. Here is where we ran into some tough choices. We ended up filling up on so many happy hour appetizers that we didn't have room for a full dinner. You can see some of our food choices above. We didn't regret it though. Make sure to try the calamari, you won't be disappointed!

Lunch Ideas For Kids

After we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant, we took a car back to the boardwalk to try some more rides, and of course grab a fried dessert. Another attraction that merited multiple trips through the line was the 1911 Loof Carousel, which is also a National Historic Landmark. It is hand-carved and a site to behold, but this ride isn't just for kids. Veterans of this carousel know to wait for an outside horse so that you can grab a ring that is dispensed by a long square metal tube. Every time around you have the chance to grab a ring and toss it into a clown's mouth, which creates a frenzy of lights and sirens. Only the most skilled, or lucky, rider can accomplish this feat!

Lunch Ideas For Kids

After we’d had enough amusement on the carousel, we indulged in candy apples and caramel stuffed churros! The stuffed churros are a tradition for me, I have to get one every time I'm at the boardwalk. They can only be found at a specific stand near the log ride. We couldn't leave without picking up some salt water taffy for the kids, but after that, we headed back to our hotel room. We fell asleep with full stomachs, sore feet from walking, and the TV on in the background. We might be an old married couple, but it was fantastic!

Lunch Ideas For Kids

When we awoke the next morning, there was one more item to check off on our list. We had read about The Buttery, which is by reputation the best bakery in Santa Cruz. It also happened to be only a few blocks from our hotel, so we walked there for pastries and coffee. We also may or may not have picked up a few cookies for later. I mean, we were there, so why waste the opportunity? If you decide to visit, I highly recommend the chocolate strawberry scone. We were also impressed with their efficient checkout system. Using our cash back credit card at their kiosks, we were in and out in minutes, even though the bakery was full of hungry customers!

All-in-all this day together was just what we needed. We earned cash back for our next trip and had longer than one-minute uninterrupted conversations with each other. Sometimes it's the small getaways that refresh you and give you the strength to make it through the upcoming busy times of back-to-school season. Remember to take these small moments away when you can, so that your kids can get your best when you return!

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