Watsonville is a city with a population of about 54,000 situated in the Pajaro Valley area of Santa Cruz County.
The city is known for its agricultural industry, as well as it’s fantastic weather, outdoor recreation and central location in the Monterey Bay area. It allows easy access to the coast, mountains and larger city centres, such as San Francisco.
In Watsonville, visitors can enjoy many outdoor activities, including biking, boating, bird-watching, swimming, and hiking.
Watsonville is also home to restaurants, cultural attractions and shopping areas, such as Overlook Shopping Center, East Lake Village Shopping Center, and Pajaro Plaza.
Many festivals and events take place in Watsonville throughout the year, including the Strawberry Festival, the Watsonville Fly-in and Air Show, and the Santa Cruz County Fair.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Watsonville, California.
1. Get Outdoors at Pinto Lake County Park
Pinto Lake County Park is a large green space near Watsonville where you can relax in natural surroundings and participate in a range of outdoor activities.
Here there’s a lake where you can fish from a public pier, while other facilities include a disc golf course, soccer fields, a softball field, playgrounds, and picnic areas. A series of nature trails are situated near the lake.
As you explore this park, you’ll also be able to admire the Turtle Dove public art project.
2. Learn About Regional History at The Pajaro Valley Historical Association
The Parajo Valley Historical Association covers the history of Watsonville and its main focus is to showcase the history of the entire Monterey Bay region.
The museum is located in the old Bockius-Orr House, built in 1870, and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours of the house are available on certain days of the week and, during a tour, you can see many exhibits dedicated to regional history.
The exhibits rotate from time-to-time, but some of the artefacts you’ll see include military clothing, antique household ornaments, documents, and photos.
3. Browse the Watsonville Farmers’ Market
Once a week, the Watsonville Farmers’ Market sets up in town and offers a vast selection of local, fresh produce including organic items.
Also available are some food booths serving a variety of local favourites and ethnic dishes, including delicious Mexican and Asian options. Children’s activities also take place in the market.
4. Spend a Day by the Ocean at Sunset State Beach
Watsonville is only a short distance from the coast, and Sunset State Beach is where residents and visitors head to on warm, sunny days.
Situated on Monterey Bay, this beautiful, sandy beach stretches for over a mile and is adjacent to Manresa State Beach.
Due to the rip currents, the water is best left to very strong swimmers, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here.
If you enjoy fishing, the beach is a well-known spot for fishing striped bass, sardines and perch. During certain times of the year, you may spot some of the snowy plovers that nest in the sand at this beach.
Picnic areas are located near a cliff overlooking the area’s stunning scenery. If you wish to stay overnight, camping is allowed in certain areas. During the summer months, guided nature hikes are available.
5. Dine on Local Cuisine at California Grill and Bar
‘Healthy, fresh, organic, delicious and local’. These are all words that describe the dishes served at California Grill and Bar.
The atmosphere of this eatery is homey with many old pictures of the Pajaro Valley hanging on the walls.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily and the menu has a variety of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, seafood dishes, and pasta dishes. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available.
Grilled prawn stir fry, Mary’s lemon garlic chicken, roasted polenta lasagne, and grilled lamb chops, are some of the main courses you can choose from.
6. See Watsonville from Above with Skydive Surfcity Santa Cruz
Skydiving is a popular activity in California, and Skydive Surfcity Santa Cruz is the company in Watsonville that allows visitors to see the area from high above. It’s also one of the top skydiving companies in the state.
With safety as a priority, the company offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences to both amateur and seasoned divers. They do this through tandem jumps that pair first-timers with well-trained, and fully-certified instructors. As you soar through the sky back towards earth, you’ll see views of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.
Photo and video memory add-ons are also available if you wish to include them with your skydiving adventure package.
7. Visit The Agricultural History Project Center and Museum
Since 2004, The Agricultural History Project Center and Museum has been showcasing the history of agriculture in Watsonville and the Central California Coast.
During a visit, you’ll learn about farming practices, agriculture, and the connection to the local economy and various ethnic groups of the region.
The exhibits are located in four buildings that represent farm and ranch life during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
8. Spend a Day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
For more than 100 years, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk has entertained people of all ages with its array of exciting attractions in a vibrant seaside setting.
There are a variety of carnival rides, some of which have historical significance. An arcade, mini-golf course, laser tag facilities, and a bowling alley are just some of the amusements you’ll find at the boardwalk.
Throughout the week, various events take place, including live music, movie nights and Karaoke nights.
9. Escape Into Nature at Mount Madonna County Park
Another beautiful outdoor area near Watsonville is Mount Madonna County Park.
This 4,600-acre recreational area of the Santa Cruz Mountains features around 15 miles of redwood forest hiking trails that are also suitable for horseback riding.
As you explore the park, you’ll see stunning views, natural wonders and the remnants of Henry Miller’s old summer home.
Also on-site are an archery range, overnight camping areas, and yurts. The visitor centre has exhibits about the area’s history and geology, while an amphitheatre hosts concerts and other events throughout the summer.
10. Go on a Historic Ride with Roaring Camp Railroads
Once used to carry huge redwood logs, the 19th-century locomotives at Roaring Camp Railroads, in nearby Felton, are now used to carry passengers on a historic adventure through the area.
A ride on one of these beautifully-preserved steam engines takes you through many scenic areas, including Bear Mountain, the San Lorenzo River Gorge, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
11. Tee off at Spring Hills Golf Course
Situated amidst the stunning foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Spring Hills Golf Course has everything golfers of all levels want in a day on the greens.
The service is friendly, the atmosphere is laid-back and the course is well-maintained. Course challenges include streams, elevated tee boxes and rolling hills.
This 18-hole, par-71 course also has a driving range and clubhouse serving snacks and beverages.
12. Pick Your Own Fruit and Berries at Gizdich Ranch
The family-owned Gizdich Ranch is a historical property that has been operating as a u-pick ranch since the 1960s.
Every day of the week, visitors are welcome to explore the orchards and pick fruit and berries to their heart’s content.
Pre-picked produce is also available for sale if you don’t have time to pick. At Eata Nita Pie Shop, seasonal pies, homemade jams, and berry-flavoured ice cream are for sale.
13. Satisfy a Craving for Seafood at The Fish House Bar & Grill
At The Fish House Bar & Grill, you’ll dine on some of the best seafood around. Every dish is made from fresh catches and produce from local farmers.
The menu features a variety of appetizers, soups, salads, pasta dishes and, of course, seafood dishes. You’ll also find delicious entrees, such as cioppino, curry snapper, crab cakes, and calamari parmesan. Enjoy a glass of local wine with your meal.
Outdoor dining is available and, from time-to-time, there’s live music at the restaurant.
14. Take a Stroll Along the Santa Cruz Wharf
The Santa Cruz Wharf is another popular landmark in nearby Santa Cruz. It’s also the longest wharf on the west coast.
The wharf is one of the top places in the area to see sea lions or watch one of the epic sunsets the area is known for.
While visiting the wharf, you can go on a boat tour, browse the fish market, or just take a stroll and enjoy the view.
You can also dine on seafood at one of the seafood restaurants and, for dessert, head to Marini’s candy shop for some handcrafted, local sweet treats.
15. Explore Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a vast wilderness area with over 80 miles of hiking trails. As you explore the park, you’ll see many species of birds and perhaps even spot some of the animals that live in the area.
You’ll also pass through an ancient coastal redwood forest where you’ll see giant redwood trees, waterfalls, and canyons.