The Santa Cruz District of California State Parks offers live interactive videoconference programs and traditional in-person field trips at many of our parks. Sign up for virtual trips, in-person trips, or a combination of both. A virtual trip is recommended before an in-person trip to familarize the students with the educational content, staff, and location. To request a virtual or in-person field trip or for more information, click on any of the park unit links below. 

You can also explore opportunities to engage with California State Parks statewide with PORTS (Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students)! 

| Año Nuevo | Castle RockCastro Adobe | Half Moon Bay Henry Cowell Redwoods |
Natural Bridges | Pigeon Point Light StationSanta Cruz MissionSeacliffWilder Ranch |

 

Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo

Please note: Guided tours during the breeding season are limited to grades 4-12 with a total of 20 students maximum accompanied by a maximum of 2 chaperones per tour. We accept homeschool groups with group sizes of 10 or more students. If registering for a large group of students, please select multiple tour times to accommodate your group size. For questions or concerns, please call (650) 879-2032 or email anonuevostatepark@ports-ca.us.

male elephant seal bellows on beach surrounded by females and pupsIn-Person Programs:

Breeding Season Guided Walk: State Parks Docents introduce students to the evolutionary history and adaptations of the northern elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve with a rookery visit during the busy winter breeding season. Tours are required for viewing the seals December through March due to high park visitation. Please read the confirmation email and ensure students are prepared due to tightly scheduled seal tours. This 2.5-hour program is appropriate for grades 4-12 and available December through March.

Spring Season Guided Walk: Join a State Parks Docent for a guided walk through the reserve to learn about a different part of the northern elephant seal lifecycle. During the spring, adult and juvenile seals cluster along the beaches and molt their skin and fur while weaned pups prepare for their first ocean migration. Spring wildflowers and wildlife are also abundant. The spring season receives fewer park visitors and allows more flexibility for school visits. This 2-hour program is appropriate for grades K-12 and available in April and May.

Spring or Fall Season Self-Guided Walk: Explore the reserve on your own and discover a different part of the northern elephant seal lifecycle. During the spring and fall, adult and juvenile seals cluster along the beaches and molt their skin and fur. In the spring, weaned pups prepare for their first ocean migration. Spring wildflowers and wildlife are also abundant. Docent guides may potentially be available upon request. Once registered, please follow the instructions in your confirmation email to request a guide at no cost. The spring season receives fewer park visitors and allows more flexibility for school visits. This 2-hour program is appropriate for grades K-12 and available April through November.

Virtual Programs:

Elephant Seal Tour: Discuss the behavior, lifecycle, and adaptations of the northern elephant seal. These unique animals spend the majority of their lives at sea where they forage for food to bulk up for time spent on land. Elephant seals visit Año Nuevo State Park twice a year to breed and molt. This program is appropriate for grades K-12. 

Visit Ano Nuevo's School Group Walks page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (650) 879-2032 or email anonuevostatepark@ports-ca.us

Register for a Breeding Season Año Nuevo Program by calling 1-800-444-7275. Registration opens October 5.

The Reserve California call center is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, except New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Reservations open on Saturday, October 14 at 8 am. When calling to make a reservation, be prepared to share your contact information, number of students and chaperones, grade level, and any special needs for students. The cost is $21 per school group plus $7.99 reservation fee. There are no ticket refunds or exchanges for cancellations, no shows, weather, or late arrivals. Refunds are issued only when the park staff must cancel a walk. As much notice as possible will be given in the event of a cancellation.

Register for an IN-PERSON SPRING SEASON Año Nuevo Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Año Nuevo Program
Register for a SELF-GUIDED Año Nuevo Program

Additional Digital Resources: 
Año Nuevo Flipgrid
Elephant Seals Padlet
360 Park and Año Nuevo Island Tours


 

Geology at Castle Rock 

Goat Rock Outlook at Castle Rock State ParkIn-Person Program
During this three hour program, students will learn about the natural wonders of Castle Rock State Park by hiking the trails. The hike will focus on the park's distinctive geology, but will also touch on other subjects including Native American peoples, local wildlife, and modern human impacts to our ecosystems. All attendees should be prepared for a 1.5-mile hike up to Castle Rock, the park’s namesake feature, so be sure to bring water and a bag lunch and wear close-toed shoes or hiking boots. The maximum group size is 30 students per program with a preferred adult to student ratio of 1:8 (not including park staff).

