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Choosing summer camps in Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz County offers a wealth of summer camps for all kinds of needs. Whether you are looking for full-day care, academic enrichment, creativity, or a deep dive into your child’s interests, there’s a camp for that.

Here are some tips to help you find the right camp for your kids:

Start early!

Many camps start opening registration in February or March, and it pays to keep your eyes out – some camps fill up incredibly fast. If you are interested in Life Lab Camps at the UCSC Farm, for example (cancelled for 2021), or Junior Guards, you need to be at your computer when registration opens. They usually sell out all sessions within a day!

As strange as it is to be planning summer activities when you are barely thinking about spring break, this is the time to access the widest variety of choices.

Target the right camps for age.

Most day camps are licensed for school aged kids – between Kindergarten and 6th or 8th grade. But if you have younger or older kids, you still have some options. For the younger set, look for summer programming through the places you may already be attending – gymnastics, dance or music studios.

For the older kids, who may only be interested in a week or two of activities, there are a few places that have teen-focused programing (Seven Directions, Art Factory, and City of Santa Cruz programs are good bets). Other programs have “bridge” programs for the older kids, part camp and part short-term summer internship (Seymour Center Marine Lab Camps and WOLF Camp).

How much care do you need each day?

One struggle working parents have with summer camps is that many programs are only for part of the day. What to do if you need a full day of care for your younger school-aged kids? There are programs that cater to full-time working families, such as Boys and Girls Club, and the full-day camp programming run by the City of Santa Cruz at Harvey West Park. But these are limited and number and fill fast!

This summer I want to learn about…

If your child has a very specific interest, or wants to be immersed in a specific academic area, there are camps that cater to that, too! The City of Santa Cruz Parks and Rec is a great place to look for programs on a specific topic – maybe Lego building, or stop-motion animation, or cooking, or skateboarding. Science and nature programming is offered at WOLF and Brainstorms. Have a drama or art buff? All About Theatre and West Performing Arts both offer opportunities for performance and craft study, while Seven Directions and Art Factory are the place to go for visual art. Have an animal lover? Check out the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter Critter Camp or SPCA Kid’s Camp for in-depth learning about how to live with and love our furry friends.

Sleep-away camps are a summer highlight.

Something I looked forward to every year when I was a kid was my week of sleep away camp. While Kennolyn Camp is the best known overnight camp in the area, there are several other options listed here, including a week-long equestrian camp in Watsonville. Most of these camps also offer day programs, if your kid, like mine, isn’t ready to stay away from home that long!

A great resource for finding all the best camps that Santa Cruz has to offer is the Santa Cruz Parents Directory.

Whatever kind of Santa Cruz summer camp you are looking for, you are in a great place to find it!

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