Our cable car-assisted neighbor to the north isn’t the only one with famous hills and enchanting stairways. Spanning mansion-topped mounts and dramatic coastal bluffs, Santa Cruz County’s many scenic staircases will delight fitness buffs and sightseers seeking a killer view. Whether you’re looking to boost your Fitbit numbers, discover a hidden hilltop neighborhood, or enjoy a thrilling vista, you can step to it with the following flights of fancy.
DEPOT HILL STEPS
El Camino Medio & Monterey Ave, Capitola
A knock-out view-plus a good opportunity to burn off those Gayle’s pastries-await at the top of this narrow concrete staircase in the heart of Capitola Village. With 86 steps, the Depot Hill Steps will have your heart pounding. Ditto the view that overlooks the charming candy-colored houses of Capitola and the Monterey Bay beyond. Save time to explore the neighborhood’s grand 19th century homes and structures including a former railroad depot that is now the plush Inn at Depot Hill.
East Cliff Drive and 41st Ave, Santa Cruz
At The Hook-a legendary surf break in the kick-back neighborhood of Pleasure Point-surfers aren’t the only ones who make use of the cliffside staircase that leads to the scenic shore below. Like the mini blufftop park above, the stairs offer an excellent vantage point for onlookers who gather to watch surfers riding the point’s long, rolling swells.
SEACLIFF STATE BEACH
State Park Drive & Santa Cruz Ave, Aptos, upper parking lot
The renowned site of the grounded S.S. Palo Alto, Seacliff State Beach is also home to the tallest staircase in Santa Cruz County. The wooden stairway is filled with earbud-adorned joggers scaling the 151 steps that span a rugged cliffside to a splendid bayfront esplanade. A series of landings and benches allow you to take five, or just take in the view of the storm-tussled concrete freighter which rests at the end of a fishing pier. Note there is a cost to enroll in this seaside bootcamp: the state beach charges a $10 parking fee.
West Cliff Dr & Sunset Ave, Santa Cruz
Bring fido to this prominent concrete staircase that delivers happy hounds and their owners from the wildly scenic West Cliff Drive promenade to the pup-friendly beach of Mitchell’s Cove. A large mid-level landing allows you and your pooch to strike a downward dog pose before heading to the wide crescent cove filled with frolicking, leash-free pups. Note: off-leash hours are from sunrise-10 a.m. and 4 p.m.-sunset.
BEACH HILL STEPS
Laurel Street Extension & Cliff Street
Locals know the best route from a Warriors game to the Giant Dipper is via the landscaped Beach Hill Steps. The steps link Downtown and the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk via Beach Hill, a historic hilltop neighborhood teeming with magnificent Victorian mansions and charming old sailor cottages. Download this self-guided walking tour and discover notable Beach Hill homes including the house that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and a stately Queen Anne residence that belonged to a local friend of Thomas Edison.
MISSION HILL STEPS
Downtown’s Mission Hill hides cool old staircases that will captivate history buffs. In Santa Cruz’s early days, downtown and the nearby Mission Santa Cruz plaza were bustling centers of town with numerous staircases leading to and from their many hotels, shops, and residences. Today, many of the original structures are gone, but the staircases-or their modern replacements-remain.
Tucked between businesses on the northern end of Pacific Avenue (between Mission Street & River Street), you’ll discover the latest iteration of the School Street Steps, a narrow concrete stairway that leads to the Mission’s grounds. The original wooden steps are long gone, but a stairway has existed at this site since the mid-1800s. Around the corner on Mission Street, you’ll stumble upon a dazzling mosaic-adorned staircase that also leads to the mission. Built in 1976, the staircase was recently bejeweled with a colorful tile mosaic by Mission Hill Middle School students and sponsored by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.
Perhaps the most prominent staircase found downtown is the Walnut Street Steps (Walnut Avenue & Rincon Street). A placard bearing the name Pratchner is a clue to the original family that resided at the top of the steps in the late 1880s. George Pratchner owned the construction company that built Walnut Street’s still intact retaining wall as well as the original Beach Hill steps. Note that the Walnut Street Steps are private property, but immediately northeast (to your right if you’re facing the steps), you’ll find an impressive public stairway that winds from Walnut Street to Towne Terrace, a secluded hilltop pedestrian path and street.
Updated June 2020