Residents of Santa Cruz strive to protect the natural beauty of Santa Cruz County by protecting the ocean, beaches, harbor and green space. As a result, Santa Cruz has many eco-friendly activities, such as exploring local tide pools, hiking open space preserves, or simply taking in the breathtaking beauty of our local beaches.
To review our listings, please scroll down the page.
Located between Santa Cruz & Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 1
New Year’s Creek Road, off Hwy 1, Pescadero, CA (650) 879-0227
This 4,000 acre Reserve is a major gathering area for northern elephant seals, which may be seen year-around.
During the breeding season, December through March, the males battle for mates on the beaches. The females give birth to their young on the dunes. By early March most of the adult seals are gone, leaving behind the weaned pups who remain through April. The elephant seals return to Año Nuevo’s beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system.
During the breeding season, December 15 through March 31, daily access to the Reserve is available only via guided walks. Advance reservations are recommended for walks.
Rancho Del Oso, Hwy 1 831-338-8860
Located 25 miles south of Santa Cruz on Hwy. 1, the park has miles of trails, which serves hikers and equestrians, links Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range. Maps
The Santa Cruz Bird Club sponsors birding walks in and around Santa Cruz County. For a very detailed list of the best birding locations, please review the Club’s Guide to Birding in Santa Cruz County, California.
Elkhorn Slough Foundation Box 267, Moss Landing, CA 95039 (831) 728-5939
Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. This ecological treasure at the center of the Monterey Bay coastline provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including more than 340 species of birds.
Docent-led tours of the Reserve are held every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. There is also an early birding walk the first Saturday of every month at 8:30 a.m. For the kayak lovers, the reserve is absolutely wonderful! Click here to read how to protect the reserve and where to launch and land your kayak >>
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Weekends from mid-Oct. through Jan. at 11:00a.m.& 2:00p.m.
Meet at the visitor center for a guided tour of the monarch grove. The Monarch Butterfly migration is variable, to find out the current population, or to arrange a tour for groups of 10 or more, call (831) 423-4609.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA (831) 648-4888
We’ve included this world class aquarium in our Santa Cruz listings. Although it’s 40+ minutes away, it is worth the drive. The aquarium features habitats of Monterey Bay in its permanent galleries, and global marine life and marine conservation issues in its special exhibitions.
This site is dedicated to the preservation of Monterey Bay.
7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, CA (831) 775-1700
MBARI’s goal is to develop state-of-the-art equipment, instrumentation, systems, and methods for scientific research in the deep waters of the ocean.
Highway 1 & Pescadero Rd., Pescadero, CA 650-879-2170
Across the highway from the Pescadero State Beach is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a popular spot for bird watchers and other naturalists. The Reserve is a refuge for blue heron, kites, deer, raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Directions: The beach is located 14.5 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway One.
Long Marine Lab
100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA (831-459-3800
This is a working marine laboratory. Tourists can experience exhibit halls, aquarium, touch tanks, tours to marine mammal research overlook, and beautiful views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Whale Watching – Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay
Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed. Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March. More background on the Gray Whale >>
Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months. Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November. More background on the Humpback >>