Top 5 Waterfront Walks

It’s a gorgeous day, and you want to enjoy the outdoors, but the stack of French toast you had at brunch has you shying away from an uphill trek to the local mountaintop. We feel you. Thankfully, there are plenty of scenic-and flat-promenades where you can gather the family, pups, and kids, and bask in the dazzling, local scenery without breaking a sweat.

West Cliff Drive

West Cliff Drive’s ridiculously scenic pathway traverses one of the most inspiring settings along the California coast. Hugging the shoreline of the majestic Monterey Bay, the waterfront thoroughfare stretches from the sandy beach at Natural Bridges State Beach to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Along the way, you’ll pass vivid, succulent-covered cliffs, secluded beach coves, and some of the region’s most famous sights including big wave surfers at Steamer Lane, playful pups at Its Beach, and the Santa Cruz Surf Museum at Lighthouse Point.

East Cliff Drive

This cliffside promenade sports thrilling waterfront views as it tours you through the heart of Pleasure Point’s surf culture. Start at the overlook at 41st and East Cliff which peers over The Hook, a famous surf spot marked by a large surf etiquette sign posted near the stairs that lead down to chilly waters. A wide, cliffside pathway welcomes pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs, dogs, beach cruisers, and skateboarders as it skirts the crashing surf to one side and charming beach bungalows to the other. In spring, vibrant wildflowers color the path. At 32nd St, Pleasure Point Park is marked by a giant wooden tiki and onlookers watching surfers and munching breakfast burritos from the adjacent Point Market.

Watsonville Wetlands

Experience the peaceful sights and sounds of the Watsonville Wetlands. Located along the Pacific Flyway, the Wetlands of Watsonville provide a resting stop for birds on their migratory journey. The wetland system of sloughs and their uplands offer breeding and year-round habitat for over 220 species of shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors and song birds. Be sure to look at this handy trail map that includes info on where to park, distances, restrooms, ADA accessibility, and more.

Santa Cruz Wharf

The Santa Cruz Wharf is our favorite way to get out on the Monterey Bay without getting wet. Extending nearly 2,800 feet into the bay, the over a century old structure-the longest pier on the Pacific shore-feels like a ship at sea. A leisurely stroll along its knobby, wooden planks quickly immerses you in the natural splendor and vibrant sea life of the spectacular marine sanctuary. Of course, the good seafood doesn’t hurt either.

Seascape Beach Resort

The sunny Seascape Beach Resort provides two key ingredients to the perfect lazy Sunday: a killer brunch and scenic waterfront walking trails. Start at resort’s signature restaurant, Sanderlings, and enjoy your meal on the outdoor patio overlooking the bay. Afterwards, stroll the property’s trails which lead you through landscaped grounds filled with flowers and ponds, over waterfront cliffs dotted with cypress trees, and down to the wide sandy beach that fronts the property.

Loch Trail (SEASONAL)

And here’s a bonus (and seasonal) waterfront hike! The forest-shrouded reservoir of Loch Lomond is one of our favorite hidden gems. Open March through September, the recreational lake feels like a summer camp escape just a short drive from downtown Santa Cruz. Exploring the lake’s many secluded coves by boat is an exhilarating way to spend a day, but unless you arrive early to score one of the coveted power boats, you’ll get a serious workout from row or pedal boats. Want a low-impact alternative? Stroll the easy and (mostly) flat Loch Trail which skirts the scenic, southern shore for roughly 1.25 miles, ducking in and out of secluded inlets along the way. Be sure to pack a lunch for one of the numerous waterfront picnic areas or benches that dot the trail.

Oh, and when you’re ready to climb that mountain peak, Santa Cruz County abounds with scenic trails. Check out our Top 5 Hikes, Hikes with a View, Top State Park Hikes in Santa Cruz County, or our Top River and Waterfall Hikes to get started on your next outdoor adventure!