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Natural Wonders

Walking trails, wondrous wildlife and massive sequoias are the big attractions in this drive from Santa Cruz to Sequoia National Park.

Start:Santa Cruz
End:Sequoia National Park
2 - 4Days,8Stops,296Miles
Santa Cruz
Rebecca Stunell/Alamy
Aptos
StephanieBrunetti/Getty Images
Moss Landing
Kevin Thrash/Getty Images
Hacienda de Léal
Casa de Fruta
Courtesy of Casa de Fruta
Pinnacles National Park
Tonda/Getty Images
Quesadilla Gorilla
Kucher AV/Getty Images
Sequoia National Park
Peter Amend/Getty Images
Stop 1

Santa Cruz

809 Center St, Santa Cruz

At its heart, Santa Cruz is a surf town. The sport was originally introduced to California here and surfers know that Steamer Lane is the place to be. Around town, one can still feel the influence of late resident Jack O’Neill, the legendary surfer and wetsuit pioneer. Shop at any of the three O’Neill Surf Shops in the area—one is just steps away from Cowell Beach.

At the colourful Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, located by the beach, rides, games and music delight visitors. This popular destination is a summertime ritual for countless families, a wonderful way to relax and play just like the smiling locals. While there are many attractions on the boardwalk, the Giant Dipper stands out. The wooden rollercoaster opened in 1924 and has been generating screams and squeals for decades. The boardwalk also features the 125-foot/38-metre-high Double Shot tower for adrenaline lovers and little ones will love the painstakingly restored 1911 Looff carousel.

Stop 2

Aptos

7605 Old Dominion Ct # A, Aptos

Nine miles south of Santa Cruz, the village of Aptos is home to The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, where walking and cycling paths meander through second-growth redwood and Douglas fir forest. Take an easy stroll along Aptos Creek or in the rainy season, get your feet wet as you cross multiple streams to Maple Falls. When you’re ready to leave these shady groves and soak up some sun, Sunset State Beach lies 10 miles south, surrounded by acres of agricultural fields. Its three-mile expanse of soft sand and dunes invites surfers, anglers and beach-walkers.

Plan your visit

    Stop 3

    Moss Landing

    Moss Landing

    Midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, Highway 1 skirts the bayside hamlet of Moss Landing, a busy fishing harbour surrounded by local art galleries and seafood restaurants. Across the highway, a massive steam power plant towers over the waterways and estuaries of Elkhorn Slough, the largest tract of tidal salt-marsh outside of San Francisco. An incredible wildlife show takes place here—this is California’s most reliable spot to observe sea otters feeding, sleeping, frolicking and caring for their young. Walk around Moss Landing Harbor and you may see the furry creatures popping up between the fishing boats. Park your car in the main car park at Moss Landing State Beach (off Jetty Road), walk towards its protected cove and you’re likely to see dozens of them, particularly groups of bachelor otters huddled together in 'rafts'. The otters attract a lot of attention but there’s much bigger wildlife to watch: Sanctuary Cruises offers trips to see grey whales and orcas in winter and spring and humpbacks and blue whales in summer.

    Plan your visit

    SPOTLIGHT

    Casa de Fruta

    10021 Pacheco Pass Hwy, Hollister

    What started as a humble cherry stall in 1908 is now a huge roadside attraction, welcoming more than 3 million visitors each year. Located 40 miles north-east of Monterey, Casa de Fruta in Hollister features a 10,000-square-foot/930-square-metre market, 24-hour restaurant, sweet shop, RV park, 14-room inn and playground. The market sells road-trip friendly dried fruit, nuts, wine and fresh produce from all over the state and visitors can try strawberries from Watsonville, pistachios from Fresno, garlic from Gilroy and more. The family’s wine is offered in the traditional white, red and rose, but visitors most often leave with a bottle of Casa de Fruta’s signature pomegranate wine.

    Stop 6

    Pinnacles National Park

    Pinnacles National Park

    Home of cliffs and crags formed by an ancient volcano, Pinnacles National Park attracts rock climbers, walkers, birders and wildflower fans to a playground of burnished gold boulders and spires. Eighty per cent of the park is wilderness, which can only be explored on foot. Turn on your headlamp or torch to light your way through Bear Gulch’s tunnel-like talus caves. You’ll have to squeeze through clefts in the rock and twist through narrow passageways, before popping out in the daylight. Or traipse over and around the High Peaks, a maze-like cluster of boulders, pinnacles and spires. From the path’s high point, you might spot magnificent Californian condors flying overhead, their wingspans stretching up to 10 feet/3 metres.

    Stop 8

    Sequoia National Park

    Generals Hwy, Three Rivers

    Sequoia National Park’s Ash Mountain entrance, located in the small town of Three Rivers, offers a quick and curvy route to the massive sequoias of Giant Forest. Navigate the General Highway’s 130 curves and 12 switchbacks and you’ll be on the fast track to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living tree by volume. Once there, get out and walk—it’s the only way to fathom the sequoias’ sheer size and regal beauty. Salute the General Sherman, then move on to the quieter Congress Trail, where hundreds more gargantuan trees grow. After you’ve been thoroughly astonished by these ancient giants, take a heart-pumping climb up Moro Rock’s 360 steps. Even young children can make it to the top of this bald granite precipice with a sweeping view of the saw-toothed Great Western Divide. For dinner, head to the park’s Wuksachi Lodge. In The Peaks’ glass walled dining room, every table overlooks a forest of firs and the Silliman Crest.

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    Road Trip Snapshot

    Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

    Stop 1Santa Cruz
    809 Center St, Santa Cruz
    Stop 3Moss Landing
    Moss Landing
    • See Montereyhttp://www.seemonterey.com/things-to-do/parks/point-lobos/
    Stop 6Pinnacles National Park
    Pinnacles National Park
    SPOTLIGHTQuesadilla Gorilla
    302 W Main St, Visalia
      Stop 8Sequoia National Park
      Generals Hwy, Three Rivers

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