Redwoods and crashing waves are the backdrop of this seaside city by the mountains.
On the northern edge of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is a city of ancient redwoods, surfing beaches, and coastal mountains. Here, Hipcampers can sleep under forest canopies or wake up to views of the Pacific Ocean. Santa Cruz rates among California's top surfing spots, with a shoreline that varies from sandy beaches to dramatic cliffs and tidal pools. Not far from downtown, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has amusement park rides and games for in-town thrills. Or you can stroll down the wharf to shop and dine on the water. You’ll find numerous recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities around the bay
Big Basin Redwoods Big Basin Redwoods State Park is home to a 2,000-year-old redwood named Mother of the Forest, which stands 300 feet tall. The protected groves of coast redwoods in Big Basin and neighboring Little Basin are among the state’s most magnificent—and resilient. Once recovered from wildfires and reopened to the public, these camps will again offer tent spots and cabins for rent. Felton Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park covers 40 acres of old-growth redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Henry Cowell boasts a popular swimming hole known as the Garden of Eden, as well as trails for hiking and horseback riding. Next door in Felton is Roaring Camp Railroads, where you can ride a steam locomotive through the forest. Capitola New Brighton State Beach sits on a bluff surrounded by eucalyptus trees. In addition to tent sites, the campground has RV sites with hookups, but trailers looking for an RV park should check Seacliff State Beach. Sunset State Beach Campground, which lies further south along Monterey Bay, overlooks a quiet, uncrowded beach near Pajaro Dunes. Monterey Follow Highway 1 around the bay all the way to Monterey, home to a state-of-the-art aquarium. En route, it’s worth a stop at Elkhorn Slough—part of the Moss Landing State Wildlife Area—where campers can rent a kayak and paddle among the sea otters.
Summertime in Santa Cruz attracts crowds, and the beaches and campsites tend to fill up. Book ahead and plan your trip well ahead of time, or explore during the off-season. Autumn and spring are typically temperate, while cooler months may require preparations for rain. From December to February, thousands of monarch butterflies overwinter in Monarch Grove, a natural preserve at Natural Bridges State Beach where you can visit tidepools year-round.
- Some state parks and forest trails may remain closed due to dangerous conditions caused by fire damage. - Dogs are allowed in some campsites, picnic areas, and select trails in California state parks. - Participate in the Crumb Clean Campaign to protect the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird that nests in the forest canopy. - Surfboards and equipment, including wetsuits, can be rented at Cowell Beach on the Santa Cruz Wharf. - Felton features a historic downtown where campers can purchase provisions at a natural foods store, find delicious eats, and enjoy wine tasting and craft beers.