A Travel Price Comparison for California Carmel-by-the-Sea vs. Santa Cruz for Food, Nightlife, Beaches, and Families

Should you visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Trying to figure out where to travel next? This travel comparison between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz can help. It includes a travel cost comparison in addition to other factors. For many travelers, the cost of a destination is a primary consideration when choosing where to go.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming, picturesque, and quaint town. This is also a fantastic small town with plenty of charm and local activities. This is also a very beautiful destination which attracts plenty of visitors. It's also known for food, beaches, and shopping.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a laid back, coastal, and scenic town. Other popular activities here include beaches, hiking, and shopping.

Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Popular beach
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Small town charm
  • Impressive beauty
  • Home to Pebble Beach Golf Course
Things to Consider
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less family-friendly
  • Less popular with backpackers
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers


Is there more to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Visitors will usually find more to do in Santa Cruz than Carmel-by-the-Sea, as it offers more sights, attractions, and activities. Santa Cruz is better known for its nightlife and hiking, while Carmel-by-the-Sea is more popular for its food, shopping, small town charm, and impressive beauty. Carmel-by-the-Sea is well known for its storybook architecture, its opulent setting, and its popularity with golf enthusiasts. Santa Cruz is well known for its dramatic coastline, fun-filled boardwalk, and beautiful beaches. Also, Santa Cruz is famous for Santa Cruz Wharf.

How is Carmel-by-the-Sea different from Santa Cruz?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

For an educational experience, head to a museum or a notable sight in either Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz.

If you're looking for an educational opportunity, there are a decent number of museums and historical sights around Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Carmel Mission is a beautiful and fascinating Spanish mission that dates back to 1770. It's also well worth visiting the nearby Pebble Beach Golf Course. There are also a few fairytale style cottages in the area with some of the most notable being the Hansel cottage, the Gretel cottage, and the Tuck Box cottage.

Santa Cruz is a good place to visit if you're interested in museums or other recognizable sights. Local museums in town include the Surfing Museum, Seymour Marine Discovery Center, and Santa Cruz Mission.


Is the Food Better in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Carmel-by-the-Sea is notable for its local cuisine and restaurants. Also, Santa Cruz is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its restaurants.

With its innovative style combined with traditional elements, Carmel-by-the-Sea makes for a great culinary experience. For such a small town there is a huge number of bistros and local cafes. Seafood is popular, but you'll also find international restaurants and more casual eateries.

Santa Cruz has a delicious restaurant scene that relies on local flavors. Sampling local seafood is a top priority for many visitors. Most restaurants have a casual vibe and serve up high quality dishes in a relaxed setting. You'll find cafes, Mexican food, and Italian eateries among other options.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Nightlife?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a well-known place for its evening party scene. However, Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a good town for nightlife.

Santa Cruz offers plenty to do in the evening. You'll find a range of nighttime options around town that include live entertainment, bars, clubs, and even a casino.

Those looking for nightlife will find a few places to hang out in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It's not a late night town, but there are a couple of bars and some decent Happy Hours around town.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Beaches?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Both Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz are considered to be excellent beach destinations.

The beaches at Carmel-by-the-Sea attract visitors from all over. It's easy to walk to the beach from the village center. Just head down Ocean Avenue and you'll be at a beautiful beach with great scenery, surfing, and fun activities.

Many people visit Santa Cruz for it's beautiful beaches. The beaches are beautiful and fun. Head to Main Beach for the most activity. This is where you'll find the town's boardwalk, which has a historic carousel and several classic amusement rides. For a more peaceful and scenic spot, check out Natural Bridges State Beach or Seacliff State Beach.


Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Hiking?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a town with good options for the nearby hiking options. However, Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a hiking destination.

Plenty of visitors go hiking around Santa Cruz. There are several great parks in the area and trails that follow along the rugged coastline or go through the impressive redwood forests.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a hiking destination.

Is the Shopping Better in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Carmel-by-the-Sea is notable for shopping. Also, Santa Cruz is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its shopping opportunities.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is an extremely popular place for shoppers. It's easy to walk around the heart of town and pop in the many shops and galleries. The highest concentration of shops is found around the Carmel Plaza which has upscale brands as well as local items.

