Neary Lagoon is an important part of the urban watershed for the City of Santa Cruz. A drainage area of approximately 850 acres empties into the lagoon, and from there, out to the ocean. Public entrances to the Neary Lagoon Wildlife Refuge are located at the end of Chestnut Street, the end of Blackburn Street, and at the corner of Bay Street and California Street.
This peaceful freshwater marsh lies within a 44-acre park tucked between a wastewater treatment plant and a residential neighborhood in the city of Santa Cruz. The 14-acre marsh includes a lagoon, which you can cross on a floating boardwalk. This wetland ecosystem provides critical habitat for plants and animals with food, cover, and breeding sites. It also provides rainwater storage to reduce flooding and filter pollutants. Yet what makes this lagoon uniquely valuable is its accessibility.
Smooth, flat trails surround the park, and floating boardwalks allow you to walk on top of the water through the center of the lagoon. This is a great place to walk, push a stroller, or carry a child. It’s peaceful, quietly entertaining, and educational. You’ll see many kinds of waterbirds, tule, cattails, interesting trees, and if you look down in the water, many large fish. In a short walk of less than a mile, you can travel through marshlands, riparian woodlands, and over open water.
Interpretive signs at the Chestnut Street entrance and throughout the park add educational value, telling more about the watershed, plants, birds, and animals. Adults and children alike should find walking over the lagoon an interesting learning experience. Younger children will also enjoy the small playground, complete with swings and slides, located on the Bay Street side. (A bathroom is conveniently located near the playground.) Tennis and basketball courts are available, too.
While visiting Neary Lagoon, you may see mallard and wood ducks, pied billed grebes, coots, geese, herons, and hawks. Watch for belted kingfishers; they feed in the lagoon but nest in nearby cliffs. Although hard to see, you may hear sora and Virginia rail. Rufous-sided towhee and black phoebe are permanent residents. In the summer, watch for tree swallows, and in winter, hermit thrush. In spring and fall, you may spot a migrating western tanager. You will see lots of birds attracted by the water, others like the riparian woodlands, especially the willow groves. Look there for a yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, or Wilson’s warbler.
Under the water are native Sacramento suckers and prickly sculpins, a few rainbow trout, and some non-native largemouth bass, bluegill, carp, and mosquito fish. You can often see the fish by leaning lean over the water, but no feeding or fishing is allowed. Neary Lagoon is also home to the Western Pond Turtle, which can be seen basking in the sun as you stroll along the boardwalk trail.
Entrances to the refuge are at the end of Chestnut Street, the end of Blackburn Street, and at the corner of Bay Street and California Street (110 California Street). Metered parking (25 cents for 20 minutes) is available along Chestnut.There is also a small street-side parking area on Bay Street which it is metered, but usually full.
Directions to Neary Lagoon
To reach the Neary Lagoon Wildlfe Refuge
- Use your phone or car GPS and use the following addresses for access
- California Street access
- There are tennis corts, a plyground and restroom at this access point
- Chestnut Park access
- There is a small play area as well as access to Neary Lagoon from the end of the street.
- California Street access