2.6 miles, 1-3 hours
Sometimes all you need is an easy stroll by the ocean to refresh your spirits. This track along the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Cruz is one of the best places in California to do just that.
You'll see gulls, geese, pelicans and other waterfowl and you might hear the distant bark of passing sea lions. If your timing's right, you might even spot passing whales on their annual migrations.
Another bonus: touring the grounds of a farm replete with antique cars, farm machinery and other remnants of farming life along the Pacific in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Wilder family ran a dairy farm on this land from the 1880s to the 1970s.
This track is very basic: just start out from the parking lot at the Wilder Ranch State Park visitors center and follow Old Cove Landing Trail along the ocean. Eventually it turns northward again and loops back to where you started.
Best time to go: Views of the ocean are more clear in winter and spring; in summer the coast tends to get fogged in. The park is very popular on weekends; a weekday visit will be much more pleasant. December through April is also peak whale migration season.
Use extreme caution around the cliffs near the ocean.
Dress in layers: it can be very chilly near the ocean and you'll want to wear a wind-breaker.
Wear sunscreen; there's no shade here.
Contact the park: 831-423-9703
Parking fees: $10 per carload, but you can park free along Highway One and hike in.
Facilities: Park HQ includes bathrooms, running water and a gift shop.
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset
Driving directions: The Wilder Ranch is 1.8 miles north of the Western Drive stoplight in Santa Cruz.