The city of Santa Cruz remains a popular destination along California's scenic and rugged coastline, and for good reason; the town has a little bit of everything. Located at the center of California beach culture, Santa Cruz has the quaint feel of a town rich in art, cultural diversity, and fishing and logging history. And it is well known for its beachfront that is lined with a boardwalk that can transport visitors back to the days of arcade games and midway ride amusements. The city's quirkiness mixes with a beautiful coastline, creating an ideal hub for adventure and exploration.
One unique way to enjoy the area's fresh air is from the center of one of its mountain lakes. Loch Lomond Recreation Area has water so fresh that it forms the city's drinking supply. And while fishing from its shores is a popular activity, the park also maintains a fleet of pedal, paddle, and electric boats to get fisherman and families out exploring islands, coves and distant docks that have been built with the picnicker in mind.
Those looking for a challenge while out and about at Loch Lomond can consider tackling the park's Highland Loop Trail, which climbs steeply through the park's tanbark oak and redwood groves to views that overlook the San Lorenzo Valley before descending back to the lakeside and its picturesque shoreline.
For those who may not necessarily be up for scaling a mountain, the Skyline to the Sea Loop at Big Basin Redwood State Park is an ideal 4-mile loop. It leads from the coast at Waddell Beach inland along Waddell Creek, past working farms and redwood groves, and along an interpretive trail before it climbs slightly above the valley floor to views looking out over the ocean framed by California's colorful flora.
Visitors who are ready to leave solid ground and experience some of the region's more majestic creatures up close can head out into the Monterey Bay on a whale watching tour. On these four-hour tours, captains combine their knowledge of whale activity along the complex underwater canyons in the bay to help give visitors a chance to get close enough to see whales flip, breech and dive along the water's surface. Onboard naturalists offer their knowledge and answer questions about what is going on in waters that many onshore don't get the chance to witness. A number of other species can be seen out on the water as well, and the views of Santa Cruz's colorful boardwalk upon the excursion's return to the harbor are unmatched.
And for anyone wanting to get up on trees standing nearly 300 feet tall, Mount Hermon Adventures gives visitors the chance to harness in and follow as their trained guides lead groups high into the canopy on aerial obstacle adventure and zipline courses. The experience combines the challenge of physical courses with the educational information about the history and habits of the trees. The excitement of flying through the forest from platform to platform adds to a remarkable experience of these giant trees. Mount Hermon Adventures offers a safe way to get visitors up and experiencing the living forest from a first-hand perspective.
Between the deep and complex sub-marine canyons of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the mountainside canyons lined with live oak and redwood groves, and the coastline and its valleys and plateaus of agricultural history, Santa Cruz has a little of everything. With opportunities that cater to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels and abilities, Santa Cruz has a seemingly endless amount of options for everyone from the avid adventurer to the family that is vacationing on the coast.
70 miles south of San Francisco, 35 miles north of Monterey, and unabashedly left of center, you'll find great surf, sandy beaches, redwood-covered mountains, laid-back towns, organic farms, and a burgeoning beer and wine scene. It's impossible to pick one place to visit in Santa Cruz County. Take a quick cruz of them all!