The old-timey Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has rides from the ’20s, like the wooden Giant Dipper, to a modern spinning roller coaster, Undertow, slated to open in May. Get a primer on this beautiful stretch of coast at the new Exploration Center, run by Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. $32 rides pass; beachboardwalk.com
Best time to go: April or early May, for great weather and fewer crowds.
Stay: The newly renovated Beach Street Inn (pictured) has ocean views and a firepit. From $189;