Warm and mostly dry, the summer months from late May through early September are peak season in Santa Cruz. School is out, the beaches are full, and top attractions like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are bustling with crowds. (Come mid-week for less chaos.) Low overcast skies are common most mornings and nights, but afternoons are sunny with average highs in the mid-70s.
Countless outdoor festivals string the summer days together, including almost daily performances from the Shakespeare Santa Cruz Festival from July to September. For a wackier summer show, check out the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival’s Boomeria Extravaganza, featuring a massive 1879 pipe organ. In August, the warmest highs of the year reach 76 degrees as the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music comes to town. In September, which is nearly identical to August in its glorious warmth, families love the Watsonville Fly-In & Air Show and the Capitola Begonia Festival with is nautical parade.
After Labor Day, take advantage of lower rates, lighter crowds, and incredible weather through October. Locals have dubbed October the “secret summer,” as temperatures average 75 degrees that month. Head to the Santa Cruz Mountains for tastings at family-owned wineries or to September’s Capitola Art & Wine Festival for dozens of tastings and gourmet eats. The spring brings more shoulder season deals from March through April, when average high temperatures warm to the mid-70s.
For the best deals of the year (and the fewest crowds), come to Santa Cruz from November through February. You’ll experience the coolest month of the year (December averages 49 degrees) and the rainy season (January and February are the wettest), but it’s arguably the best time to experience migrating wildlife across Monterey Bay, including monarch butterflies, elephant seals, and thousands of gray whales. Note that some attractions close during this time, including the boardwalk for the first three weeks of December.