When the weather’s as nice as it was this past weekend, there’s no place we’d rather be than at the beach. (And judging by the crowds at Ocean Beach, we not the only ones.) So pack your bags, hop in the car, and drive less than two hours south to explore sunny Santa Cruz.
Natural Bridges State Beach is a dream spot for any photographer, iPhone or otherwise, who loves taking pictures of water. Set up camp along the beach and watch the tide come in and out with the natural bridge rock formations in the background. Keep an eye out for the pelicans that usually frequent Natural Bridges. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Want to snap a few shots with the sun shining directly through the stone archway? Come at sunrise for some pretty spectacular views.
This one-mile stretch of sand is the perfect spot to enjoy the chill Santa Cruz vibes without having to deal with the crowds. Soft sand, playful surf, and great views of the Walton Lighthouse make it a perfect spot to spend the day — not to mention the night. Get there early to snag one of the beach’s fire pits and don’t forget to bring a six pack (or two). Learn more.
Insider Tip: Come summer, you’ll need a parking permit from 11 am to 5 pm on weekends and holidays. Grab one from the Live Oak parking trailer.
Looking for a beautiful waterfall hike in the area? Head to the Forest of Nisene Marks, where you’ll follow a fire road and several trails and cross over creek beds to reach Maple Falls. There’s no cell service and limited signage along the way, but grab a brochure at the George’s Picnic Area before you set out and the 8.5 miles of the roundtrip hike will be worth it. Learn more.
Insider Tip: You’ll need to leave $8 in a self-paying envelope to park at the picnic area. For your own sake, try to bring exact change.
Whether you’re a beginner or a more seasoned mountain biker, there’s something for everyone to love along the Old Cover Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch. The wide, flat, three-mile loop will take you through meadows and out along the cliffs for some amazing views over the ocean and beaches. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Feeling thirsty after your ride? The Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery is a five-minute drive from the Wilder Ranch Visitor Center.
A short drive from Santa Cruz is Henry Cowell State Park, where an eight-mile roundtrip hike along the Fall Creek Trail will take you through the park’s lush, old growth forest. Hike into Big Ben — a (relatively) medium-sized redwood and a good spot to have a picnic to fuel up for the four miles back to the trailhead. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Notice all the abandoned limestone kilns throughout the hike? These are remnants of the 19th- and 20th-century kilns where much of the lime was produced that rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.