Pilkington Creek is behind the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, which is at 1305 E. Cliff Drive. The creek might be a far cry from its wild and scenic past but, if you look closely, this humble creek tells a story of our connection to the land 500 years ago and reminds us of our responsibility to wisely care for the landscape that we call home.
Pilkington Creek’s Journey to the Sea
Pilkington Creek is named for Thomas Pilkington, who owned much of the land around the Seabright neighborhood in the late 1800s. The creek extends northward to Broadway, but almost all of its length runs through underground tunnels. It is revealed at Tyrrell Park, which is named for William Tyrrell, who also lived in the Seabright neighborhood in the 1800s. The creek emerges behind the museum from beneath Forbes Street to finish its journey to the ocean at Seabright Beach.
During the rainy season, Pilkington Creek spills out onto Seabright Beach through a culvert and sometimes flows on the surface all the way to the ocean. After it is on the beach, the channel spreads out to more than 10 feet wide, creating a seasonal lagoon that attracts both water-loving children and wildlife.
Pilkington Creek Past and Present
The native people of this area, called the Awaswas,* lived by the seasons, and their diets fluctuated accordingly. You wouldn’t want to refill your water bottle from this creek today, but 300-500 years ago, these native people might have relied on this creek for drinking and cooking water.
The Awaswas also relied heavily on riparian habitats for food, medicine, and building supplies. Smaller creeks such as Pilkington that have seasonal flows also have seasonal animals. The Awaswas knew that during the rainy season when the water was high, fish might be found in the creek. This attracted omnivores such as raccoons, bobcats, and even bears to feast at the water’s edge. Different plants also produce nuts, seeds, fruits, and new branches at different times of the year, and the Awaswas knew exactly when to harvest specific plants in this area.
Read Castles in the Moving Sand, the Mobile Ranger article about Seabright Beach’s castle-shaped bathhouse that James Pilkington built in the late 1800s.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
*The native peoples of the Santa Cruz area of California refer to the region as Cotoni and call themselves the Awaswas. Most folks today think of them as the “Ohlone” people, but this is a misnomer and not how they identify themselves. Today, the descendants of the area’s indigenous forebearers who were “missionized” at Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista, are organized as the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. The Cotoni-Awaswas nourished themselves from the sea and tidal zone, as well as harvesting, gathering, and taking game from the coastal uplands. Although not “agricultural” as we tend to think of it, California Indians thrived by actively managing the environment for productivity.
- ”Reminiscences of Seabright: Excerpts” by Elizabeth M.C. Forbes. Santa Cruz County History - Places. Santa Cruz Public Libraries website.
- "'A Well Looking, Affable People... ': The Ohlone of Aulintak/Santa Cruz" by Mary Ellen Ryan. Santa Cruz County History - Spanish Period & Earlier. Santa Cruz Public Libraries website.
- “The Awaswas Language” by William Shipley in A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples of the Central California Coast, edited by Linda Yamane. Santa Cruz County History Journal, 2002.
- History. Amah Mutsun Tribal Band website.