Explore the Area

Natural Things to See and Experience in Santa Cruz:

All the Year Round

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We all love Santa Cruz for the natural beauty and rich environmental diversity along this magnificent central coast. Here are just a few ways to get close to nature all throughout the year!

Sea Otters swim near the coastline and can be seen from West Cliff Drive, the Santa Cruz HarborMoss Landing Harbor, and Elkhorn Slough.

Tidepools are located along much of the local coastline. Searching for sea stars, anemones, crabs, and sea urchins is a fun activity for all ages. For a guide to the best locations, try this list of tidepools at California State Parks.

Hummingbirds are found in all areas.  For a close view go to the UCSC Arboretum.

Banana Slugs are bright yellow and live in redwood forests at several State Parks.  It is also the UCSC mascot and its image appears on many Santa Cruz souvenirs.

Whale, dolphin and porpoise are seen year round. Monterey Bay’s abundant food resources attract Orca, Humpback, Minke, Fin, and Beaked whales; Pacific White-Sided, Northern Right Whale, Risso’s and Bottlenose dolphins and Dall’s and Harbor porpoises.  Tour boats depart from the Santa Cruz WharfSanta Cruz Yacht Harbor, and Moss Landing Harbor.  The best location for land sightings is at Davenport.

California Sea Lions rest on the Santa Cruz Wharf pilings and at Seal Rock located off-shore from Lighthouse Point.

Bird spotting is prolific throughout the year. Different species are found in various regional habitats. Popular locations for birding are at Wilder Ranch State ParkUCSC ArboretumNeary Lagoon and Elkhorn Slough.

January – April

Gray Whales close their southern migration pattern in January, and begin the northern passage in February. Males and juveniles lead the migration and by the end of March the cow-calf pairs are seen in this area. Best viewing is from the whale watching boats, the Davenport coastline and State Park beaches.

Northern Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Female population and pupping season is at its peak by mid-January, followed with mating in February. Most adults return to the sea leaving the pups to learn to swim on their own.


Monarch Butterflies find winter residence at Natural Bridges State Park and Lighthouse Field. Many spend the daytime hours at the UCSC Arboretum gardens. Migration begins in mid-February.


Harbor Seal pupping season at Elkhorn SloughBean Hollow State Beach and Wilder Ranch State Park.

Red Legged Frogs are seen in gardens, wilderness ponds and at UCSC Arboretum.


Snowy Plover nesting season begins at local beaches.  Please watch your step!

May – August


Harbor Seal pupping season ends this month at Elkhorn SloughBean Hollow State Beach and Wilder Ranch State Park.

Final migration of Gray whale cow-calf pairs pass this region. Best viewing is by boat, along the Davenport coastline and from State Park beaches.  This is also the start of Blue and Humpback whale migration and are best seen from whale watching boats.

Juvenile California Sea Lions swim area waters and find homes at the Santa Cruz Wharf and at Seal Rock located offshore from Lighthouse Point.

Many sea birds have changed into breeding plumage and are in the area before heading to various breeding grounds.  Commonly seen species include the Sooty Shearwaters.


Snowy Plovers are nesting at area beaches – please watch your step!


Stellar seals are seen on the island at Año Nuevo State Reserve.

Blue and Humpback whales are in their migratory season and best seen from a whale watching boat.


This is primary birding time in the area’s forests and mountain regions.  State Parks offer many wilderness trails to good birding sites.

September – December

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Blue and Humpback whales end their migratory season this month.

Birding in area forests and mountains is at its peak and this is also a good time for owl spottingState Parks offer many wilderness trails to good birding sites.


Gray whales south-bound migration season.  Best seen from whale watch boats and along the Davenport coastline.


Red Legged Frogs are seen in gardens, wilderness ponds and at the UCSC Arboretum.

Monarch butterflies find winter residence in the eucalyptus groves at Natural Bridges State Park and Lighthouse Field. Many can be seen during warmer daytime hours at the UCSC Arboretum gardens.


Its migratory birding season. This is a principal feeding and nesting area: Elkhorn Slough attracts over 340 species. Other popular spotting areas are at Wilder Ranch State Park and at the UCSC Arboretum.


Northern Elephant Seals breeding colonies are being formed at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Two-ton adult bulls are first to arrive and fight for dominant positions. They are followed by pregnant females and birthing begins shortly after the female landing.