Santa Cruz Beaches
Santa Cruz County beaches stretch both north and south of the City of Santa Cruz and vary greatly by use, type and popularity. For a quick primer to Santa Cruz beaches, here is a list of our favorites:
1) Looking for the quintessential Santa Cruz beach experience? Try the Santa Cruz Main Beach. It's popular for its beautiful beach, mild surf and 16 beach volleyball courts. It also borders the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Municipal Wharf. This beach is loaded with summer fun!
2) For large family gatherings, try Seacliff State Beach. It has large picnic areas, lots of parking and a great beach. The grounded cement ship is pretty cool too.
4) Best place for a walk along the beach, try West Cliff Drive. It stretches from the Municipal Wharf to Natural Bridges State Park and Beach. It's a great place for people watching and taking in the beauty of the Monterey Bay.
5) Looking for a romantic beach? At sunset when the kids go home, all of the Santa Cruz beaches can be a little romantic. Here are a few of our favorites: a) You can have a drink at Seascape Resort and walk down to the beach located just below resort. It's a small, quiet beach that is usually far less populated than the other local beaches; b) Another cool location is Capitola Beach. It's part of Capitola Village, so the beach is bordered by a number of restaurants and nightlife. On summer weekends, you can walk down the Capitola Wharf and see some live music at the Wharf House; c) Another favorite location is Seabright Beach — one of the few places that allow fires on the beach.
For a complete list of State and local beaches in and around Santa Cruz, please scroll down the page or click on Santa Cruz County Beaches.
For a larger selection of State Beaches and Parks located slightly north of Santa Cruz, click on North Coast Beaches.
Capitol Beach — Day Use
San Jose Ave & Esplanade Capitola, CA 95010 (831) 420-5270
The small beach is the crown jewel of the Capitola Village. Surrounded by fine restaurants, nightlife and unique shops, the beach is a wonderful place to take in views of the Monterey Bay.
Lighthouse Field State Beach — Day Use
701 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA (831) 420-5270
The beach features an open, grassy field across from Lighthouse Point. The area is popular for picnics and family get-togethers. It's also home to Steamer Lane, a popular surf area.
Main Beach / Cowell Beach – Day Use
#1 Municipal Wharf , Santa Cruz, CA 95076 (831) 420-6015
To the north of the Santa Cruz Wharf is Cowell Beach, best know for the surf schools that call it home. To the south of the Wharf, bordering the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the rockin' Main Beach. This is the quintessential California Summer Beach popular for its beautiful beach and views and its 16 beach volleyball courts.
Manresa State Beach — Campgrounds & Day Use
205 Manresa Beach Rd., La Selva Beach, CA 95076 (831) 763-7063
The beach features a beautiful expanse of sea and sand, with surf fishing, and recreation.
Natural Bridges State Beach — Day Use
2531 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz, CA (831) 423-4609
The beach features picturesque arches cut out by ocean waves in a sandstone out-cropping, giving the park its name. The annual migration of monarch butterflies is another featured attraction.
New Brighton State Beach — Campgrounds & Day Use
201 State Park Drive., Aptos, CA (831) 464-6330
The park features picnic areas, swimming, fishing and a nearby forest of Monterey pine. The camping area's campsites are located on a bluff overlooking northern Monterey Bay.
Seabright Beach — Day Use
East Cliff Dr. at Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, CA (831) 685-6500
Just south of the Santa Cruz Main Beach/Cowell Beach, Seabright Beach is popular for locals because it is usually less populated than the Santa Cruz Main Beach, and it has dedicated fire rings so you can have an fire right on the beach. It also boarder Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, so you have a nice paved trails to walk or run.
Seacliff State Beach — Campgrounds & Day Use
201 State Park Drive., Aptos, CA (831) 429-2850
The park is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter, the Palo Alto. The beach is also a popular swimming spot. There is a long stretch of sand backed by bluffs.
Sunset State Beach — Campgrounds & Day Use
201 Sunset Beach Rd., Watsonville, CA (831) 763-7062
The park features pine trees, mountainous sand dunes, and Pacific Ocean side picnic spots. Bordered by large agricultural fields between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey, the beach is a year-round destination for thousands of visitors.
Twin Lakes State Beach — Day Use
East Cliff Dr. & Portola Dr., Santa Cruz, CA (831) 427-4868
Located just south of Seabright Beach (across the Harbor's inlet, is Twin Lakes State Beach. It has a mile long sandy shoreline, popular for swimming, picnicking, kyacking. Similar to Seabright, beach fires are allowed in designated fire pits. The beache's adjacent two lagoons are good locations for bird watching.
