I'm not sure any other city epitomizes the California dream as well as the surf-centric college town of Santa Cruz. The Dream Inn is the perfect base for exploring and has affordable rooms, a retro-chic design, and a beachfront location within walking distance of the famous boardwalk. The hotel can arrange surf or SUP lessons (you'll want to rent a wetsuit, even in the summer!). For those who'd rather take in the action from the shore, rent a bike from nearby Pacific Ave Cycles and peddle along West Cliff Drive until you reach the famous surf break, Steamer's Lane. You'll be able to watch talented surfers (and ambitious novices) surf some serious waves. A short drive away you'll find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. From the parking lot, take the Meadow Trail to the Loop Trail to Pipeline Road. Follow the road along the river and turn left at the Ridge Fire Road and follow it to the Observation Deck. You'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. For an even greater reward, grab a seat at the Dream Inn's new Jack O' Neill lounge and try one of the great cocktails (the Old Timer is a mix of Knob Creek, lavender sweet tea, and muddled fruit) and if you're lucky, there might even be a live band.