Everyone is attracted to Santa Cruz County – even wildlife! Seasonally, Gray and humpback whales migrate through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, while an amazing array of permanent and migratory birds thrive in Pajaro Valley’s nutrient-rich rivers and sloughs. During wintertime, Monarch butterflies hibernate at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, emerging renewed in early spring. Take a whale watching or kayak excursion, or admire marine mammals off the Santa Cruz Wharf or at the Harbor.
Guided nature walks are offered throughout the county year-round, giving visitors an opportunity to see birds, insects and other life in the appropriate season. Even during the rainy months, Santa Cruz County offers wildlife! Spotting banana slugs in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a popular activity during the winter and spring. Banana slugs, native insects to the Santa Cruz County region, are easily identifiable; as they are a bright yellow in contrast to the greenery in the state parks.
Santa Cruz County is also home to one of the largest mainland breeding colonies for elephant seals! Head over to Ano Nuevo State Park during the winter months for a 3-mile guided tour. These excursions include the best viewing spots and in-depth information about these amazing creatures. The winter months are also ideal for tide pooling! The California King Tides occur between December and January, offering visitors an up-close opportunity to explore the tide pools of Santa Cruz County.
Head down to South County year round for views of otters, various migratory and native birds, as well as other coastal creatures. The Elkhorn Slough, located in Watsonville, serves as a conservation hot spot for marine mammals, fish and plant life. The purpose of this conservatory is to protect the wildlife and diversity that Santa Cruz County has. Take a guided nature walk or stop in the Visitor’s Center for more information on this local gem!
See below for a full list of wildlife activities in Santa Cruz County!