Figures on Twin Lakes State Beach, east of Santa Cruz, with homes in background

With rental prices that just overtook San Francisco, it’s clear that Santa Cruz is an incredibly desirable place to settle down—especially for families. Home to the University of California Santa Cruz campus, this city is known particularly for its educational institutions, with highly-rated schools at all grade levels. 

For those on the fence about which neighborhoods are best for the kids, here are just a few of the excellent choices available for interested families. 

The Circles

Recognizable for its circular, residential streets that center on Garfield Park Christian Church (now slated for redevelopment), The Circles is a quaint neighborhood located south of Mission Street, close to Neary Lagoon Park. 


There are two convenience stores within the community, with Circle Market being a bit of a local landmark as it has been around for countless years. Garfield Park Branch Library is another notable location within the neighborhood, which hosts events such as preschool storytimes and arts & crafts sessions. 


The Circles is considered to be a more affordable place to live, in comparison to other neighborhoods around Santa Cruz. This is because homes in this area are typically older, smaller properties—although prices all throughout the city have risen over the past few years. Regardless, The Circles is quite appealing for families because of its safe, quiet streets, as well as plenty of nearby amenities (including shops, restaurants, and the beach). 


Nearby schools:

  • Bay View Elementary School
  • Spring Hill School (private)
  • Gateway School (private)
  • Natural Bridges High School
  • Santa Cruz High School


Surrounding Westlake Park, this Upper Westside Santa Cruz neighborhood is recognized for being upscale. Here, even smaller homes for sale come with luxury price tags attached. 

Westlake is one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, as it is a great place to raise a family. There are often very few listings available on the real estate market, but those that do share some common features: beautiful, scenic views, larger lot sizes, and great educational opportunities. Mixing old and new, homes in Westlake are charming and luxurious, and make for an excellent investment. 

Whilst Westlake Park and the various parks, trails, shops, and restaurants around the community all add to the Westlake’s appeal, families choose this luxury neighborhood because it is located close to highly-rated schools: most notably, Westlake Elementary School.


Nearby schools:

  • Westlake Elementary School
  • Mission Hill Middle School
  • Santa Cruz High School
  • University of California Santa Cruz

Charming home located on residential street in Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz Gardens

This neighborhood is found north of Live Oak and Soquel Drive, tucked away into the hills. Santa Cruz Gardens is a good alternative to the goings-on of the Santa Cruz downtown; located away from a lot of the noise and busyness, this neighborhood offers a quiet, peaceful lifestyle.

Families look towards Santa Cruz Gardens because of its privacy and small streets—many of which are dead-end, and safe for kids to play outside on. There is also a school right in the heart of the neighborhood, Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary School, as well as a daycare, which makes dropping the kids off quite convenient. 

Santa Cruz Gardens also features a park with a playground, and it’s located near large chain stores and the hospital. 


Nearby schools:

  • Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary School
  • Soquel Elementary School
  • Glen Acres Elementary School
  • Live Oak Elementary School
  • De Laveaga Elementary School
  • Branciforte Middle School
  • New Brighton Middle School
  • Harbor High School
  • Soquel High School

Aptos Hills

Like its name suggests, this Aptos neighborhood is the furthest east of all neighborhoods on this list. Though perhaps not as ideal for families who must commute to the downtown area (this trip takes about 20 minutes via the highway), Aptos Hills also offers the same privacy, safety, and excellent schools that are so desirable to prospective homebuyers. 

Like Santa Cruz Gardens, this neighborhood is located on a higher elevation, and some properties have amazing views of the city below and the ocean beyond. Aptos Hills is considered a luxury neighborhood with quite expensive homes, but families who move here do so for its more rural feel and ample amenities. 


Nearby schools:

  • Mar Vista Elementary School
  • Valencia Elementary School
  • Main Street Elementary School
  • Wavecrest Junior High School
  • Aptos Junior High School
  • New Brighton Middle School
  • Aptos High School
  • Soquel High School
  • Cabrillo College


Thinking of making the move to Santa Cruz with your family? Lauren Spencer of My Santa Cruz Real Estate has local knowledge and insider information. Get in touch today and find your dream home. 

Posted by Lauren Spencer on
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