About Molly Lautamo

Molly Lautamo is a freelance writer and content strategist. She came to Santa Cruz almost ten years ago to attend UCSC and never left. To check out more of Molly's writing, visit mollylautamo.com

Looking for Wild Cats at Panther Beach

Panther Beach

A panther is hidden in the golden cliffs at a beach about ten miles north of Santa Cruz.

Perhaps you need a wild imagination (or perhaps the aid of psychedelics), but all I could see after blurring my vision, crossing my eyes, and staring intently at a mix of mudstone and sandstone, was red, yellow, and gray rock marred by graffiti and decorated with a mix of coastal buckwheat, sage, and yarrow.

If you want to try your luck at spotting the elusive wildcat in the cliffs, drive north along Highway 1, just past Laguna Beach and fields of brussels sprouts on your left and run-down shacks inhabited by weary, weathered farm workers on your right, to an unmarked dirt lot on the ocean side of the highway.

Pull off and drive slowly over the deep ruts and piles of shattered window glass — heed this warning and don’t leave any valuables in your car. Park anywhere along the edge of the lot and walk down to the railroad tracks where you’ll see a Coast Dairies State Park sign marking the trailhead to Panther Beach.

The trail down is narrow and overgrown with purple thistle and yellow and white mustard flowers in the spring. It’s also steep enough in some places that the cautious will want to have both hands free or risk a bruised tailbone.

Despite this beach’s less than desirable access point, countless college students (and let’s be fair, probably some non-students as well) flock to this stretch of sand and lug cases of beer, boxes of firewood, beach chairs, bags of fast food, and entire watermelons down the slippery sandstone hillside. Then they leave it all there, including half the watermelon. [Read more…]

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough

kayaking in Elkhorn Slough

Have you ever dreamt of taking an African safari?

From the safety of a jeep, you watch wide-eyed as a leopard silently stalks unsuspecting antelopes, a pride of lions escapes the shimmering heat in the shade of an Acacia tree, and a herd of elephants, ears flapping and trunks swinging, shake the savannah as they lumber dangerously close to where you sit spellbound by the wild landscape that surrounds you.

We may not have leopards and elephants, but we do have rafts of otters, piles of harbor seals, and flocks of pterodactyl-like pelicans. And you don’t have to observe them from the confines of an off-road vehicle.

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough is an aquatic safari where you join the animals on their turf. Otters instead of cheetahs climb onto your mode of transport and it’s the deep rumbling bellow of the California sea lion that makes you jump out of your seat.

Harbor seals bask in the sun, otters furiously clean their faces after a tasty meal of urchin, and sea lions slap their flippers, playfully splashing water just inches from the kayak.

Pelicans fly overhead, so close that you could almost reach up and touch them. Suddenly they fold in their wings and turn their beaks earthward in a graceful dive that ends with a muffled “kerplunk.” A great blue heron stands in the muddy shallows, staring intently at a fish hiding just below the surface. Your paddle catches on kelp fronds, giving you the perfect excuse to stop paddling for a moment and just take in everything around you. [Read more…]

Santa Cruz Hikes: Fern Trail at Pogonip

pogonip hike santa cruzk

Pogonip is a Native American word for river fog, a fittingly mystical name for such a magical place. This 640-acre green space in the middle of town has over nine miles of hiking trails with quirky features including a koi pond, stone labyrinth, and the crumbling, mossy stones of lime kilns from the 1800s.
[Read more…]