Virtual Program
Students learn about the natural wonders of Castle Rock State Park on a virtual guided hike to Castle Rock, the park's namesake. The program focuses on the park's distinctive geology, but will also introduce other subjects including Native American peoples, local wildlife, and modern human impacts to our ecosystems. 

Visit Castle Rock's Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 291-8273 or email portolacastlerock@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Castle Rock Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Castle Rock Program


 

Life at Rancho San Andres and the Castro Adobe

Castro Adobe with cocina doors openIn-Person Program: Life on the Rancho
Step back in time and learn about the Castro family, who traveled from Sinaloa Mexico to settle in Alta California. During this two-hour program, students (grades 3-4) will have an opportunity to practice their diseno (map) making skills, learn about Spanish music, fandango dancing, tortilla making and life on a cattle ranch during the Mexican Rancho period of the 1800s. They will also discover how this 170 year old adobe hacienda was built while touring the interior. This field trip is limited to only one class at a time with a maximum of 30 students. Please note, only half-buses and smaller vehicles are allowed on Old Adobe Road due to narrow road conditions.
 

Virtual Program: Growing up on a Mexican Rancho
Imagine growing up on a cattle ranch raising your own food and living in a two-story adobe building during the mid-1800s. During this virtual 45-minute presentation students (3-4 grade) will discover the challenges of growing up on a rancho, welcoming guests with a fandango and having vaqueros capture wild bulls and grizzly bears for competitive fights. They will learn about the Castros, who were one of the first European families to settle in this area, and the famous two-story adobe hacienda they built over 170 years ago.

Visit Castro Adobe's Teachers paqe for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 226-9669 or email castroadobe@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Castro Adobe Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Castro Adobe Program


 

Coastal Life at Half Moon Bay

Francis Beach OverlookIn-Person Programs:

Coastal Wildlife: Discover the wildlife that lives along our coast! Students will explore how local fauna are adapted to live in ocean and beach habitats through hands-on activities, examining real pelts and model skulls, and mindfulness and art activities. Suitable for grades K – 12. Can accommodate 20 – 75 students (1 - 3 classes). Location: Francis Beach (Half Moon Bay State Beach). Offered year-round.


Wonders of the Rocky Shore: Experience the excitement of discovery at Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach. We will explore the tactile nature of this unique beach and learn about the distinctive geologic features and the power of water. Students will engage in a creative activity as well as an observation-based exploration of the physical landscape. Suitable for grades 2 – 8. Can accommodate 20 - 75 students (1 - 3 classes). Location: Pebble Beach/North parking lot of Bean Hollow State Beach, near Pescadero. Offered year-round.

Birding at Pescadero Marsh: Explore the largest coastal wetlands in our area on a guided walk through the Pescadero Marsh. We will teach students how to use binoculars as we take an easy walk along the marsh. We will discuss the importance of wetland ecology, listen and look for birds, and hone our observation skills. Suitable for grades 2 – 12. Can accommodate 20 – 35 students (1 class maximum). Location: Pescadero State Beach central parking lot on HWY 1. Offered October – end of January.

Gray Whale Cove Wildflower Walk: Soak in breathtaking views of the Pacific coast on this two mile guided walk on Montara Mountain. We will observe vibrant wildflowers and native plants, look for signs of wildlife, and engage in guided mindfulness activities. Come connect with nature and practice slowing down to smell the flowers with us! Suitable for grades 3-12. Can accommodate 20-35 students (1 class maximum). Location: Gray Whale Cove Trail Parking Lot, 9 mi north of HWY 92. Offered February – May.

Virtual Programs:

Shaping the Coast: Schedule your class for a virtual field trip to the San Mateo coast and visit beautiful Half Moon Bay State Beach. In this program, we'll learn about the awesome forces that shape our iconic coastline. From tectonic plates, to the awesome power of water, to human impacts–there are many factors that affect our sometimes-sandy, sometimes-rocky shores. Questions can be emailed to us directly at halfmoonbay@ports-ca.us.

Animal Habitats and Adaptations: Schedule your class for a virtual field trip to the San Mateo coast and visit Half Moon Bay State Beach. In this program, we'll get to know some of the many animals that inhabit our beaches and ocean, how they are adapted to their environment, and what we can all do to help preserve their homes for the future. Questions can be emailed to us directly at halfmoonbay@ports-ca.us

Visit Half Moon Bay's Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (669) 758-1819 or email halfmoonbay@ports-ca.us

Register an IN-PERSON Half Moon Bay Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Half Moon Bay Program


 

Redwood and Sandhills Ecology at Henry Cowell Redwoods

Redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State ParkIn-Person Program: Under the Redwoods 
During this experience, you and your students will walk the Old-Growth Redwood Loop Trail with an interpreter and learn about coast redwood life history, physiology, adaptations, ecosystems, and more! Program specifics differ depending on age group (grades K-2, 3-6, 7-12).

