Top Beaches in Santa Cruz
Though you might still be shivering in the winter morning and still have to sneeze your way through spring, it’s not too early to start speculating on summer plans — after all, it’s nice to have warm dreams at night! While some of your friends and coworkers might be planning expensive overseas ventures to Europe or a long, humid drive across the country in their SUV, you might want to skip out on those typical summer vacations and spend your summer at the beach. Or rather, a few beaches.
Santa Cruz, California has some of the nation’s best beaches, and you won’t have to fight the same crowds you’d otherwise find in Florida in order to enjoy them.
Unfamiliar with the city of Santa Cruz? Santa Cruz is one of Northern California’s liveliest beach towns, with a slew of restaurants, activities, and events that draw visitors not just to the beach, but through their downtown and residential areas. With warm weather throughout the year, it’s an ideal spot for outdoorsy-types, especially surfers.
The city’s robust Parks & Recreations department makes enjoying the city’s outdoors possible throughout the year, assisting with event planing, preserving green space, and providing amenities, including for their beaches. While Main Beach and Cowell Beach are their most frequented, take advantage of the numerous other beaches available to you while you’re in Santa Cruz, including:
Natural Bridges State Beach
65-acres of California park real estate, Natural Bridges State Beach is named for its picturesque feature: a naturally occurring mudstone bridge which juts out into the ocean. Though the bridge originally had three arches, storms and erosion have left just the middle arch standing.
In addition to the beaches namesake, it is home to a eucalyptus grove which provides habitat for more than 100,000 monarch butterflies every year, making it host to the city’s annual monarch butterfly festival. Visitors are also able to gaze at the beach’s tide pools and their marine life which includes urchins, sea stars, hermit crabs, and kelp. Like with many of the state’s beaches, it’s not unusual to see seals, sea otters, or whales out at sea from the shore. If you’re interested in nature walks are hiking, you’re in luck, as the majority of the park is composed of trails for recreational purposes.
Not a swimmer or a runner? The tree-less beach and afternoon’s warm breezes makes it a great area for kite flying.
Mitchell’s Cove Beach
Not too from Natural Bridges, you’ll find Mitchell’s Cove Beach, a small beach great for advanced boogie boarding and letting your dog roam off their leash (be sure to clean up after them). The only downside might be the flies which come for the heaps of kelp lumping along the shore.
Lighthouse Field State Beach
Though not as large as the neighboring Natural Bridges, Lighthouse Field State Beach is a beloved spot for morning beach-goers. Off-leash dog play is allowed and you’ll find it’s a popular spot with some regular surfers. There’s a beautiful lighthouse with an adjacent museum. Though there’s ample amount of parking, finding a spot can be a bit difficult on popular days.
Like Natural Bridges, Lighthouse Field is a great spot for butterfly lovers, as it is a host to a number of monarch butterflies. This population has gradually increased over the years as a result of Natural Bridges’s declining number of pine and eucalyptus trees.
Twin Lakes State Beach
A popular location with a lively Pinterest following and situated between Schwan Lake and Santa Cruz Harbor (formerly know as Woods Lagoon), Twin Lakes State Beach has a short, mile-long shoreline, an adjacent lake that’s great for bird-watching, and three nearby restaurants and cafés.
Being not too far from the road, equipped with trash cans, bathrooms, and a barbecue pit, the soft sand beach is an excellent spot of a picnic with your family and friends (do note, however, that alcohol is not allowed on the beach). Twin Lakes is also dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your four-legged friend, provided they’re on a leash.
Seabright State Beach
Near both Main Beach and Twin Lakes, Seabright State Beach spans from the Santa Cruz Harbor’s entrance to the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. It’s well-known for nighttime bonfires by locals and daytime volleyball games.
While, as with any state-owned beach, you can’t camp at Seabright, it’s a great, scenic and relatively secluded spot for sunbathing. Leashed dogs are welcome as well!
Picture perfect and perfectly pictured, Pleasure Point has all the proper permits for a romantic day. Though the beach is only really accessible at low tide, you’ll be able to watch surfers ride waves throughout the day and then watch the sunset into the evening before strolling along the sidewalk to Point Market & Cafe.
New Brighton State Beach
Even though it’s a bit of a drive away from the city, New Brighton State Beach is well worth the extra travel if you’re a fan of camping. Unlike other state parks around the city, New Brighton has plenty of nearby camping spots (though there are no walk-ups available), where you can spend the night and even hear the waves lapping the shore. Even more fortunate, there is some WiFi access.
Out of sunscreen?
Seeking other fun beach-adjacent activities while you’re dreaming of a Santa Cruz summer? Head over here for a whole city’s worth of fun, engaging activities fit for a family, a couple, or just yourself. Make this summer vacation a memorable one in Santa Cruz.