A Travel Price Comparison for California Joshua Tree National Park vs. Santa Cruz for Hiking, Backpackers, Families, and Couples

Should you visit Joshua Tree National Park 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 Joshua Tree National Park 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.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating, adventurous, and unique national park. This is also a very beautiful destination which attracts plenty of visitors. It's also known for hiking.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a laid back, coastal, and scenic town. It's also popular because of the museums, nightlife, and food.

Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular for food
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Less walkable
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Popular for food and cuisine
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Fun shopping
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Very walkable
Things to Consider
  • Less hiking options
  • Less popular with backpackers


Is there more to do in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Visitors will usually find more to do in Santa Cruz than Joshua Tree National Park, as it offers more sights, attractions, and activities. Santa Cruz is better known for its museums, food, nightlife, beaches, and shopping, while Joshua Tree National Park is more popular for its hiking and impressive beauty. Joshua Tree National Park is well known for its unique vegetation and large boulders. 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 Joshua Tree National Park different from Santa Cruz?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Santa Cruz and Joshua Tree National Park. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a town with good options for its museums and history. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its museums and landmarks.

If you're looking for an educational opportunity, there are a decent number of museums and historical sights around Santa Cruz. Local museums in town include the Surfing Museum, Seymour Marine Discovery Center, and Santa Cruz Mission.

Joshua Tree National Park offers a handful of options for museums and historical sights. There are a couple of museums in the area that display local art or cultural and historical items.


Is the Food Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a town with good options for its restaurants. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its restaurant scene.

Santa Cruz is becoming an appealing option for foodies. 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.

While Joshua Tree National Park is not famous for its food, you'll find what you need there. There aren't any restaurants inside the park, so you'll want to pack your own food and eat at one of the picnic areas.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Nightlife?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a very popular place for its evening party scene. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for nightlife.

Santa Cruz has a large number of nightlife venues. You'll find a range of nighttime options around town that include live entertainment, bars, clubs, and even a casino.

Things get quiet in the evenings in Joshua Tree National Park. Stargazing and gathering around campfires are the most popular activities during the evening.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Beaches?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a very popular place for the beach. However, Joshua Tree National Park is not a beach destination.

The beaches at Santa Cruz attract visitors from all over. 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.

Joshua Tree National Park is not a beach destination.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Hiking?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Joshua Tree National Park is very popular for the nearby hiking options. Also, Santa Cruz is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its hiking trails.

People visit Joshua Tree National Park specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. There are a wide range of hikes that include easy, moderate, and strenuous options. Some of the best hikes include Discovery Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Black Rock Canyon Panorama Loop.

Many people include a hike when visiting 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.

Is the Shopping Better in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a town with good options for its shopping areas. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for shopping.

Santa Cruz has a variety of shopping areas worth visiting. Downtown Santa Cruz is where you'll find some of the best shopping.

Joshua Tree National Park has some shopping areas for those that seek them out. There is a park store where you can pick up gifts or other items.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Families?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Both Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz are excellent to visit with kids.

You'll find plenty of family-friendly things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. With its giant boulders that kids can scramble on and its Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees, this really is nature's best playground. There are also kid-friendly hikes and Junior Ranger Programs that will both educate and entertain the kids.

Santa Cruz is 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.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Couples?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Both Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz are excellent destinations for a couple's getaway.

Joshua Tree National Park makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Couples who enjoy the outdoors, adventure sports like rock climbing, and hiking through spectacular landscapes will find this to be the ultimate romantic destination.

Couples visit Santa Cruz frequently as it offers plenty of romantic activities. 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 Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Joshua Tree National Park is very popular for backpackers. Also, Santa Cruz is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for backpackers and budget travelers.

Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for backpackers and budget travelers. There are campgrounds and hiking trails that are popular with backpackers and nature enthusiasts.

Santa Cruz is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. There's a laid back vibe that is fun to experience and there's even a hostel in town.

Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a decent place to visit for times when you don't have a car. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its public transit.

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

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Joshua Tree National Park. There's no reliable public transportation in the park.


