Hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz, Ca

Greyson and I went down to Santa Cruz last weekend to hang out with our niece and my sister in law and brother in law. Usually, we bring mountain bikes when we head to Santa Cruz, but Greyson was between bikes, so we had a bike free road trip. This opened us up to do some activities we normally skip in favor of bike rides, like hiking. We decided to check out a park I’d never been to before – Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park // tahoefabulous.com

“Imagine a time when the whole peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorstep, this magnificent domain of redwood forests and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.”
– Carrie Stevens Walter, Sempervirens Club, 1901

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, and contains the largest continuous stand of redwoods south of San Francisco. The trees are huge and old – some are more than 300 feet tall and over 1,000 years old. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, and the Skyline to the Sea trail meanders through Big Basin on its way to Waddell Beach. There are also lots of campsites in the park, but I imagine they book up quickly due to the park’s proximity to Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Big Basin is about 40 minutes from Santa Cruz – it’s only 20 ish miles, but the road is windy and narrow.

When we got to Big Basin, we checked in with the visitor’s center to ask for hiking suggestions. We wanted a pretty easy hike, and the ranger suggested the hike out to Sempervirens Falls, which is about 3.5 miles round trip and has the option to tack on additional miles if we wanted to. We ended up taking Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls, continuing on Sequoia Trail to Skyline to the Sea Trail, and then following Skyline to the Sea Trail back to the visitor’s center, which was 5 miles and almost 800 feet of climbing.

Big Basin Trail Map // tahoefabulous.com

Big Basin Elevation Profile // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

The Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls is pretty easy. It doesn’t have much elevation gain, probably around 150 feet in ~1.7 miles. The trails in Big Basin are very well marked – every intersection has a sign. This section of our route had the most impressive redwoods, and there were a few that were hollowed out that we climbed inside. Sempervirens Falls is not a huge waterfall, and it was running pretty low in October. I imagine it’s more impressive in the winter and spring, but I’m glad we checked it out.

Sempervirens Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Almost directly after Sempervirens Falls is the hardest part of the trail. We climbed basically straight up a steep, sandstone slab. We gained 200 feet in ⅓ of a mile! It was a cool rock outcropping, and we found some grinding holes in the area. This part of the park is really interesting. The trees are a mix of redwoods and oaks, and the oaks seemed like they were attacking us with acorns! We didn’t get hit at all, but there were a couple of close calls with falling acorns. I love hiking in the trees, and this trail is great for that, though not really a route for sweeping views. The redwoods are just too tall and thick.

As we got closer to the visitors center, the trail started to get more crowded. For such a popular park, most of the route was pretty deserted. We saw more people when we got close to parking areas and trailheads, but it wasn’t overly crowded, even on a sunny Saturday. The hike ended up taking us about an hour and 45 minutes, including photography time at the waterfall. If you’re looking for a moderately easy hike in the Santa Cruz area that gets you in the redwoods, I’d highly recommend this route. See my Strava route here.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park // tahoefabulous.com

After our hike, I was starving. I wasn’t in the mood for state park cafeteria food, so we headed 15 minutes down the road to the small town of Boulder Creek. I voted for pizza (like always), and we ended up at Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub. It wasn’t anything incredible, but the pizza was pretty good and they had a decent local beer selection. Which is exactly what I want after a hike.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a really neat wilderness park in a heavily populated area. If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, I’d highly recommend checking it out. I’m excited to get back and do some more exploring in that area! If you want other recommendations for things to do in Santa Cruz – check out my blog post here.

Hiking Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of gear for hiking!
Shoes: I like light weight, low profile trail runners like Salomon XA Elevate.
GPS Watch: I am a data and numbers nerd, so I like to track my hikes, bikes, and runs with the Garmin Forerunner.
Hydration Pack: My CamelBak Solstice is technically a mountain bike pack, but it does double duty and works great as a hiking pack as well. This version is from 2016 and is a great deal at $75!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Things to do in Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz is many things – a hippie college town, a laid back surf city, a growing hub for tech, a great location for foodies, and it offers just about every outdoor opportunity. Different neighborhoods of Santa Cruz have distinct vibes, and nearby cities and towns offer different feelings as well. Everyone knows the big Santa Cruz landmarks, like the Santa Cruz Wharf  or the brightly colored houses of Capitola, but I’m giving you some recommendations that you won’t find everywhere.

Things to do in Santa Cruz // tahoefabulous.com

Food & Drink:
While I’m in Santa Cruz, I have two must stops: Verve Coffee Roasters and The Penny Ice Creamery. Both are Instagram dream locations – Verve Coffee Roasters 41st Street location has a succulent wall, along with incredible coffee and their other locations are worth visits as well. At The Penny Ice Creamery, the toasted marshmallow topping tastes just as good as it looks.

Toasted marshmallow fluff topping. 🍦🍦🍦🍦#icecream #santacruz

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on

Even in the last couple of years, Santa Cruz’s beer scene has exploded. I used to be unimpressed with the town’s beer selection, but now I have a couple of favorites. I haven’t written reviews yet, but I really like Humble Sea Brewing Company in Santa Cruz proper and Corralitos Brewing Co. a little south in Watsonville. Sante Adarius has a Santa Cruz and Capitola location.

For actual meals, I’m going to recommend two different Hawaiian restaurants – Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Bar and Pono’s Hawaiian Grill. Hula’s is more kitschy – think velvet Elvis paintings and mai tais served in pineapples. The Big Sur Veggie Burger is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the Caesar Salad is similarly amazing. Pono’s is a little more traditional, with a good beer selection plus full bar, outdoor seating, and live music pretty often. Go traditional here and get a plate lunch.

West Cliff in #santacruz.

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on

Another place I love to eat is burger. – the period is part of the name. It has a couple of locations – both Aptos and Santa Cruz and an absolutely bonkers menu. You can get a burger with a grilled cheese sandwich for the bun (the Snooki), a burger made with mac and cheese (Johnny Marzetti), or including a donut AND bacon (Luther). I like a more simple burger, the Johnny Cash which still has fries, bacon, and blue cheese. Even if you just get a few of their sides, it’s worth a visit.

Activities:
My favorite thing to do in Santa Cruz is mountain biking at Wilder Ranch State Park, but there are other great trails right in the city like Emma McCrary and the ones in DeLaveaga Park. My second favorite thing to do is to walk along the multi-use path along West Cliff Drive and look for otters. Bring your binoculars, because I’ve seen whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions in addition to dozens of otters. West Cliff Drive ends at Natural Bridges State Beach, which is gorgeous and FREE, but usually packed.

Gray day in #santacruz

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on

Obviously, Santa Cruz is a major surfing destination, but surfing isn’t my sport, so I don’t have any recommendations that you couldn’t find using google. Climbing at nearby Castle Rock State Park is supposed to be great, but it’s still on my to-do list. There’s hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and at Pogonip Open Space, if you want a more local flavor.

Another slightly off the beaten path activity is visiting the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The totally bizarre plants of the Australian Garden are my favorite, but you can definitely spend an afternoon wandering around the whole thing. We were even lucky enough to see one of the extremely rare white hummingbirds when we were there last. If you’re in Santa Cruz between late fall through early winter, go see the monarchs. They like to hang out in the eucalyptus grove in Natural Bridges State Park, and guided tours are available from mid-October through mid- January at 11 am and 2 pm at the state park.

I’m just scratching the surface of all of the awesome things to do in Santa Cruz. It’s one of my favorite California cities, and I can’t wait to get back. What are your favorite things to do in Santa Cruz? What did I miss?