Visit a State Park or Beach
Año Nuevo State Park
School groups are welcome at Año Nuevo State Park year-round to learn about this incredible coastal habitat including the elephant seal rookery, the one-of-a-kind island, and Ohlone middens. Trek through the chaparral and over the dunes on a 3-mile, two and a half hour walk to where the Elephant Seals come to molt and breed.
There are two types of school group naturalist-guided walks depending on the time of year.
- Dec. 15- March 31: This is the breeding season, the busiest time of year. School group walks are available weekdays for grades 4-12. Visitors must be on a guided walk in order to see the Elephant Seals. Tickets go on sale the first Saturday in October and are on sale throughout the season. To make a reservation, please call Reserve America at 800-444-4445. The cost per school group ticket is $21. Each caller may purchase up tofour school group tickets. Each ticket allows entry for up to 20 students plus two required adult chaperones, for a total group size of 22. School groups without the required number of adult chaperones will not be admitted on the school group walk.
- April 1- Nov. 30: This is the molting season. Call (650) 879-2032 to arrange for a naturalist-guided or self-guided walk out to our natural preserve where the Elephant Seals come to molt.
Castro Adobe State Historic Park
A visit to the Castro Adobe in Watsonville immerses students in our community’s story from the heyday of the vaquero to the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Hands-on, sensory experiences bring more than a century of history to life, while guided investigations of students’ own inquiries make learning personally relevant. You don’t need to leave the Pájaro Valley to touch a real adobe and connect with California’s colorful past.
The free tours are 2.5 hours long and offer curriculum that supplements teaching of third grade (local history) and fourth grade (California history) content standards. Email Interpreter Joseph Carr Ritchie or call 831-226-9669 to schedule a visit.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers CA State Standard hands-on educational programs for school groups grades K-college. With the diverse ecosystems within the park boundaries, including old growth redwood forest, riparian habitat, sandhills chaparral and grasslands, there are many opportunities for school field trips.
The two year-round programs are:
- The Old-Growth Redwood Loop Tour: an approximately 90-minute program for K-4th grades, includes a short-to moderate-difficulty walk and hands-on activities.
- Anadromous Fish/Steelhead Tour: a half-day field study experience focusing on life in and around the San Lorenzo River. Check with park staff for group size and availability.
Self-guided tours of Henry Cowell are also available by prior arrangement. All field trips at Henry Cowell offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups that have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, call park staff at (831) 335-7077.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach offers several guided tours for school groups at various times of the year. To make a tour reservation request, please use the Field Trip Form. Park Staff will follow up with a call back to confirm and officially set up the field trip. This form is a request, nothing will be confirmed until the park has a conversation and put the group into the School Calendar. Please read all the information below before submitting a request.
There are several types of school group naturalist-guided tours.
- Monarch Tours: From October through January each year, students can enjoy a Monarch Tour. Applicable for Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum (and enjoyable for all ages), the guided walk can accommodate one class at a time, and lasts approximately one hour. This includes a 30-minute fun and imaginative inside program highlighting the monarch’s life-cycle and migration contrasted with a experiential outdoor trip to the milkweed garden and butterfly sanctuary. The park begins accepting monarch reservations on August 1. Butterfly walks happen rain or shine.
- Tidepool Tours: From approximately March 1 to July 30 each year, tidepool tours are available for 1st grade and up. This program begins with a 30-minute Visitor Center tidepool preparation talk with activities followed by a guided walk and rocky intertidal exploration. The entire program lasts approximately 90 minutes and accommodates one class at a time. To safely view the pools, tides must be less than 2 feet, so refer to a tide chart when looking at dates. Review a tide chart. Non-slip shoes are recommended for tide pool walks. Shoes may get wet. Tidepool tours are cancelled in inclement weather for safety reasons. The park begins accepting tidepool reservations on Jan. 1.
- Nature Walks: When the monarchs have migrated inland or when the tides aren’t conducive to exploring the intertidal zone, a nature walk also can be reserved. There is a fantastic 1-mile trail that winds its way through a diversity of habitats and is another great adventure option. Some highlighted habitats of the park include chaparral, freshwater marsh, salt marsh, sandy shore, seasonal pond, eucalyptus forest and dunes. Focus on a specific habitat or topic is available by request.
- Restoration: Restoration work provides a fantastic opportunity to lend a hand, and connect with the park and with nature. Students can help by watering plants, planting trees and eradicating invasive flora. Length of restoration time can vary depending on the age of group and availability. Some groups decide to combine restoration with a guided tour if time allows.
- Self-guided: Please contact the for self-guided tours. The marine-protected tidepools and monarch preserve have countless visitors and are too often overly-impacted. It is critical to limit the number of groups visiting at one time so please notify us of your visit.
Guided Walk Field Trip Details
- Meet at the Visitor Center.
- Allow plenty of time for students to use the restrooms and stretch before beginning the guided walk.
- Notify the park immediately at 831-423-4609 if the group is running late. Late tours may be shortened or cancelled.
- Group leaders are responsible for the safety, conduct and behavior of the group. Following these guidelines will help ensure a fun and safe trip.
- A ratio of one adult for every seven children is required. The maximum group size for all tours is 35, which includes both children and adults.
- Dress in layers as the weather is variable.
