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.
- Winter Elephant Seal Walk: Breeding season, mid-December to mid-March, is 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. Reservations open the first Saturday in October and are on sale throughout the season. To purchase a ticket, please call Reserve America at 800-444-4445 or go online. The cost per school group ticket is $21, and allows entry for up to 20 students plus two required adult chaperones, for a total group size of 22. Chaperones are required.
- Spring Elephant Seal Walk: The molting season runs from April through the end of November. Naturalist-guided or self-guided walks out to the natural preserve where the Elephant Seals come to molt are available. Sign up online.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Castle Rock State Park
Learn about the Geology of Castle Rock Loop on this short, moderate walk appropriate for 3rd to 5th graders. The free field trip at Castle Rock State Park can accommodate up to 60 students and lasts 2 hours. Sign up online.
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.
The free tours, Life on the Rancho San Andres and History of the Castros and their Adobe, are 2 hours long and offer curriculum that supplements teaching of third grade (local history) and fourth grade (California history) content standards. To make a field trip reservation request, please use the Class Visit Request Form.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
School groups grade K-12 can take part in docent-led, hands-on educational programs along the San Mateo Coast. Field trips focused on shoreline habitats are held at Half Moon Bay State Beach, Pescadero Marsh, Montara State Beach and Bean Hollow State Beach. All field trips range from 1.5 to 3 hours long. Stay to eat lunch at picnic tables overlooking the beach.
Several field trip topics are offered:
- Birding Watching Walk: Students will learn about the sandy beach habitat and its avian inhabitants during a guided walk. Binoculars and viewing scopes will be provided for each group. This field trip meets at Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach. This field trip is best for 3rd to 6th graders and can accommodate one class at a time, but more than one trip can be scheduled daily.
- Geology of the Rocky Shore: Explore the rocky shore while learning about rocks, erosion and weathering. Students grades 2-5 will be taught how to use sieves, hand lenses and viewing boxes to explore samples they find. Visitors will experience the excitement of discovery like real geologists. This field trip meets at Bean Hollow State Beach, near Pescadero.
- Marine Mammals and Outdoor Stewardship: Discover which marine mammals live along the local shoreline, including seals, sea lions, sea otters and whales. Students grades K to 6th will use bones, skulls, and pelts to learn how these species are adapted to live in ocean and beach habitats.This field trip meets at Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach.
- Montara Mountain/Gray Whale Cove Trail: This moderate walk at Montara State Beach is appropriate for 3rd to 6th graders. Self-guided tours also are available at this park.
- Pescadero Marsh: This guided walk in the Pescadero Marsh, the largest coastal wetlands in the area, focuses on flora and fauna and is best for 4th graders and up. Students will learn about marsh ecology, including specific plants and animals seen along the trail; historical uses of the marsh; and why wetlands are an important resource and must be protected. This field trip meets at Pescadero State Beach. Self-guided tours also are available at this beach.
- Sandy Beach Habitat and Beach Scavenger Hunt: Students grades 1st to 6th can explore the ecology of the sandy beach habitat by collecting and sorting objects found on the beach. They will analyze sand samples from different beaches, and explore evidence of invertebrates using hand lenses, magnifiers and viewing boxes. This field trip meets at Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach.
To schedule a field trip please fill out this form and select the field trip you are interested in.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers State Standard hands-on educational programs for school groups grades K-12. With the diverse ecosystems within the park boundaries, including old growth redwood forest, riparian habitat, sandhills chaparral and grasslands, there are many opportunities for student engagement.
The Old-Growth Redwood Loop Tour is a 1-2 hour program that includes a short-to moderate-difficulty walk and hands-on activities. 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
Field trip reservation procedures have changed as of January 2018. Please read carefully.
Natural Bridges State Beach offers several guided tours for school groups at various times of the year. Then complete and submit the Field Trip Request Form. Please read all the information below before submitting a request. Reservations must be made a minimum of two weeks in advance. Park staff will follow up to confirm the field trip. All field trips at Natural Bridges offer admission/parking at no charge for K-12 school groups.