In-Person Program: The Sandhills
Explore the sandy hillsides of the Santa Cruz Mountains! The Sandhills are the most sensitive and delicate ecosystem in the park and this program overviews the landscape and organisms that call it home, many of which are rare and/or endangered. This program can only accommodate 1-2 classes per reservation. Program specifics differ depending on age group (grades K-2, 3-6, 7-12).

Self-Guided Program
Self-guided field trips are available at Henry Cowell. These programs are facilitated independently by teachers and chaperones without the support of California State Park staff or volunteers. During your self-guided field trip, you are more than welcome to explore the park while following established park rules. Upon completion of your field trip reservation, you will receive a confirmation email with recommended activities, how to prepare, and reflect on your field trip. If you have any further questions or concerns please contact henrycowell@ports-ca.us

Virtual Program: Why Do Redwoods Live Here?
In this program, students will gain exposure to the wonderful redwood habitat. Students will discover why redwoods live in the Santa Cruz Mountains while learning about what redwoods need to survive and how they use adaptations to obtain the things they need to stay alive.

Virtual Program: The Sandhills
During this program, students will explore a unique and sensitive ecosystem of the park, one that most people don’t even know exists: the Santa Cruz Sandhills. Students will get the opportunity to see plants and animals that only live in this area and nowhere else in the world.

Visit Henry Cowell Redwoods' Teacher Page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 335-7077 or email henrycowell@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Henry Cowell Redwoods Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Henry Cowell Redwoods Program
Register for a SELF-GUIDED Henry Cowell Redwoods Program 


 

Invertebrates at Natural Bridges State Beach

Monarch Butterfly perched on leavesIn-Person Program: Monarch Butterflies
During this one hour field trip you will meet the amazing monarch butterfly. Students will learn about the monarch life cycle and migration and why the monarchs overwinter at Natural Bridges. Students will also learn what they can do to help with monarch conservation. This program involves a brief presentation followed by a short walk to our nectar garden and then down a wooden boardwalk to the Monarch Grove. NGSS standards typically covered with this program include: K-LS1-1, K-ESS3-11-LS1-22-LS2-23-LS3-2, and 4-LS1-1. This program can be adapted to be NGSS appropriate for your K-12 classes. A maximum of 35 students and chaperones per class or 70 students for multiple classes can participate per program. Multiple classes will need to reserve multiple tours if visiting on the same day. 

In-Person Program: Tidepools
On this 1.5 hour guided field trip to the rocky intertidal zone, you will be introduced to the species and habitat of the tidepools through games and activities before venturing out into the tidepools to explore. Students will learn the importance of Marine Protected Areas for conserving tidepool life and how they can make a difference in protecting our environment. The 15 minute walk to the tidepools includes sand and slightly uneven rocks. NGSS standards that are typically covered with this program include: K-LS1-1, K-ESS3-11-LS1-12-LS4-1, 3-LS4-33-LS1-1,  4-LS1-15-PS3-1, 5-LS2-1MS-LS1-1, MS-LS2-2, HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-2, HS-LS2-6, and HS-LS4-5. This program can be adapted to be NGSS appropriate for your K-12 classes. A maximum of 35 students and chaperones can participate per program. Groups of more than 35 students will need to reserve multiple tours if visiting the same day. 

Self-Guided Program
Self-guided field trips are available at Natural Bridges. These programs are facilitated independently by teachers and chaperones without the support of California State Park staff or volunteers. During the self-guided field trip your group is welcome to respectfully explore any of the 12 habitats Natural Bridges has to offer on up to 3 miles of trails. Play on the beach, hike under the pine trees, observe the freshwater plants and animals in the vernal pond or lagoon, or check out the abundance of life in our tidepools.

Virtual Program: Monarch Butterflies
During this program, your students will have the chance to discover the life cycle, migration, adaptations, and conservation of monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges and all across the state. This one hour program is facilitated by California State Park interpreters live from the park. NGSS standards that are typically covered with this program include: K-LS1-1, K-ESS3-11-LS1-22-LS2-23-LS3-2, and 4-LS1-1. This program can be adapted to be NGSS appropriate for your K-12 classes.