Shopping is a popular activity when visiting Santa Cruz. Downtown Santa Cruz is where you'll find some of the best shopping.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Families?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a well-known place for its family-friendly activities. However, Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a good town for its kid-friendly activities.

Santa Cruz is known to be a very family-friendly place to visit. It's filled with beaches, parks, playgrounds, and museums that kids and adults will enjoy. Highlights for many families include visiting the boardwalk, playing around at Seacliff State Beach, entertaining the kids at Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab, and taking in the beauty at Natural Bridges State Beach.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is not always a place people visit with their families. Carmel is a good place to let the kids stretch their legs. There are also some good kid-friendly walks in the area.


Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Couples?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Both Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz are excellent destinations for a couple's getaway.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a very popular place to visit for couples. It's a charming town with a beautiful coastline and plenty of cute hotels that makes for a great romantic getaway. There's wonderful shopping and many great restaurants where you can enjoy a local meal.

Santa Cruz makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Dining in downtown Santa Cruz, hiking through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and relaxing on the beach at Natural Bridges State Beach all make for a romantic getaway.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a town with good options for backpackers. However, Carmel-by-the-Sea is not a good town for backpackers and budget travelers.

Santa Cruz is a good town to visit for backpackers. There's a laid back vibe that is fun to experience and there's even a hostel in town.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a challenging destination for budget travelers and backpackers due to the higher prices. There aren't any real hostels or accommodation options that appeal to backpackers.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Both Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz offer respectable public transit options.

Public transit is generally limited in Carmel-by-the-Sea. There are a couple of buses, but you can't really depend on them to get around.

Public transit is mostly limited in Santa Cruz. There are buses that travel around town.


Is Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz a more walkable city?

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is renowned for its ease of walking around. Also, Carmel-by-the-Sea is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its walkability.

It is easy to get around Santa Cruz on foot. It's considered to be one of the most walkable cities in California.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is very walkable. The village center is very walkable so it's easy to park you car and shop or walk to the beach.

For even more information, also check out Is Carmel-by-the-Sea Worth Visiting? and Is Santa Cruz Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Santa Cruz or Carmel-by-the-Sea?

How long in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

You'll be able to find lots of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz to fill your time. Many travelers usually spend more of their time in Carmel-by-the-Sea than Santa Cruz because of the number of activities and things to do in the area. Usually, 1-3 days is a good amount of time for Carmel-by-the-Sea, and 1-2 days is enough time in Santa Cruz.

Families should spend more time in Santa Cruz than Carmel-by-the-Sea. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Santa Cruz, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Santa Cruz than Carmel-by-the-Sea. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Santa Cruz that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Santa Cruz than Carmel-by-the-Sea if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Santa Cruz.


  • How many days in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz? Ideal Length of Stay
    Carmel-by-the-Sea 1-3 
    Santa Cruz 1-2

One day in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Carmel-by-the-Sea might be a small town, but there's plenty to do in the area. Anyone can find something fun to do here. People usually spend lots of time at the beach. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, one day is sufficent for most.

With shopping and museums around the destination of Santa Cruz, there's plenty to do. It's also a great beach destination, too. One day is often enough time to do most activities. It offers something for everyone.

A weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Even though Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small town, it has plenty of activities to choose from. It's also a great beach destination, too. It offers something for everyone. Many people spend a weekend here. In a weekend, you should have a good grasp of this town.

With museums and nightlife around the scenic town of Santa Cruz, there's plenty to do. Your budget might influence how long you stay. It's a great spot for a beach vacation. This is a popular place to visit for a weekend. With all of its activities, you can easily fill a weekend here.


Five days in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a popular town, is full of activities for travelers. It's a great spot for a beach vacation. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

Travelers enjoy the nightlife and food when visiting the scenic destination of Santa Cruz. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do. Five days is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days.