There are several types of guided tours for school groups:
- Monarch Tours: From October through January, Monarch Tours are available for pre-K through 12th grade students. This includes a 30-minute indoor program highlighting the monarch life cycle and migration followed by an experiential outdoor walk to the milkweed garden and butterfly sanctuary. The tour lasts one hour and accommodates one class at a time. The park begins accepting reservations for Monarch Tours on Aug. 1. Monarch Tours happen rain or shine.
- Tidepool Tours: From approximately March 1 to July 30 each year, Tidepool Tours are available for 1st through 12th grade students. This program begins with a 30-minute tidepool introduction in the Visitor Center, followed by a guided walk and rocky intertidal exploration. The program lasts 90 minutes and accommodates one class at a time. Tides must be less than 2 feet to safely view the pools. Non-slip shoes are recommended for Tidepool Tours. Shoes may get wet. Tidepool Tours are cancelled in inclement weather for safety reasons. The park begins accepting reservations for Tidepool Tours on Jan. 2.
- Nature Walks: When the monarchs have migrated inland or when the tides are not conducive to exploring the intertidal zone, Natural Bridges State Beach offers a guided Nature Walk. The walk follows a 1-mile trail that winds its way through a diversity of habitats. The program highlights 3rd and 4th grade Next Generation Science Standards such as weathering, erosion, and the relationship between organisms and their environment.
- 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 and availability of the group.
Please contact the visitor center for self-guided tours. The marine-protected tidepools and monarch preserve have countless visitors and are too often over-impacted. It is critical to limit the number of groups visiting at one time so please notify us of your visit.
Field Trip Details
- Meet on time at the Visitor Center.
- Allow plenty of time for students to use the restrooms before beginning the tour.
- 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.
- Monarch Tours happen rain or shine.
- Non-slip shoes are recommended for Tidepool Tours. Shoes may get wet.
- Tidepool 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 to help reduce waste.
- Please ask about resources for visitors with special needs.
Donations and Thank You Letters
A minimum donation of $1 per participant is requested for guided tours. Donations help support educational programs. Cash or checks can be made out to Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and submitted to park employees or sent by mail. You will receive a receipt.
Remember, docents are volunteers who lead tours on their own time! Thank you letters or drawings are greatly appreciated, and also help students reinforce what they have learned.
Donations and Thanks You Letters 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.
Rancho Del Oso – Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
- Mission Day Program: Fourth graders learn about the village life of the Ohlone people and 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 meets California Curriculum standards for 4th grade Mission Studies.
- Native Ohlone Lifeways: This tour is for 3rd grade students and includes demonstrations and hands-on activities.
- Tours run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from September to June.
- The program works best with groups of 10-25. However, larger groups can be accommodated.
- 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.
Seacliff State Beach
Two school tours are available at Seacliff State Beach.
- Fossils, Floating and Fauna Walk: This 2-hour tour is appropriate for grades 2–4, and includes a moderate walk with indoor activities.
- Sanctuary Walk: This is an up-to 1.5-hour walk only suitable for young students (K-1) and also includes indoor activities.
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, please call park staff at 831-685-6444.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
The Forest of Nisene Marks offers Language of the Forest tours for 3rd grade students and older. The moderate-difficulty guided walk last two hours and includes hands-on activities. Field trips are available October and November, and February to May.
All school field trips at Nisene Marks receive free parking if arrangements are made a minimum of two weeks in advance with approved waiver. Facilities at the Forest of Nisene Marks are limited. Groups should bring their own drinking water. For more information, please call park staff at 831-685-6444.
Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch State Park has a multitude of enrichment activities for students. 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.
- 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 then submit the Ranch Kids Day Application Form.
- Ranch Tours: available year-round for students grade 3-4. Tours can be modified to fit most grades’ curriculum. The tours last approximately 60 minutes. Group size is limited to 10-35 participants, including adult chaperones. Apply here.
- Nature Walks: a guided 2-hour 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. Apply here.
- 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. Apply here.
Also, self-guided tours of Wilder Ranch are available when the machine shop buildings and the Interpretive Center are open; call for the current schedule or with any questions: 831-426-0505.