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Santa Cruz Eco-friendly Activities

Families enjoy exploring the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

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.

Click here to search  Half Moon Bay (45 miles north) or Monterey (40 miles south).

Año Nuevo State Reserve

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.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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

Birding in Santa Cruz County

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 >>

Monarch Grove Tours

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.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

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.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

This site is dedicated to the preservation of Monterey Bay.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

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.

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve

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.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

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 >>


See also

State Parks & Beaches

Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary


What’s on Tap


Santa Cruz Festivals & Events:

Thunderbirds on the Santa Cruz Wharf! Sept. 29, 2018 at 9am to 3pm.

Featuring the classic 1955-1957, the 1958-1965 vintage and the retro, 2002-2005 Thunderbirds.

Open Studios Art Tour – First 3 weeks in Oct. 2018

Welcome Back Monarchs Day – Oct. 14, 2018 11am – 4pm.

Annual Monte Foundation Fireworks Extravaganza! – Oct. 7, 2018

Santa Cruz Pumpkin Patches—Oct. 2018

MORE Santa Cruz Halloween Celebrations—Oct. 2018

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival—Oct. 13 & 14, 2018

Main Street, Half Moon Bay, CA



For more event information, click on our Festivals & Events page for Santa Cruz.



Top Santa Cruz Attractions:


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Fun for all ages.

Santa Cruz Campgrounds

Ocean views or Redwoods? Over 27 campgrounds and RV Parks

Santa Cruz Fishing 

Fall is fishing and crabbing season in Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz Surfing

With 11 world-class surf breaks such as Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point, it is easy to understand why the greatest surfers in the world call Santa Cruz home!

Whale Watching – Whale Watching December through May


For more information on local attractions, click on the Attractions or Recreational Activities.




The Region’s Fall Advisories:

Traffic Conditions. Rush hour traffic can be extremely challenging – especially along Mission Street and Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Capitols. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and arrive early and leave late. Go to to learn about road conditions.

Yes, it’s still water, water, water! California is undergoing an extreme drought. If you are planning a lake vacation be sure to check about water levels. That rafting trip, fishing, or skiing can be impacted.

EXTREME fire danger. The drought has created a very dangerous combination of dry vegetation and no moisture in the air to help contain any fire. Please use extreme caution during your trip.