Virtual Program: Tidepools
During this program, you and your students will discover tidepool adaptations and zonation at Natural Bridges State Beach. This one hour program will guide you and your students through the intertidal zone and the unique species that call this place home. NGSS standards that are typically covered with this program include: K-LS1-1, K-ESS3-11-LS1-12-LS4-1, 3-LS4-33-LS1-1 4-LS1-15-PS3-1, 5-LS2-1MS-LS1-1, MS-LS2-2, HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-2, HS-LS2-6, and HS-LS4-5. This program can be adapted to be NGSS appropriate for your K-12 classes.

Visit Natural Bridges' Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 423-4609 ext. 1 or email naturalbridges@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Natural Bridges Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Natural Bridges Program 
Register for a SELF-GUIDED Natural Bridges Program


 

Maritime and Natural History at Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Lighthouse on top of a bluff overlooking the oceanIn-Person Programs:

Experience Pigeon Point: This two-hour school program gives students an introduction to the many ways people and animals have experienced Pigeon Point over the centuries. Pigeon Point has been a place to visit, work, play, and live for many different people and animals for centuries. Students will participate in hands-on activities. 

How Lighthouses Work: Why did people build lighthouses? In this two-hour program, students will conduct experiments to discover how the Fresnel lens worked and will explore topics like refraction and magnification. They will discover the crucial components of a lighthouse and how they worked together. Students exercise their observation skills and learn to see the world like a lightkeeper. 

Life at a Lighthouse: This two-hour program introduces students to Pigeon Point Light Station as both a workplace and a home. Four lightkeepers and their families lived and worked together. Even kids! Students will experience a few aspects of daily life at a 19th century lighthouse, including games played by children of the keepers and taking weather measurements. 

Migration and Natural Diversity at Pigeon Point: During this two-hour program, students will explore the natural world of Pigeon Point. Students will discover the vast diversity of life supported by this rocky point of the California coast and learn about the impact they can have on the environment around them. They will play games, remove invasive plants, and practice their observation skills.

Please note: All in-person options include a guided tour of the grounds around the lighthouse and and a visit in the historic Fog Signal Building.


Virtual Programs: 

Lighthouse Engineers: This one hour program introduces you and your class to the history of Pigeon Point. Students will have the opportunity to become lighthouse engineers and design their own lighthouses. Students will learn about the technology and engineering that goes into building and operating a lighthouse. Students will make decisions about how to handle unique challenges faced by builders at Pigeon Point. Their choices will impact the effectiveness of their lighthouse. Will it stand up to the weather? Will it guide ships?

Pigeon Point Light Station: Beacon of Hope: This 30-minute program introduces you and your class to the history of Pigeon Point and the reason a lighthouse was built in this location in the 19th century. Discover the engineering marvel of the Fresnel lens that lights Pigeon Point’s tower and the role lighthouses played in the development of the California coast. This program serves as an introduction to our onsite school programs. Students will need paper, pencils, and coloring supplies, such as colored pencils, crayons, or markers.

Visit Pigeon Point's Teachers page for more information on school programs.For questions or concerns, please call (669) 758-1155 or email pigeonpoint@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Pigeon Point Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Pigeon Point Program


 

Indigenous History at Santa Cruz Mission

Please note: The themes and discussions that we approach in our programs with students may be challenging for some communities or individuals.

Santa Cruz Mission adobe building with rainbow overhead in overcast skyIn-Person Program: Mission Day
The Mission Day program takes your students from the life of the Ohlone people in their village to their life in the Santa Cruz Mission with the Spanish. Students will understand how the California Mission System changed traditional Indigenous life forever. They will consider ways in which Native People responded to this change resulting in cultural continuity and cultural change. This program has a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 45 students. We have a required total of 3-9 chaperones for this field trip event.

This Environmental Studies Day Program (ESD) includes a mixture of highly interactive discussions, demonstrations, hands-on activities, and an adobe tour. We recommended this experience for fourth grade students and above. When registering for your program, please indicate how we can support learning in the classroom during your field trip. For questions or concerns, please contact us at (831) 425-5849 or santacruzmission@ports-ca.us.

In-Person Program: Mission Portals
If you require a large group (45+ students) and you aren’t able to participate in a Mission Day, Mission Portals programs are designed for fourth grade teachers and students with a minimum of 45 and a maximum of 90 students. During this program, your students will participate in several activities as portals looking into the daily life in the Santa Cruz Mission (including an adobe tour). To book a Mission Portals Program, please call (831) 425-5849 or email santacruzmission@ports-ca.us.

