Hiking West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz has just about
everything you would want in a walkóocean views, wildlife, history,
performing athletes, interesting geology, and wonderful people watching. All
on an easy, flat trail, with short side trips down to the beach. It is Santa
Cruz at its best. And itís always changing.
For example, my recent walk along West Cliff Drive
started in heavy fog, quite appropriate for visiting a lighthouse. A few
hours later, the sun burned through to create a glorious oceanside day.
The occasion was a geology hike sponsored by the Santa
Cruz Museum of Natural History, and led by Frank Perry, a lifelong Santa
Cruz resident who has researched local history for over thirty years. He is
the author of several local histories, including Lighthouse Point,
Illuminating Santa Cruz. The book is available at the Surfing Museum at the
Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, local history museums, and bookstores.
The lighthouse is a good place to start your hike. Itís
an obvious landmark, and several large parking areas are close by. Although
the existing lighthouse is only 37 years old, the first one on the point was
built in 1869.
The "new" lighthouse was built in memory of Mark Abbott,
a young surfer who died at nearby Pleasure Point. A bronze plaque inside
says, "This lighthouse is further dedicated to all our youth whose lives,
through fate or misadventure, are terminated before realizing their true
potential. May their spirits find new dimension in the unknown horizons that
await us all."*
It is fitting that the lighthouse now houses the Surfing
Museum. The museum is open from noon to four, except Tuesdays. I asked the
young surfer girl at the counter about surfing at Steamer Lane. She said, if
you arenít an expert, donít.
Across the street is Lighthouse Field, the scene of many
land use battles. Now a 37-acre park, it was almost developed as a
commercial center, complete with condos and retail shops. Frank Perryís book
devotes a chapter to the continuing wars between developers and Santa Cruz
activists. Now, under the state park system, and supported by the city and
county, it appears it is safe for the momentósafe for cypress and
eucalyptus, safe for wintering monarch butterflies, and safe for spring
wildflowers. Frank Perry calls it "a tranquil island in the midst of
Looking out at the ocean from Lighthouse Point, we can
see Steamer Lane, a must-stop for local surfers year round, and Seal Rock,
complete with sea lions, pelicans, gulls, and lots of blue green water. If
weíre lucky, weíll see more than a hundred sailboats, several kayaks, a
passing cruise ship, or a broaching gray whale. I saw all this, and a stunt
pilot flying a biplane less than fifty feet off the water. Then again, if
itís foggy, you may see only vague, ghostly shapes.
As we walk west along the trail, we pass a natural bridge
and the "old shoe" sea stack that was once a natural bridge, too. Near the
foot of Columbia, we walk by the "Devilís Blow Hole." Unfortunately, we
donít know it because the city fathers decided it was a safety hazard so
they filled it with boulders. At the foot of Woodrow Avenue, be sure to step
over another invisible geological feature, the Ben Lomond Fault. It runs
down through San Lorenzo Valley, Woodrow Avenue, and out into Monterey Bay.
This spot is also the site of Vue de LíEau, a little pagoda-like
building with a second story octagonal tower built by a local streetcar
company in 1891. Alas, it is gone as well, but geologists can see diatomite,
and show you where the Purisima Formation meets Santa Cruz Mudstone.
If you peer over the edge of the cliff a little east of
the entrance to Natural Bridges, you may see a five-foot wide hole, all that
is visible of "the wave motor," a wave-powered water pump that forced water
up a seventy-foot high tower to a 5,000 gallon tank. I know you want to know
why they did it; I think Frank Perry said that the water was used to water
down the road.
Our final stop is Natural Bridges State Beach. It
features one remaining natural bridge. The other two have collapsed. (The
last one fell in 1980.) You can also enjoy a crescent-shaped beach, good
tide pools, picnic sites, and a eucalyptus forest grove that is the official
monarch butterfly natural preserve. You can see the monarchs from October
through early March. If your stay is short, avoid the $5 parking fee at the
state park. Nearby streets usually have parking available.
If you want to extend your hike, you can walk Moore Creek
Trail over the state beach, then to the Monarch Trail through the nature
preserve. If you are bicycling, you canít use the Moore Creek Trail, but you
can go out Swanton Boulevard, turn left on Delaware Avenue, then right on
Natural Bridge Road out to a bike path that parallels Highway 1 to Wilder
Although West Cliff Drive is not a wilderness adventure,
it offers a good walk with lots to see. To get there, take Highway 1 toward
UCSC and Half Moon Bay. When Highway 1 joins Mission Street, watch for a
left turn on Bay Street, then turn right on West Cliff Drive.
Note: This hike was also a scheduled event for Fifty
Plus, a group that sponsors free walks and hikes each Saturday. For more
information, call Jan Dunn, 831-426-4715 or Zelma Fennell, 831-458-3767.