California's oldest state park is the best place to see old-growth redwoods without going north of San Francisco, and it's far less crowded than Muir Woods and other famous spots. The parkland ranges from sea level up to 2,000 feet in elevation, which means the landscape changes often, from dark redwood groves to oak pastures that are deep green in winter and bleached nearly white in summer. The countless waterfalls are the most visible during the winter rains. To get a feel for the redwoods, take the Redwood Loop Trail, an easy half-mile path, great for kids, that takes in some of the tallest trees here, including the Mother of the Forest and the Father of the Forest. Pick up the trail across from the visitor center, inland at park headquarters in Boulder Creek. A brochure you can pick up here points out significant trees along the way. Mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers can take the nearly level Canyon Road (a dirt fire road) back up the creek and into the woods.
looking for solitude might consider a more strenuous, uphill climb on Clark Connection to Westridge Trail, which rewards hard work with spectacular ocean views. Those who don't want to go anywhere can just stay on the windswept beach, where the main attraction is watching kite surfers get huge air on the windy shoreline waves.
A short walk on the Marsh Trail leads to the Rancho Del Oso Nature Center (www.ranchodeloso.org). Open on weekends from noon to 4, the center has natural-history exhibits and is the starting point for several self-guided nature walks.