Rancho del Oso: Santa Cruz Coastal Oasis

Find a wealth of beauty off Highway 1 near Santa Cruz.

A mountain biker among the trees in Rancho del Oso.
A cyclist among the trees at Rancho del Oso.
Courtesy Bill Rhoades

On the Pacific edge of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz CountyRancho del Oso encompasses a 3,000-acre stretch of the Waddell Valley that's home to seven ecosystems. "We have it all in this one little valley," says the park's program coordinator, Jeremy Lin.

At Waddell Beach, wind and kite surfers share the waves with shorebirds and tide pool creatures. Along the valley's evergreen-blanketed slopes stands the nation's largest registered nutmeg tree, 105 feet tall. And beneath the redwoods, five varieties of salamander scamper about—adorable amphibians that the park honors each year on Salamander Saturday (the first Saturday in March).

Another annual fete: the delightful Wildflower Weekend (usually the last weekend in April), which celebrates the buttercups, trilliums, shooting stars, and countless other blooms that color the valley each spring.

Get an overview of this rich flora and fauna—and greet the resident stuffed grizzly bear—in the park's nature and history center, once the home of Hulda Hoover McLean, the park's first naturalist and niece of former U.S. president Herbert Hoover.

From there, the three-quarter-mile Hoover Nature Trail meanders through rare Monterey pines, offering vistas of the valley. More ambitious walkers can take the Skyline to the Sea Trail linking Rancho del Oso to Big Basin headquarters, a six-mile hike to an observation deck misted by Berry Creek Falls.