Santa Cruz, California is known for its surf culture, wild coastal landscape, and down to earth community. Numerous beaches, parks, and marine protected areas make this central California town simply breathtaking. This rich terrain makes Santa Cruz home to a plethora of wildlife that can be seen year-round. For those visiting in the colder months, wintertime is an especially good season to enjoy the various wildlife that take refuge in the region, from breaching whales to colorful monarch butterflies.
California’s Gentle Giant
California whale watching is a staple activity among visitors, as California Gray Whales are some of the most impressive you’ll see. Over 20,000 of these gentle giants pass through Monterey Bay on their annual migration from the Arctic, making whale spotting ideal in this region. If you visit between December and April your chances of a whale sighting is 90%. Those sound like pretty good odds to us!
Home of the Monarch
Monarch butterflies are another species that make a migratory pitstop in Santa Cruz. From late September to the beginning of March, monarch butterflies seek shelter from the cold in a protected grove in Natural Bridges State Park, the only butterfly preserve in California. When you visit, be sure to stop by the preserve and have a naturalist give you a free guided tour of the groves, where you can experience the rare beauty of these majestic creatures.
Life in Action with the Elephant Seal
Take a scenic cruise up Pacific Coast Highway to witness one of the largest elephant seal breeding grounds in Año Nuevo State Park. Here you’ll feel like you’re watching an animal telenovela, with animals fighting, mating, birthing, and nursing among sandy dunes. From December 15 – March 31st the park provides a $7 guided tour where your knowledgeable tour guide will take you to the best spots to watch all the drama and answer all your questions along the way.
Your Wildlife Home Base
With tidepools, museums, marine centers, dunes, and natural parks, Santa Cruz will more than satisfy your thirst for nature-watching. The best part is that the town’s luxury mission-style resort will ensure you stay relaxed and well rested during your off time. Chaminade Resort and Spa offers a premier location in the Santa Cruz mountains with prime views of the ocean and Monterey Bay, letting you soak in the tranquility that Santa Cruz is famous for. With contemporary Spanish-style decor and only 5 minutes from the beach and downtown, you’ll feel the history of California while being in touch with the modern-day town.