- Bring a First Aid kit on the trail.
- Encourage the adults in the group to be active participants.
- Collecting is not allowed in State Parks. Please leave all shells, rocks, sticks, animals, seaweed or anything else where it is. These things are part of what makes Natural Bridges a special place to visit.
- Butterfly tours happen rain or shine.
- Non-slip shoes are recommended for tide pool walks. Shoes may get wet.
- Tide pool tours are cancelled in inclement weather for safety reasons.
- Picnic tables, water fountains and restrooms are available for use.
- Recycling bins are available. Please educate the group so that they will use the proper containers and not mix trash with recyclables. Please also encourage the group to bring reusable dishes and utensils to help reduce waste.
- Please ask about resources for visitors with special needs.
Donations and Thank Yous
A donation of a minimum of $1 per participant is requested for guided tours. Donations help support educational programs. Cash or checks made out to Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks (FOSCSP) may be handed to park employees or sent by mail. You will receive a receipt.
Remember, docents are volunteers who lead walks on their own time! Thank you letters or drawings are greatly appreciated, and also help students reinforce what they have learned.
Thank yous and donations can be sent to: Natural Bridges State Beach, c/o 2531 West Cliff Dr. Santa Cruz, CA 95060
The ParkStore at Natural Bridges is run by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. All proceeds from bookstore sales are used to fund educational programs in the local parks. Teachers get a 10 percent educator’s discount at the store.
Cancellations with two weeks notice are preferred so the tour spot can be offered to another group. Please give park staff at least 24 hours notice of a cancellation so volunteer docents can be informed.
New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton State Beach offers programs specific for 3rd and 4th graders through its Pacific Migrations Visitor Center.
- Pacific Migrations Tour: held at the Visitor Center, the museum tour includes hands-on activities.
- Local History Tour: a easy- to moderate-difficulty guided walk.
Both tours last about 90 minutes for groups of one class at a time and are offered year-round.
Self-guided tours of New Brighton State Beach are available by prior arrangement. All field trips at New Brighton offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-464-5620 or 831-685-6444.
Palm State Beach
For school programs at Palm State Beach, please contact Park Staff at 831-685-6444.
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
The Mission Day Program at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park takes students from the village life of the Ohlone people to their co-existence in the Santa Cruz Mission with the Spanish. The tour compares and contrasts the two cultures, and discusses what happened when they came together in the context of the Mission System. The day includes a mixture of information, demonstration and hands-on activities. It is geared towards 4th graders and meets California Curriculum standards for 4th grade Mission Studies. Additionally, the program can often be tailored to a group’s grade level and curriculum.
- Tours run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- The program works best with groups of 10-25. However, larger groups can be accommodated by dividing the class during the craft rotation and building tour activities (see Mission Day Schedule). Parent chaperones play a key role in facilitating the craft rotations.
- Donations of up to $5 per student are requested, however no group will be turned away for lack of funds.
- All field trips at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver.
For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-425-5849.
Seacliff State Beach
Various types of tours are available at Seacliff State Beach for students of all ages.
- Moderate-difficulty fossil walks, which include some indoor activities, last up to two hours and are offered for 2-6 grade classes.
- Sanctuary walks, which also include some indoor activities, are offered for K-2 classes.
- Self-guided tours of Seacliff are available by prior arrangement.
All field trips at Seacliff offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-685-6444.
Sunset State Beach
Sunset State beach offers a native plant restoration program for grades 4-12. The program last approximately four hours, and includes hands-on work and in-classroom outreach activities. This program is available from September through May each year.
Sunset also offers hour-long dune and wetland walks for grades K-12. These guided walks are short- to moderate-difficulty and are offered year-round.
Self-guided tours of Sunset are available by prior arrangement.
All field trips at Sunset offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-685-6444.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
From April to November every year, the Forest of Nisene Marks offers tours for 3rd graders, focusing on either redwood ecology or local logging history. For each student class, these short- to moderate-difficulty guided walks last up to two hours. Facilities at the Forest of Nisene Marks are limited. Groups should bring their own drinking water.
Self-guided tours of the Forest of Nisene Marks are available by prior arrangement.
All tours at Nisene Marks offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For more information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-685-6444 or 831-464-5620.
Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch State Park has a multitude of enrichment activities for students.
- Ranch Kids Day: an intensive all-day program involving hands-on activities that are relevant to 3rd grade social studies curriculum and align with state standards. Check with park staff for the reservation process, group size, availability and fees.
- Ranch Tours: available year-round for students grade 2-5. The tours last approximately 90 minutes. Group size is limited to 10-35 participants, including adult chaperones.
- Nature Walks: a guided 90-minute walk for 3rd grade and up. Group size is limited to 10-35 participants, including adult chaperones. This tour is available year-round, except when raining.
- Farm Animal Tours: available year-round, except when raining. This 30- to 60-minutes tour is best suited for younger students (preschool to 2nd grade), and is limited to 10-35 participants, including adult chaperones.
- Self-guided tours of Wilder Ranch are available when the machine shop buildings and the Interpretive Center are open; call for the current schedule.
All field trips at Wilder Ranch offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups who have made reservations a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. For additional information, including teachers’ guides and to make reservations, please call park staff at 831-426-0505.