A week in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. One week is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

Santa Cruz is a popular choice for travelers. Most people come for the beaches. This town offers a variety of activities to choose from. One week may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Camping Tours in United States of America, The Best Romantic Tours for Couples in United States of America, The Best Walking Tours in United States of America, and The Best Tours Under $1000 in United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Santa Cruz or Carmel-by-the-Sea?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Carmel-by-the-Sea is $0.00, while the average daily cost in Santa Cruz is $126. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Carmel-by-the-Sea -
    Santa Cruz $61
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Carmel-by-the-Sea $0.00
    Santa Cruz $122
Compare Hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz

Looking for a hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea


Hotels in Santa Cruz


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Carmel-by-the-Sea Hotel Prices and Santa Cruz Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Carmel-by-the-Sea $125
    Santa Cruz $40

Is it cheaper to fly into Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Prices for flights to both Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Carmel-by-the-Sea $153
    Santa Cruz $41

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

  • Old Monterey Walking Food Tour: $150

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Carmel-by-the-Sea -
    Santa Cruz $18

Tours and Activities in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Carmel-by-the-Sea are as follows:

  • Off the Beaten Path - Mobile Audio Tour: $7.99
  • Fairy Tale Houses Self-Guided Audio Tour: $7.99
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea's Fairytale Houses: A Self-Guided Walking Tour: $7.99
  • Historic Cannery Row: A Self-Guided Audio Tour of John Steinbeck's Monterey: $7.99
  • Driving the California Coast: A Self-Guided Audio Tour: $9.99
  • Discover Enchanted Cottages: A Carmel-by-the-Sea Audio Tour: $11
  • Scenic 17-Mile Drive Tour - Self Drive Audio Guide from Monterey & Carmel: $15
  • Point Lobos - A Private Charming Ocean Tour: $15
  • Big Sur Self-Driving Audio Tour: Highway 1, Pacific Coast Highway: $17
  • Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour in Big Sur PCH Highway 1: $20
  • Carmel by the Sea 2-Hour Private Walking Tour: $20
  • Carmel Tour in The Heavenly 17 Mile Drive: $30

Tours and Activities in Santa Cruz

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Santa Cruz are as follows:

  • Santa Cruz Must Sees: A Self-Guided Driving Tour: $3.99
  • Self Guided UC Santa Cruz Walking Tour: Unlock Secret Stories : $20
  • Santa Cruz:City Scavenger Hunt Tour with Remote Guide: $25
  • Capitola Private 2-Hour Walking Tour: $30
  • Santa Cruz Ghosts Walking Tour: $30
  • Half Day Private Beach Tour in Santa Cruz: $35
  • Mermaid Experience & Photoshoot: $50
  • Santa Cruz Guided eBike Ride & Most Fun Bike e-Bike Tour : $110
  • Santa Cruz 2Hour Guided eBike Tour for Small E-Bike Groups: $110
  • Santa Cruz Family Friendly Guided Electric Bike Tour (eBike): $110
  • Mermaid Experience & Photoshoot: $190
  • Capitola Watercolor Journaling Experience: $297

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Carmel-by-the-Sea -
    Santa Cruz $8.57

Sample the Local Flavors in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Carmel-by-the-Sea:

  • Wine Tasting Tours in a Vintage VW Bus: $139
  • Carmel: Wine Tasting Tours in a 1970 VW bus.: $139
  • Wine Tasting and Walking Tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea: $159
  • Wine Tasting and Walking Tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea: $159
  • Carmel Valley Wine Tour's Premium Package: $299

Sample the Local Flavors in Santa Cruz

Some specific costs for nightlife related activities in Santa Cruz:

  • Sidecar Wine Tour with Guide and Wine Tasting: $199
  • Private Brewery Tour: $500
  • Private Custom Wine Tour with Hotel Pickup: $750


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz, we can see that Santa Cruz is more expensive. And not only is Carmel-by-the-Sea much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Carmel-by-the-Sea would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Carmel-by-the-Sea and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Santa Cruz would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Santa Cruz than you might in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Carmel-by-the-Sea Expensive? and Is Santa Cruz Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Santa Cruz has a larger population, and is about 10 times larger than the population of Carmel-by-the-Sea. When comparing the sizes of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.


When is the best time to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz?

Both destinations experience a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. And since both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz in the Summer?

Both Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea are popular destinations to visit in the summer with plenty of activities. Many travelers come to Carmel-by-the-Sea for the beaches, the small town charm, and the family-friendly experiences. Also, many visitors come to Santa Cruz in the summer for the beaches, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences.

