In the heart of California’s Central Coast, Santa Cruz offers more than stunning beaches. Venture just a few miles (or less) inland to the Santa Cruz Mountains to discover lush redwood forests and scenic railroads that follow historic routes built during the region’s logging era. This itinerary takes you on a journey into the heart of these breathtaking natural wonders. (Full disclosure: I grew up in these redwoods — Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was our “back yard” — and I still hold a particular affinity for these awesome giants.)
Zachary's Restaurant, Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Seabreeze Café, Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton, CA, USA
Wilder Ranch State Park, Coast Road, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Roaring Camp, Graham Hill Road, Felton, CA, USA
Mount Hermon Adventures, Conference Drive, Felton, CA, USA
Shadowbrook Restaurant, Wharf Road, Capitola, CA, USA
BAD ANIMAL, Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Chaminade Resort & Spa, Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection, Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
A favorite among locals for decades, Zachary’s serves hearty breakfast in a warm, wood-paneled setting. Try the legendary Mike’s Mess, a scramble concoction. As the owners describe it on their website, the restaurant offers “good food, good people, good prices.”
A cozy, nautical-themed eatery in the Seabright neighborhood, Seabreeze Cafe serves classic breakfasts: omelets, scrambles, pancakes and waffles, and a slew of daily specials. Plan ahead: credit cards aren’t accepted here.
Spend the morning hiking in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, home to towering redwood groves. Alternatively, explore the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History near Seabright State Beach, to learn about the region’s natural and cultural history via interactive exhibits.
Photo by Simon Hurry
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Home to towering redwood groves, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers several easy to moderate trails. At minimum, trek along the flat Redwood Grove Loop Trail (0.8 miles), to view ancient trees in an old-growth forest.
The “town” of Roaring Camp, where one of your afternoon activities commences, offers several lunch options: Chuckwagon BBQ (weekends in summer), Georgie’s Cookhouse where you can order burgers and hot dogs, or buy a picnic basket (open daily spring and summer, weekends in winter).
In the laidback mountain town of Felton, the restaurant at Trout Farm Inn serves American bistro fare: the lunch men might include artichoke dip, trout chowder, a reuben sandwich, a burger, fish and chips, and tacos.
Spend the afternoon riding the rails at Roaring Camp (details below). Or at Wilder Ranch State Park, where you can discover coastal terraces and valleys, hike, bike, or ride horses on over 35 miles of trails. If you are hankering for adventure in the redwood canopies, go to Mount Hermon Adventures, in Felton down the road from Roaring Camp, where you can ride a zipline and clamber along an aerial adventure course.
Photo by Spencer DeMera
Chug along an historic train route through groves of ancient redwoods aboard a train pulled by a 19th-century steam locomotive. The Redwood Forest Steam Train (75 minutes) climbs to the summit of Bear Mountain, while the Santa Cruz Beach Train, offered in summer, rolls from Roaring Camp down a scenic canyon to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (2-hour round trip).
Famous for its unique hillside location above the Soquel Creek lagoon and “cable car” entrance, romantic Shadowbrook serves American cuisine with a pastoral view. This is where local couples go before prom night and for birthdays and anniversaries. Try the rack of lamb or cioppino.
A combination bookshop, wine bar, and restaurant, Bad Animal’s stimulating dining setting draws creative and intellectual spirits to its cozy downtown space. The chef-in-residence changes every so often; the current chef focuses on Thai cuisine.
Be the first to know when new itineraries drop. We promise not to overwhelm your inbox.
Best Places to Stay in Santa Cruz
Courtesy Hotel Paradox
Lots of Santa Cruz hotels are beach-themed, but Hotel Paradox celebrates the mountain scenes of the region. Its sleek, modern design melds seamlessly with nature-inspired elements, from the reception desk hewn from a giant redwood log to artworks throughout. The hotel has an outdoor pool, a stylish bar, and a top-rated on-site restaurant.
Set on a lush hilltop, the luxe Chaminade offers panoramic views, comfortable rooms, a spa, restaurant, and two swimming pools. It’s a tranquil haven just a short drive from downtown Santa Cruz, the harbor, and a string of beaches.