Is Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz a more walkable city?

Joshua Tree National Park
Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is renowned for its ease of walking around. However, Joshua Tree National Park is lacking in good options for its walkability.

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

Joshua Tree National Park is not a walkable national park. You need a car to truly explore the park.

For even more information, also check out Is Joshua Tree National Park Worth Visiting? and Is Santa Cruz Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Santa Cruz or Joshua Tree National Park?

How long in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

You'll be able to find lots of things to do in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz to fill your time. Many travelers usually spend more of their time in Joshua Tree National Park than Santa Cruz because of the number of activities and things to do in the area. Usually, 2-4 days is a good amount of time for Joshua Tree National Park, and 1-2 days is enough time in Santa Cruz.

Families should spend more time in Santa Cruz than Joshua Tree National Park. 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 Joshua Tree National Park. 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 Joshua Tree National Park 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 Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz? Ideal Length of Stay
    Joshua Tree National Park 2-4 
    Santa Cruz 1-2

One day in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

With around the adventurous national park of Joshua Tree National Park, there's plenty to do. Anyone can find something fun to do here. One of the main draws to the area is the hiking. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

Visitors enjoy the shopping and museums when visiting the coastal town of Santa Cruz. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. So, one day is just the right amount of time to spend here. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel.

A weekend in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

With around the destination of Joshua Tree National Park, there's plenty to do. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. It offers something for everyone. Many people spend a weekend here. One of the main draws to the area is the hiking. In a weekend, you should have a good grasp of this national park.

Visitors enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting the destination of Santa Cruz. Most people come for the beaches. Anyone can find something fun to do here. This is a popular place to visit for a weekend. Because of this, a weekend is usually enough time for a trip here.


Five days in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Joshua Tree National Park, a popular national park, is full of activities for travelers. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

Santa Cruz is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. It offers something for everyone.

A week in Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Joshua Tree National Park is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. One of the main draws to the area is the hiking. 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. One week is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare. Your budget might influence how long you stay.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best One-Week (7-Day) Tours from Anchorage, The Best One-Week (7-Day) Tours from Los Angeles, The Best One-Week (7-Day) Tours from New York City, and The Best 2-Week Tours from New York City.


Which place is cheaper, Santa Cruz or Joshua Tree National Park?

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

The average daily cost (per person) in Joshua Tree National Park is $152, 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 Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Joshua Tree National Park $87
    Santa Cruz $61
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Joshua Tree National Park $174
    Santa Cruz $122
Compare Hotels in Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz

Looking for a hotel in Joshua Tree National Park 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 Joshua Tree National Park


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: Santa Cruz Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Joshua Tree National Park $47
    Santa Cruz $40

Is it cheaper to fly into Joshua Tree National Park or Santa Cruz?

Prices for flights to both Santa Cruz and Joshua Tree National Park 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
    Joshua Tree National Park $35
    Santa Cruz $41

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Joshua Tree National Park $27
    Santa Cruz $18

Tours and Activities in Santa Cruz

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

  • Capitola Private 2-Hour Walking Tour: $30
  • Capitola Watercolor Journaling Experience: $297
  • Half Day Private Beach Tour in Santa Cruz: $35
  • Mermaid Experience & Photoshoot: $190
  • Santa Cruz 2Hour Guided eBike Tour for Small E-Bike Groups: $110
  • Santa Cruz Family Friendly Guided Electric Bike Tour (eBike): $110
  • Santa Cruz Ghosts Walking Tour: $30
  • Santa Cruz Guided eBike Ride & Most Fun Bike e-Bike Tour : $110
  • Self Guided UC Santa Cruz Walking Tour: Unlock Secret Stories : $20

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Joshua Tree National Park $4.93
    Santa Cruz $8.57


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Cruz, we can see that Joshua Tree National Park is more expensive. And not only is Santa Cruz much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Santa Cruz would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Santa Cruz 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 Joshua Tree National Park would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Joshua Tree National Park than you might in Santa Cruz.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Joshua Tree National Park Expensive? and Is Santa Cruz Expensive?.