In the summer, Carmel-by-the-Sea is cooler than Santa Cruz. Typically, the summer temperatures in Carmel-by-the-Sea in July average around 63°F (17°C), and Santa Cruz averages at about 67°F (19°C).

In July, Carmel-by-the-Sea usually receives less rain than Santa Cruz. Carmel-by-the-Sea gets 0 inches (1 mm) of rain, while Santa Cruz receives 0.1 inches (1 mm) of rain each month for the summer.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Carmel-by-the-Sea 63°F (17°C) 
    Santa Cruz 67°F (19°C)

Should I visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz in the Autumn?

Both Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea during the autumn are popular places to visit. Many visitors come to Carmel-by-the-Sea in the autumn for the shopping scene, the small town atmosphere, and the natural beauty of the area. Furthermore, most visitors come to Santa Cruz for the hiking trails and the shopping scene during these months.

In October, Carmel-by-the-Sea is generally around the same temperature as Santa Cruz. Daily temperatures in Carmel-by-the-Sea average around 62°F (17°C), and Santa Cruz fluctuates around 63°F (17°C).

Carmel-by-the-Sea usually gets less rain in October than Santa Cruz. Carmel-by-the-Sea gets 0.6 inches (14 mm) of rain, while Santa Cruz receives 0.8 inches (21 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Carmel-by-the-Sea 62°F (17°C) 
    Santa Cruz 63°F (17°C)

Should I visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz in the Winter?

The winter attracts plenty of travelers to both Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz. Most visitors come to Carmel-by-the-Sea for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine during these months. Furthermore, the winter months attract visitors to Santa Cruz because of the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is around the same temperature as Santa Cruz in the winter. The daily temperature in Carmel-by-the-Sea averages around 51°F (11°C) in January, and Santa Cruz fluctuates around 51°F (10°C).

In January, Carmel-by-the-Sea usually receives less rain than Santa Cruz. Carmel-by-the-Sea gets 2.3 inches (58 mm) of rain, while Santa Cruz receives 2.8 inches (71 mm) of rain each month for the winter.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Carmel-by-the-Sea 51°F (11°C) 
    Santa Cruz 51°F (10°C)

Should I visit Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Cruz in the Spring?

The spring brings many poeple to Carmel-by-the-Sea as well as Santa Cruz. The spring months attract visitors to Carmel-by-the-Sea because of the beaches, the small town charm, and the natural beauty. Additionally, the beaches are the main draw to Santa Cruz this time of year.

In the spring, Carmel-by-the-Sea is around the same temperature as Santa Cruz. Typically, the spring temperatures in Carmel-by-the-Sea in April average around 56°F (13°C), and Santa Cruz averages at about 58°F (14°C).

Carmel-by-the-Sea usually gets more rain in April than Santa Cruz. Carmel-by-the-Sea gets 1.1 inches (29 mm) of rain, while Santa Cruz receives 1 inches (26 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Carmel-by-the-Sea 56°F (13°C) 
    Santa Cruz 58°F (14°C)

Typical Weather for Santa Cruz and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea Santa Cruz
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 51°F (11°C) 2.3 inches (58 mm) 51°F (10°C) 2.8 inches (71 mm)
Feb 53°F (12°C) 1.8 inches (47 mm) 54°F (12°C) 2.2 inches (56 mm)
Mar 54°F (12°C) 2.1 inches (55 mm) 55°F (13°C) 2.2 inches (56 mm)
Apr 56°F (13°C) 1.1 inches (29 mm) 58°F (14°C) 1 inches (26 mm)
May 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm) 62°F (16°C) 0.3 inches (7 mm)
Jun 62°F (16°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 65°F (19°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm)
Jul 63°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 67°F (19°C) 0.1 inches (1 mm)
Aug 64°F (18°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 67°F (20°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm)
Sep 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm) 67°F (19°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm)
Oct 62°F (17°C) 0.6 inches (14 mm) 63°F (17°C) 0.8 inches (21 mm)
Nov 56°F (13°C) 1.8 inches (45 mm) 56°F (13°C) 2.1 inches (53 mm)
Dec 51°F (10°C) 2 inches (51 mm) 51°F (10°C) 2.1 inches (53 mm)