Playgrounds for tots and big kids. Running and hiking trails. And lots of blue balls.
Anna Jean Cummings Park

Neil Wiley

Several of our recent exploring stories have covered long hikes in big parks. Here is a nearby park that is more appropriate for a family outing, a training run, or a short hike.

Anna Jean Cummings was the founder of the Santa Cruz Land Trust and a member of the Save Soquel group that was involved in converting the O’Neill Dairy Ranch into public recreational and open space. This 95-acre park is a fitting tribute to this community volunteer.

Located just above Soquel High School on Old San Jose Road, the park is a short drive from the Summit area. In terms of usage, it is designed like a multi-level video game.

Level 1

The first level is the playground area. Here is a great place for family picnics, a play day, or just getting a little sun. Toddlers and bigger kids have separate playgrounds, which makes the experience more pleasant for children and their parents. The play structures are well-built, well-maintained, and clean. There is lots of room on the grass fields to play running games. Big dual slides are a treat for more adventuresome kids. You can also rent a jump house. Call 831-454-7956 for information.

A website devoted to Santa Cruz playgrounds gives this park five stars. So do users who leave comments on the site. They talk about the great play structures with "lots to do," drinking fountains, clean bathrooms, and big fields. One user said, "The kids never want to leave." The only negative was the need for more shade, so you might want to bring an umbrella and sunscreen. For information about 23 Santa Cruz playgrounds, visit

Level 2

Anna Jean Cummings Park is more than a playground. If you walk up 106 steps to the next level, you’ll discover giant softball and soccer fields. Around these fields is a two-loop jogging trail. Walk, jog, or run around a half-mile loop, or take a short cut on a 3/10-mile loop. Most of the path features the soft surface cushioning of packed dirt, and unlike most mountain trails, it is flat. It is also open to view, so you can see and be seen, which makes it easier to watch running partners and children. You can bring your dog. Cleanup bags are available.

If you want a change, you can run next door on the Soquel High School track. By the way, if you don’t like climbing the 106-step stairway, you can drive to a second parking lot on the second level.

Level 3

The third level is a little more challenging. At the end of the soccer field, you’ll find an unimproved path called Killer Hill Trail. It moves up and out of the park into O’Neill Ranch open space. The view from the top is worth the short climb. You can see Monterey Bay and Soquel to the southeast, and Sugarloaf Mountain to the north. At the top of the hill, you can turn right to follow a trail that curves to the west, down into a deep gulley, then up the other side to a large, open, grassy field. It makes a small loop and returns back to the starting point. If instead of turning right at the top of hill turn left. You can follow a 6/10-mile loop that takes you back to the soccer field.

The website reports that this area is a good birding area, especially in the winter. You may see northern Harrier, white-tailed kite, Merlin, and other raptors. Common sightings include sparrows, goldfinches, California thrasher, wrentit, northern flicker, California quail, and Say’s Phoebe. House wren and blue-gray gnatcatcher are seen in the fall and winter. Fruiting shrubs attract wintering American robins, cedar waxwings, hermit thrushes, and purple finches. A narrow riparian corridor hosts flocks of insectivores and typical oak woodland species.

Level 4

Looking for a fourth level? A trail heading south from Killer Hill Trail looks promising. You may find another route to Soquel.

About those blue balls

The park is often called Blue Ball Park because of four eight-foot-diameter blue balls that appear to be rolling down the hillside to the playgrounds. Artist-creators Steve Gillman and Katherine Keefer call them Skyballs. When you create something as fun and unusual as this, I guess you can call them anything you want.


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