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Main County Parks Hotline: 831-454-7900

Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seals, sea lions, and other marine animals to view every winter. Breeding season is December 15. March 31. Guided Elephant Seal walks – 8:30 a.m.. 3:30 p.m., rain or shine. Self-guided walks available for the Visitor Center, Cove Beach, and trials. Guided tours can be booked online! Open daily 8:30 am to Sunset. (650) 879-2025 http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523

Big Basin State Park

This was the first state park in California. There are over 50 miles of hiking trails, giant redwoods, nature programs, a store, picnic and camping sites. Call Big Basin in October to see if they’re doing their special Halloween Hike. it’s a lot of fun! Open daily 6 am to Sunset. 831-338-8860 www.bigbasin.org

Pinto Lake Park

Features group picnic areas, volleyball, horseshoes, a softball diamond, a children’s playground, pedal and rowboats (seasonal), and fishing (kids under 16 fish for FREE). This is also a great place to feed ducks! 451 Green Valley Rd, Watsonville. Open daily from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Phone: 831-722-8129 www.pintolake.com

Wilder Ranch

This 5,000- acre park contains a collection of restored dairy ranch buildings from the 1870’s. Tours are conducted on weekends at 2 p.m. Wilder Ranch also contains Gray Whale Ranch. There are mountain biking trails, animal viewing, picnicking, and hiking. Hikes range from 1.5 miles to 6 miles. There is a fee for parking, but if you park outside the Ranch, it is FREE. Highway 1, North of Santa Cruz. Open daily 8 am to sunset. 831-423-9703 http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=549

Twin Lakes State Beach

FREE. Some fire pits available for bonfires. This beach is across the road from a small, natural lake that harbors ducks, geese, and other feathered travelers. Located just past the Small Craft Harbor on East Cliff Drive. (831) 427-4868 Call for Hours http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=547

Fall Creek State Park

FREE. The walking-only trail winds peacefully along Fall Creek to the Lime Kilns (dating back to the 1800’s) and further to the Barrel Mill site. Beautiful light hike and no-grills picnic area. (Bring a blanket to sit on). 831-335-4598 Open 6 am to sunset. http://www.thatsmypark.org/cp-parks-beaches/fall-creek-state-park/

Forest of Nisene Marks

FREE if you park outside the entrance gate and walk in. otherwise, there is a fee for parking. Wilderness area with over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. Limestone quarries and kiln, logging railroad, the Spreckels Mansion. Also the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Entrance at Aptos Creek Rd., Aptos Village Open Sunrise to Sunset. 831-763-7062 http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=666

Harvey West Park

Picnic area, athletic fields, swimming pool, playground, and community building. Also, the Evergreen Cemetery with early settlers headstones to make relief prints. FREE. There is a fee for use of the swimming pool. Call 420-6140 for more information. 300 Evergreen St., Santa Cruz (turn on Harvey West Blvd near Highway 1 and River Street). Open daily 9 am. sunset. 831-438-2396 http://www.santacruzca.org/things/parks.php?attid=82782

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

This park has hiking trails through the redwoods, a quick hike through a redwood grove that is great for kids, and a self guided tour through the Giant Redwoods. As of Summer 2014: Due to staff furloughs in effect, please call to confirm visitor center operating hours. There is a fee for parking. 101 N. Big Trees Park Rd., off Highway 9 in Felton 831-335-4598 http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=546

Highlands Park

This park consists of 20 acres with two softball diamonds and fields, a tennis court, a BBQ area, park center, playground area, and a wading pool. Park resides on the San Lorenzo River. Open daily dawn to dusk. There is sometimes a fee for parking in the summer. 8500 Highway 9, Ben Lomond 831-454-7956 http://www.scparks.com/highlands.html

Natural Bridges State Beach

Famous for rough-hewn rock bridge created by pounding surf. There are tide pools, and in October and November the beach is the home of the Monarch Butterfly Festival. Open daily, 8 a.m.. Sunset. There is a fee for parking. 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz 831-423-4609 http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=541

New Brighton State Beach

Cypress and pine trees surround this beach. Picnic, camping facilities available. Open daily. There is a fee for parking. Open daily 8 am to Sunset. 1500 State Park Drive, Capitola 831-464-6330 http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=542

Ocean View Park

This park has a small playground, grassy area for games, basketball court, and super fun slides and swings (chains are long enough for adult swingers, so go for it!). 102 Ocean View Ave., Santa Cruz

Pogonip

FREE. Wonderful hiking trails that wind through forest, field, and glade. One of the best spots around for a bird’s-eye view of Santa Cruz. 333 Golf Club Drive in Santa Cruz Take River Street/Highway 9, turn left on Golf Club Drive, OR enter at the top of Spring Street, off of High Street Open 7 am to 7 pm.

Felton Covered Bridge & Park

FREE and open daily. The bridge spans the San Lorenzo River. It is State Historical Marker #583, built in 1892, and one of three remaining historical covered bridges in Santa Cruz County. Off Graham Hill Road, Downtown Felton. Phone: 831-454-7956.

Mystery Spot

Balls roll uphill and other mysterious phenomena occur. Fee for parking, tickets are $6 at the door, but sellout frequently on holidays. Open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Mon-Fri; 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Sat-Sun. 1953 Branciforte Drive, Santa Cruz. Phone: 831-423-8897 www.mysteryspot.com

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

Come to the only remaining building of Mission Santa Cruz, and the oldest building in Santa Cruz County. Learn about the Native American experience at the mission. Tours are given. There is a beautiful yard with picnic tables available, and the site is very close to Downtown Santa Cruz. Call the park to confirm hours. 144 School Street, Santa Cruz. Phone: 831-425-5849 http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=548

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