The stretch of Highway 1 from Santa Cruz up to Half Moon Bay is sprinkled with glorious state beaches. One could easily spend a lazy Sunday lounging on the rocks, listening to the waves crash and photographing pelicans.
Our advice, though? Keep your coastal visits brief as you drive north, and go right instead – to the town of Pescadero. The small ranching community is a treasure trove of oddities. Its crown gem, Butano State Park, is just a few minutes off the main street.
But before you rush off for your afternoon hike, stock up on some of this rustic town’s snack offerings. At Arcangeli Grocery, you’ll find mouthwatering (and still warm) loaves of bread stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh artichokes and more. Down the road at Harley Farms Goat Dairy, try the fresh chevre, or the more adventurous garlic-and-herb or honey lavender goat cheeses.
If you like the spread, go thank the the goats – they’re right outside and very friendly.
Once you’re picnic-ready, drive the 6 miles down to Butano State Park – a 4,728-acre hiking area featuring a redwood-filled canyon. If you’ve only got a few hours, the Little Butano Creek Trail is your best bet.
The drive to the park is much like the rest of the area – brown, green and rolling with hills. But as hikers begin their descent on the creek trail, they’ll find themselves immersed in a world of vibrant greens rarely seen in Northern California. Mosses, ferns and wild mushrooms flank the path, as the scent of damp logs meets the distant aroma of ocean breeze.
The Little Butano Creek trail is aptly named – hikers stay near the shallow stream and cross over it several times. The bridges are sturdy and the path is well kept, with switchbacks carved out for a gradual ascent and descent. The trail is a loop and will land back in the parking lot.
In winter, hikers should be on the lookout for banana slugs and newts. The former, named for their deep yellow color and long, thin shape, are easy to spot clinging to the bases of the redwoods. Look out, also, for neon orange slime mold (believe it or not, it moves!).
In the last quarter-mile of the trail, you’ll see a sign for an amphitheater – a cluster of logs around a makeshift stage. There’s a picnic table there that makes a nice, quiet resting place before finishing out the day.
Trail length: About 2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate. There is a 500-foot elevation gain, with several uphill and downhill sections
Restrooms: Yes, at the trailhead
Cost: $10 day-use fee