Explorer1 Review — Located between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Municipal Wharf at one end and Natural Bridges State Park at the other, it is home to perhaps the most scenic pathway in Santa Cruz. The two mile drive has extra wide pathways that are wheelchair accessible and are designated "multiuse". They are perfect for cycling, skating, and walking. West Cliff also provides visual and physical access points to surfing, tide pools, beaches, fishing, Frisbee, and skim boarding.
During the peak tourist season and various surf and sea kayak contests, the area can get extremely busy. Also, the local surfers at Steamer Lane can get a little territorial with the waves.
When visiting West Cliff Drive, don't forget to visit the "Surf Museum" located in Lighthouse Field.
Wilder Ranch State Park — Day Use
1 mile north of Western Drive, Santa Cruz (831) 423-9703
The Park has 4,505 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian rails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.
Davenport, Gazos Creek, and Pescadero
Ano Nuevo State Reserve — Guided tours
New Year's Creek Road, off Hwy 1 Pescadero, CA 650-879-0227
This 4,000 acre Reserve is a major gathering area for northern elephant seals, which may be seen year-around. The males battle for mates on the beaches. The females give birth to their young on the dunes.
Bean Hollow State Beach & Pebble Beach — Day Use
The beach features fishing, picnicking and beachcombing. Visitors can explore tide pools with anemones, crab, sea urchins and other marine inhabitants. The beach also has a self-guided nature trail.
Directions: On the San Mateo Coast, Bean Hollow is 17.5 miles south of Santa Cruz and three miles south of Pescadero on Highway One.
Rancho Del Oso at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Hwy 1 831-338-8860
One of our favorite short hikes – around 1 ½ hours!
Located 20 miles north of Santa Cruz on Hwy. 1, the park has miles of trails, which serves hikers and equestrians, links Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range.
Dunes State Beach — Day Use
Santa Cruz State Beach Headquarters — 650-726-8819
Directions: north of Santa Cruz — from Hwy 1, turn west on Young Ave.
Gazos Creek Coastal Access — Day Use
Bean Hollow State Beach, 650-879-2170.
Directions: From Hwy 1, north of Gazos Creek Rd. & south of Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero.
Gray Whale Cove State Beach — Day Use
Santa Cruz State Beach, 650-726-8819.
The beach (a.k.a. Devil's Slide) features a sheltered cove surrounded by cliffs that drop abruptly into the Pacific. A steep trail leads down to the beach. There is a small picnic area on the bluff above Gray whales can often be seen close to the shore the beach. Sunbathing is the most popular activity between mid-April and mid-May
Directions: On the San Mateo Coast, north of Montara on Highway One. The only available automobile parking is on the east side of Highway 1. Crossing to the ocean side of the highway can be both difficult and dangerous.
Pescadero State Beach — Day Use
Highway 1 & escadero Rd., Pescadero, CA 650-879-2170
The beach has a mile-long shoreline with sandy coves, rocky cliffs, tide pools, fishing spots and picnic facilities.
Across the highway is Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a popular spot for bird watchers and other naturalists. The Reserve is a refuge for blue heron, kites, deer, raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Directions: The beach is located 14.5 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway One.
Pigeon Point Light Station — Hostel
210 Pigeon Point Rd. Hwy 1, Pescadero (650) 879-0633
Directions: California Highway 1, 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 27 miles north of Santa Cruz. More >>
Pomponio State Beach — Day Use
This area provides access to miles of gently sloping, sandy beaches at the base of high sandstone bluffs. This day-use facility features a small lagoon, roaring surf – and a wide parking area, picnic tables, and barbecues.
Directions: The beach is located 12 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.
Redondo Beach — Day Use
Surrounded by the Ritz-Carlton property, the beach is more secluded and less used than the more popular beaches in the Half Moon Bay State Beach system. Redondo Beach offers sweeping ocean and bluff views, but please note that access to the beach is a very steep, difficult climb. There are no available stairs.
Directions: The beach is located .5 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. Turn right on Redondo Beach Road and travel to the end
San Gregorio State Beach — Day Use
The area includes a protected, driftwood-strewn estuary at the back of a wide, sandy beach – with grassy bluffs along the coast. The estuary is home to many birds and small animals. California Historical Landmark 26 commemorates the passage of Spanish Explorer Captain Gaspar de Portolá through this area in October 1769. Directions: The beach is located 10.5 miles south of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.