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The historic coastal town of Aptos lies in the unincorporated Santa Cruz County area encompassing Rio Del Mar, Seacliff, and Seascape. Home to the quaint Aptos Village, Aptos also serves as the gateway to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Within the park's 10,000 acres of regenerated redwood forest, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers enjoy 30 miles of trails passing old mill sites and trestles. Traces of the area's once-thriving railroad and logging past remain. To learn more about the history, from the native Ohlone Indians who named Aptos to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, visitors can explore the collection of artifacts and photographs at the Aptos History Museum.
The charming community of Aptos offers residents a relaxed way of life amid stunning natural beauty. Overlooking the sparkling Monterey Bay, this idyllic town boasts breezy beaches, rolling hills blanketed in redwood forests, and panoramic views, all just minutes from the downtown area. From the array of shops and restaurants to the many local attractions, Aptos provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of big city living. With its mild climate and proximity to Santa Cruz and Watsonville, this seaside gem has become a highly desirable place to call home.
Seacliff State Beach offers the perfect spot for a cookout or picnic, with barbecue grills and shaded tables along the sand. Stop by the visitor center to learn about Pacific wildlife migration patterns. A mile-long seaside paved path running parallel to the ocean passes fossils of extinct marine creatures embedded in the bluffs. At the end of the fishing pier sits "The Cement Ship," a local landmark. This experimental concrete tanker, the S.S. Palo Alto, was built during World War I and now elegantly leans to its starboard side from winter storms, serving as an artificial reef for marine life. "The Cement Ship" celebrated its 100th birthday in 2019, however the storms of 2022 have just about submerged the old ship.
Along the south side of the pier, Rio Del Mar State Beach provides an ideal spot for dog lovers and beach bonfires. Aptos also hosts a beloved Fourth of July tradition - the "World's Shortest Parade", where nearly every resident and their pet dresses in patriotic colors before marching to Aptos Village Park for live music and festivities. The heart of Aptos Village contains a vibrant new town center perfect for pedestrians to enjoy artisanal ice cream, local shops, specialty coffee, restaurants, and a charming park that add to the charm of this mid-county destination.
The bay is known for its rich marine life, especially during the peak migration seasons from mid-January to mid-March when you can often spot humpback whales, gray whales, and dolphins. There is also an increased chance of spotting killer whales in March, April, and May.
Aptos hosts several popular annual events and festivals throughout the year that attract both locals and visitors, such as the Aptos Farmers Market, Aptos 4th of July Parade, and Aptos Wine Wander.
For thousands of years before the Spanish completed Mission Santa Cruz in 1794, American Indians lived in the area now known as Aptos. The mission system ended the Native Americans' way of life. After Mexico gained independence, the mission lands were secularized and granted to local citizens involved in governing and developing the region. In 1833, the Mexican government awarded Rafael Castro the 6,686-acre Rancho Aptos, spanning from today's Seascape Boulevard to Borregas Drive near Cabrillo College. Castro initially raised cattle for hides, but after California became a state in 1850, he leased his land to Yankees for industrial uses. They built a wharf, general store, and lumber mill. The original town was located at today's Aptos Village Square, with Castro's original general store still standing.
Claus Spreckels, the sugar millionaire, began purchasing land from Castro and developing the area by 1872. He constructed a grand hotel near the beach, along with a private entrance road called Spreckels Drive. Further inland, Spreckels built a summer mansion and ranch complete with a racetrack for his horses near what is now Rio Del Mar Boulevard. He also fenced off a large tract of land that he stocked with deer for hunting purposes, dubbing it "The Deer Park." Additionally, Spreckels helped finance the 1876 opening of the Santa Cruz Railroad, whose original steam engine "Jupiter" now resides in the Smithsonian. With the railroad's arrival, the town relocated east of Aptos Creek to its current site. Nearby, Claus Mangels, Spreckels' brother-in-law, erected a mansion up present-day Aptos Creek Road, while Joseph Arano, Rafael Castro's son-in-law, built the Bayview Hotel.
From 1884 to 1924, logging Redwood timber became Aptos' major industry, transforming the town into a boomtown. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company clear-cut all of what is now Nisene Marks State Park, while the Valencia Mill did the same to the east. Valencia Hall served as the community hub of the Valencia Mill town. Within just 40 years, the surrounding hills were stripped bare. Apple orchards then became Aptos' next major industry, lasting until 1959.
After Spreckels' death in the 1920s, the areas of Seacliff Park and Rio Del Mar were developed. The Rio Del Mar Country Club was built and included a clubhouse, a grand hotel on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, a beach club for members, a polo field for playing polo, and an expansive golf course. The estuary was filled in during construction and Aptos Creek was rerouted and dammed to create a large freshwater swimming pool, complete with a bathing pavilion. The Seacliff developers also purchased an unused World War I concrete oil tanker and converted it into an amusement pier, which featured a restaurant, swimming pool, arcade games, and a dance hall. During the Prohibition era, Rio Del Mar and Seacliff were popular destinations where drinking and gambling could be found discreetly. However, the Great Depression and World War II eventually interrupted the prosperity of these amusement areas.
In the early 1960s, Aptos began a period of rapid development when Cabrillo College opened in a strategic location halfway between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Soon after, Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center and the Seascape development followed, marking the start of Aptos' transformation.
Aptos has three elementary schools, one junior high school, and one high school within the Pajaro Valley School District. To learn more about Aptos schools, visit the PVUSD website or call (831) 728-6200. Funding & Budget overview for 2032-2024. The Mission of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District is to educate and to support learners in reaching their highest potential. We prepare students to pursue successful futures and to make positive contributions to the community and the global society.