About 3 years ago, we took our first trip down to Santa Cruz to visit with some friends. Having done no research on the area, but wanting to take a quick visit to the beach, we headed down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Let's just say that crowds of teenagers, corn dogs and arcade games aren't really my thing and I left with a sort of glum outlook on Santa Cruz beaches. Thankfully, we have made several trips down to the area since then and I have gained a HUGE appreciation for the breathtaking beauty of this charming beach town. Our most recent visit brought us to the Wilder Ranch State Park. The park is located a short distance from downtown and spans over 7,000 acres with 35 miles of trails.
We opted for an easy 2.5 mile loop along the Old Cove Landing Trail. From the restrooms near the main parking lot you will see signs for the trailhead which takes you across some railroad tracks and towards the coastline.
The trail is wide and level, and aside from some large puddles from recent rains, is stroller friendly. Our 2 year old made the wise decision to wear rain boots, so she eagerly trekked through dozens of large puddles while her older sister cheered her on!
Once you reach the water, the views of the coast line are pretty spectacular. I was originally drawn to the Cove Landing trail by this amazing picture, captured by a very talented photographer/writer (if you aren't following him, then you should be!). While we weren't so lucky with our seal spotting, we did manage to find a couple of seals playing in one of the coves (no amazing pictures of them, however!).
We took a short detour down to the beach where the kids explored the fern grotto (see map for location) and honed their rock-climbing skills. It was a bit like the scene out of Frozen when Anna tries to climb up the mountain side only to realize that all her efforts have gotten her only a few feet off the ground.
From the fern grotto beach, the trail follows the coast for a short distance before cutting inland towards the parking lot.
After our hike we made a stop in downtown Santa Cruz to enjoy some seriously fresh and tasty mexican food from Cafe Campesino. The cafe is located in a small kiosk on the sidewalk and despite having no more than 10 square feet of working space, the two ladies inside were cooking up some delicious food. We had the spicy chicken tortilla soup, chicken gordita and quesadillas from the kids menu. The mexican mocha was calling my name, but will have to be saved for our next visit. We ate our meal at one of the cafe's tables along the sidewalk - such a California treat to eat outdoors in December!
Looking for more Santa Cruz adventures? You may like our recent trip to a swimhole at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park or our visit to Westside Santa Cruz (which would be a great stop before or after visiting the beach or taking a nice hike).
What are your favorite spots in Santa Cruz?
Details: Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half from Berkeley. Parking at Wilder Ranch State Park is $10, however there are spots along the highway that are free. The hike is a 2.5 mile loop and took us about 2 hours with kids walking at their own pace. Entrees at Cafe Campesino ranged from $6-$12 and are made with fresh, organic ingredients.