Virtual Program: Cultures in Conflict
In this 45-minute interactive program we will introduce you students to the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. We will give a brief overview of how the daily life of the indigenous people from this area dramatically changed as they navigated life at the Santa Cruz Mission, and then discuss some of the last cultural impacts of the resulting aftermath.

Visit Santa Cruz Mission's Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 425-5849 or email santacruzmission@ports-ca.us.

Register for an IN-PERSON Santa Cruz Mission Program 
Register for a VIRTUAL Santa Cruz Mission Program 


 

Fossils and Marine Life at Seacliff

Pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls perch or fly near the In-Person Programs:

Spectacular Seacliff: Explore Seacliff State Beach and discover a secret that is 2.5 to 5 million years old. During this two-hour long program, students (grades 2-4) will have the opportunity to practice their paleontological skills by brushing for fossils…an activity that can only be done on a field trip! Students will then dive into how a ship made of concrete can float and what animals call this ship home. Lastly, students will have the opportunity to see firsthand the impacts of the January 2023 storms and share their ideas for how to best rebuild the park. The maximum number of students for this trip is 30.

Marine Sanctuary Exploration: Seacliff State Beach is located in the heart of Monterey Bay. This bay is a very special place as it is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. During this one hour program, K-1 students will design a marine sanctuary and then travel down to the beach to look for evidence of plants, animals, and people.

Virtual Programs: 

Seafloor to Seashore: How did fossils from the seafloor end up in the cliffs at Seacliff State Beach? During this 45-minute virtual program, students (grades 2-4) will become paleontologists and investigate how fossils are made and how the beach has changed in the last 5 million years.

Float a Concrete Ship?: The S.S. Palo Alto attracts visitors from all over the world. This unique ship is made out of something that’s surprising to many people…concrete! How can a concrete ship float and why is a broken ship still at the end of the pier at Seacliff State Beach? During this 45-minute program, students will explore the physical forces that determine what floats and what sinks. There will also be discussion around which animals call the ship home.

Marine Sanctuary Exploration: Explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during a 30-minute program. Students (K-1) will help build an ocean sanctuary by taking a look at what does and does not belong in safe places for marine life. There will also be discussions about the different habitats that are found within the sanctuary.

Avian Adaptations: Birds are a common sight at Seacliff State Beach. During this 45-minute program, students (grades 2-4) will learn how adaptations, specifically beaks and feet, of birds allow them to make themselves at home in almost any habitat, including some surprising places at Seacliff.

Visit Seacliff's Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 685-6444 or email seacliff@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Seacliff Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Seacliff Program


 

Ranch History at Wilder Ranch

Three goats sit on top of a picnic table in the goat corral at Wilder Ranch State ParkIn-Person Program: Ranch History and Farm Animal Encounters
Travel back to 1900 at Wilder Ranch and discover what it was like to live and work on a dairy ranch in this program designed for grades 2-4. Join California State Park interpreters during this two-hour-long program while we explore the essentials to making a successful dairy ranch. Students will meet our farm animals, learn how to do the jobs necessary to dairy ranching, and explore what everyday life would be like for someone their age at Wilder Ranch over 100 years ago. The number of students who can participate per program is 15-35 students, with a 1:2 ratio of chaperones to students. This program takes place outdoors, so please be prepared for varied weather conditions and bring water. 

Self-Guided Program
Self-guided field trips are available at Wilder Ranch. These programs are facilitated independently by teachers and chaperones without the support of California State Park staff or volunteers. During your self-guided field trip, you are more than welcome to explore the ranch grounds and park trails. The historic houses are only open on guided tours.

Virtual Program: A Hard Day's Work on the Ranch
Living on a dairy ranch in the year 1900 took a lot of hard work and required working together as a team to be successful. This one hour program, designed for grades 1-4, explores some of the tasks and responsibilities that children would have been expected to help with. Follow along with our interpretive staff as they showcase our volunteers demonstrating some of the work that kids were expected to help with while we discuss and learn all about a kid's role on the ranch.

Visit Wilder Ranch's Teachers page for more information on school programs. For questions or concerns, please call (831) 426-0505 or email wilderranch@ports-ca.us

Register for an IN-PERSON Wilder Ranch Program
Register for a VIRTUAL Wilder Ranch Program
Register for a SELF-GUIDED Wilder Ranch Program

Additional Digital Resources: 
Wilder Ranch Flipgrid
Wilder Ranch YouTube Channel