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 wonderful 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.
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.
Major rating websites rate Capitol Beach 4.0 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: San Jose Ave & Esplanade Capitola, CA 95010
Photo: (831) 420-5270
Lighthouse Field State Beach — Day Use
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.
Major rating websites rate Lighthouse Field State Beach 4.5 to 4.7 stars out of 5.
Address: Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 429-2850
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.
Major rating websites rate Main Beach / Cowell Beach 4.3 to 4.5 stars out of 5.
Address: #1 Municipal Wharf , Santa Cruz, CA 95076
Phone: (831) 420-6015
Photo by: Naotake Murayama
The beach features a beautiful expanse of sea and sand, with surf fishing, and recreation.
Major rating websites rate Manresa State Beach 4.5 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: 1445 San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076
Phone: (831) 724-3750
Natural Bridges State Beach — Day Use
Photo by: Dvortygirl
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.
Major rating websites rate Natural Bridges State Beach 4.5 to 4.7 stars out of 5.
Address: Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 423-4609
Photo by: Richard Masoner
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.
Major rating websites rate New Brighton State Beach 4.0 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: 201 State Park Drive., Aptos, CA
Phone: (831) 464-6329
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.
Major rating websites rate Seabright State Beach 4.0 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: East Cliff Dr. at Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Phone: (831) 427-4868
Seacliff State Beach — Camping & Day Use
Photo by: Don DeBold
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.
Major rating websites rate Seacliff State Beach 4.5 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: State Park Dr., Aptos, CA 95003
Phone: (831) 685-6442
Photo by: Maria Keays (cropped)
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.
Major rating websites rate Sunset State Beach 4.5 to 4.6 stars out of 5.
Address: 201 Sunset Beach Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076
Phone: (831) 763-7063
Photo by: Don DeBold
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, kayaking. Similar to Seabright, beach fires are allowed in designated fire pits. The beach is adjacent two lagoons are good locations for bird watching.
Major rating websites rate Twin Lakes State Beach 4.4 to 4.5 stars out of 5.
Address: East Cliff Dr. & Portola Dr., Santa Cruz, CA (831) 427-4868
Phone: (831) 427-4868
Big Basin Redwoods State Park — Waddell Beach
Big Basin stretches from Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, it is big!
The ocean segment of the park is called Waddell Beach and it is a parasailer’s paradise. Since it is almost always windy with challenging waves, it is one of the most popular beaches for kite and wind surfing. It is also a great beach for families to explore the many tide pools.
Major rating websites rate Waddell State Beach 4.5 to 4.6 stars. Because of its location next to Rancho Del Oso (west end of Big Basin State Park) and the Theodore J Hoover Natural Preserve, we rate this section of the park a solid 4.6 stars. There is so much to do that almost everybody will be pleased.
Please note that the August 2020wildfires destroyed major sections of Big Basin. Because of the devastation, they closed large sections of Big Basin. Please be sure to call the park for any updates. Know before you go!
Address: 3600 CA-1, Davenport, CA 95017
Phone: (831) 427-2288
Website: Waddell Creek Beach (Waddell State Beach) https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/waddell-creek-beach/
Website: Rancho Del Oso https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=863
Website: Waddell Creek Association https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22161
Website: Big Basin State Park https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540
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. https://www.cityofsantacruz.com/government/city-departments/parks-recreation/facilities/surfing-museum
Wilder Ranch State Park — Day Use
Photo by: Jonathan Cook-Fisher
The Wilder Ranch State Park has 7,000 acres ranging from the top of Ben Lomond Mountain to the marsh lands of a nature preserve and the seashore. With 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys, you will find it has amazing recreational possibilities. I personally love the single track. It is challenging and fun!
The other attraction is the ranch itself. You feel like you are going back in time. When it is up and running again, be sure to check out their fall festival at the ranch house.
Major rating websites rate Wilder Ranch State Park 4.3 to 4.7 stars out of 5. We rate it a solid 4.6 stars.
Address: 1401 Coast Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 423-9703
For Half Moon Bay and San Mateo County beach information,
visit our website at https://explorer1.com/halfmoonbay/things-to-do/beaches/