Surrounded by coast redwoods and the marine sanctuary of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz encompasses its fair share of natural wonders—yet some are better known than others. While summer crowds head to the city’s popular beaches and boardwalk rides, it’s also fun to stray off the beaten path to discover the following hidden gems.
Fern Grotto at Wilder Ranch State Park
Despite its compact size, Santa Cruz County is home to 14 state parks and beaches, outnumbering most counties in California. One of the most rewarding is Wilder Ranch State Park, a historic coastal dairy farm with livestock, Victorian-era ranch structures brought to life during regular Living History days, and 35 miles of multi-use trails. The Old Cove Landing Trail skirts a sheer marine terrace—comprised of an ancient sea floor—that offers auspicious vantage points for spotting otters, dolphins, and migrating whales. At the 1.25 mile mark, a spur trail descends to Fern Grotto Beach, a golden-sand cove named for a spectacular sea cave adorned with spring-fed ferns.