This is one of the best places in the Santa Cruz area. Here you can bike, hike, see history or just relax. There are easy trails along the coast that give fantastic views of the rugged coastline, with a few sandy coves down below. This is a great trail for a family bike ride. There are also miles and miles of trails up into the hillside to the east.
This used to be a working ranch, and there are several restored buildings once belonging to the Wilder family that you can visit. Children can see goats and other animals, and there are some old cars and wagons to look at too. The park also has tours and living history demonstrations to help visitors explore the history of early ranchers and farmers along the Central Coast.
You can easily ride bikes to the park from Santa Cruz, along a paved bike trail that runs along the ocean side of highway 1.
There are many streams that drain off the cliffs, and the surf pounds this coastline causing many small caves and overhanging depressions that quickly erode away. Native ground cover vegetation cling tentatively but produce beautiful flowers in Spring. The cliffs are composed of soft yellow and harder grey varieties of sandstone, with some layers of white clay in places, all of which forms sedimentary layers, and then as the seismic activity continues, these layers tend to fold and angle even toward perpendicular strata effects. In places, the softer material is washed away and "bridges" occur. Getting from one cove to another under such bridges can be a challenge during high tide, and so it's possible to become stranded, and perhaps even washed away, during high tide along some cove beaches.
Along Hwy 1, north of Santa Cruz but south of Davenport within Santa Cruz County, most of the beach access is controlled by the state of California, and much of this is within the expanding Wilder Ranch State Park. Parking for beach access is wherever one can pull their car over without blocking the bicycle lane that runs along the full length of highway 1 in this area. Those with low suspension sports cars should be weary of the off-road parking lots. Beach access is free, but one cross railroad tracks and be able to climb down the sandstone cliffs on undeveloped trails. There are no other facilities. Signs forbid camping, beach fires, and dogs, but all three of these are frequently done as supervision of this wild stretch of coastline is marginal at best. Patrol aircraft do fly along the coast, but this duty is probably to watch for life threatening situations as the surf along this coastline is also very dangerous. I don't recommend swimming here for the most part. However, the folded strata of the water eroded sedimental sandstone cliffs are beautiful, and cheating the system for a dog walk is OK by me. High tide will easily take away most whatever a pet might leave behind. If your pet leaves something in the upper sand area of a beach, please pick it up and dispose of it properly. Of course, dogs that harass the wildlife will bring down the wrath of the parks department very quickly.
Wilder Ranch was part of the original rancho lands that supplied Mission Santa Cruz, but for most of the past 100 years, the property was owned and operated by the Wilder family, operating mostly as a dairy farm. The 7,000 acres of land includes a number of wetland restoration projects and historic family buildings that visitors can appreciate, but most cyclists, motorcyclists, and sports car drivers heading north of Santa Cruz along Highway 1 will appreciate the still viable irrigated fields of brussel sprouts and other cool weather produce for which this region is famous. U-pick berries are in this area too. Much of this farming should be of the organic type by now, as there is a definet trend toward this type of agriculture in the area. The long range plan is to convert much of this back to restored wild coastland. In some places, the crops had already been abandoned, and the former furrows were filling with flowery thistle and other weeds. Simply drive along Highway 1 and pull over wherever you like as there are no fees for this park access, at least not yet.
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