We are highlighting some of the best places in Santa Cruz County to explore the great outdoors! From miles of sand to comb on the beaches of south county to zip lining through the resilient redwoods, you’ll love getting some fresh air with these outdoor explorations.
Check out our picks for the Best Opt Outside Activities:
#1: HIKE THE FOREST OF NISENE MARKS
Located in Aptos, The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park offers 30 miles of trails for walking, running, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Interesting sites include an unusual, twisted grove of redwoods, remnants of an old sawmill, and the epicenter of the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. For those looking for a longer trek with big rewards, hike to Maple Falls where you’ll enjoy all the splendor of the redwoods, a waterfall, plus a few creek crossings along the way.
#2: TIDE POOL AT NATURAL BRIDGES
There are many spots to tide pool in Santa Cruz County, but a classic has to be Natural Bridges State Beach. The famed arch, monarchs in the winter, and year-around abundance of wildlife by land, sea, air, and lagoon, make this spot a must-see. Take a peek at this Moment in Nature from Natural Bridges State Beach and you’re sure to be convinced. Request a free Birding and Wildlife Watch Guide for info on where to go, when, and what to look for! And be sure to check out the King Tides and Monarch Butterflies in the winter months!
#3: TAKE A LONG WALK ON THE BEACH
Enjoy miles and miles of continuous sand at south county beaches. From Seacliff to Rio Del Mar, Seascape to La Selva and Manresa to Sunset (pictured here), you just might have a bit too much sand to explore! These wide-open beaches are perfect for a socially distanced day at the beach. And if you’re looking to extend your south county adventures, find places to stay here.
#4: ROAM THE GARDENS AT THE ARBORETUM
With 135 acres of gardens and blooms, there’s plenty of room to roam at the UCSC Arboretum. Succulent gardens and botanical and foliage from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California are all found on the expansive grounds. See a variety of rare fruit trees and bustling aroma gardens – bustling with hummingbirds and bees that is.
#5: SURF THE MONTEREY BAY
Whether you’re a seasoned (salty) surfer or a hang ten newbie, get out in the Monterey Bay and take to the waves. Surf lessons are available or you can opt for surfboard, stand-up paddle board, or boogie board rentals. And if you’d rather watch from the shore, that’s okay too.
#6: TAKE A SCENIC WATERFRONT WALK
Enjoy a stroll along the coast with the Best Waterfront Walks in Santa Cruz County. West Cliff Drive is a classic oceanfront promenade where you can take the family, pups, and kids, and bask in the dazzling, local scenery. Be sure to check our whole list – spoiler: one isn’t by the ocean!
#7: VISIT THE WATSONVILLE WETLANDS
“Birds are everywhere you look,” proclaims a trail sign along the Struve Slough, one of six, interlinked freshwater sloughs that slice through South County. Over 90 percent of California’s wetlands have been lost to development and the Watsonville Sloughs are one of the largest remaining marshlands in the state. The wetlands provide a year-round home for local birds such as the White Pelican and serve as a stopover point for migratory birds visiting from faraway locales such as South America. Request a free Birding and Wildlife Watch Guide for more helpful info.
#8: RIDE THE TRAIN AT ROARING CAMP RAILROADS
Hop aboard the train at Roaring Camp where you can see California’s towering redwood trees from two historic railroads. Travel on authentic 19th century steam trains through the Big Trees to the summit of Bear Mountain or ride early 1900s Pullman cars on open-air excursion cars along a scenic river gorge through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the beach of Santa Cruz. Check the Roaring Camp website for current safety protocol.
#9: HIKE THE COAST AT WILDER RANCH
Enjoy the best of both views at Wilder Ranch State Park. Grasslands, oaks, knobcone pines, coastal redwoods, douglas firs, rugged coastline, tidepools, hidden beaches, Victorian farmhouse, barns — need we say more? Wilder Ranch boasts a wide assortment of terrain and habitat, and offers over 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys. Need more proof? Watch this Moment in Nature from Wilder Ranch State Park.
#10: GO HIGH IN THE REDWOODS AT MOUNT HERMON ADVENTURES
For the thrill seekers, you can climb, crawl, swing and soar through a redwood canopy at Mount Hermon Adventures. On the Redwood Canopy Tour, enjoy six zip lines and two suspension bridges hung serenely above a babbling creek among towering redwoods. This continuous canopy tour experience keeps you high above the earth in the branches of ancient trees. For a more active adventure, take the Sequoia Aerial Adventure where you traverse rope and timber obstacles suspended between the redwood trees high above the forest floor.
#11: HIKE THROUGH ANCIENT REDWOODS AT HENRY COWELL
Take a Moment in Nature at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Located in Felton, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is known for its rich history and lush, towering redwoods. Notable visitors such as President Theodore Roosevelt spent time among the old-growth redwoods and inspired preservation efforts to keep our nature pristine. The Redwood Grove Trail circles around the park’s oldest and largest trees and is wheelchair and stroller accessible. And in case you missed the first link, watch this video from Henry Cowell and see how many creatures you can spot.
After all that outdoor action, fuel up al fresco with some local eats and drinks at one of the best scenic patios in Santa Cruz County! And if you’re looking to extend your adventures in Santa Cruz County, check our site for information on hotels, motels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals.