On our first visit, we took the Aliso Creek trail because it is an easy trail with a slight decline when going towards the ocean. But do remember that this will turn into a slight include going back.
This sleepy beach town is within a one-hour driving distance from San Francisco or San Jose.
You can certainly make Santa Cruz a stop on your Bay area itinerary, but I think it deserves to be its own destination. There is so much to do and see – you can easily spend a week without getting bored.