The Pinto Lake area was part of a 15,400 acre land grant from Spain to Jose Amesti who, in 1844 deeded the land to his wife, Prudencia de Vallejo. The lake was named for Rafael Pinto, son of Serafin Pinto, the Chief Civil Officer, or Alcalde, of Branciforte, who married Maria Amesti.
The north portion of Pinto Lake passed into the hands of Charles Ford in 1861 who sold it to George SP. Cleveland the next year. Cleveland constructed the buildings and developed this 164 acre parcel as a ranch. In 1974, the County of Santa Cruz purchased the north portion of Pinto Lake "to protect the lake while providing recreation."
Pinto Lake lies close to the south west end of Santa Cruz County, in the Pajaro Valley, halfway between the Pacific Ocean and the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains.
- Pinto Lake itself covers 110 acres and is one of the few natural fresh water lakes of its size on the Central California Coast.
- Pinto Lake City Park consists of 78.52 acres of parkland of which about 70 acres are water.
- Pinto Lake County Park consists of approximately 180 acres of which 40 acres are water.
- Pinto Lake is fed by several creeks, including Pinto Creek, and drains into Corralitos Creek.
Pinto Lake and the surrounding environment include an abundant variety of plant and animal life in a variety of different biotic communities.
- The California Department of Fish and Game has listed 133 species of birds at Pinto Lake. The site also includes the nesting areas (rookeries) for Great Blue Herons and Night Herons.
- Fish living in the lake include bass, trout, crappies, blue gill and cat fish.
- Mammals living around the lake area include coyotes, deer, mice, wood rats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, opossums, and squirrels.
- The plant life includes Coast Live Oak, second growth Coast Redwood, Broad leaf Maples, willows, grasslands, and the popular but fragile fresh marsh vegetation.
Pinto Lake City Park includes a playing field used by the American Little League during the spring and summer, a playground, a picnic and barbecue area, a fishing pier and paddle and row boats for day use during summer months.
Pinto Lake County Park includes an extensive network of hiking trails, a bike path, picnic facilities, and a fishing pier. The park's orientation is built around "a variety of recreation opportunities and conservation programs bound together by a system of natural resource preserves" (Pinto Lake County Park brochure).