Rugged Beauty: Explore Santa Cruz’s North Coast

Just north of Santa Cruz is a vast expanse of coast that runs along Highway 1, dotted with stunning beaches perfect for sunbathing, surfing, tide-pooling, or enjoying a beach day. Each one of these locations features soaring cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches you must see to believe. The Santa Cruz coastal area is built from a bedrock of the geological formation known as Mudstone. This hearty rock formation creates the unique coastal landscape that characterizes the north coast. The entire expanse features towering sea cliffs and pocket beaches perfect for your beach day getaway.

If you’re looking to expand your Santa Cruz experience beyond the confines of the city, look no further than this list of the 5 best beaches along the north coast. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and anything you need for an exceptional beach day! Always pack your trash when you stop to enjoy our local beaches and remember to leave no trace behind when you leave. There may be no trash cans or restrooms at some of these locations, so always take any trash with you when you go to ensure we keep our precious natural treasures pristine.

1. ) Shark Fin Cove

Shark Fin Cove may be one of the smallest pocket beaches along the north coast, but it is one of the best! This iconic Santa Cruz location is known for two distinct geological formations: the eponymous Shark Fin island and the sea cave on the beach. The jutting rock formation that looks like a giant shark’s fin was once a part of the surrounding sea cliffs but has been shaped for hundreds if not thousands of years in a process known as geomorphology until it reaches the distinct state we know today. Visitors also make the pilgrimage to this gorgeous cove to see the sea cave, which is the perfect spot to watch the sunset during low tide. Shark Fin Cove is a photographer’s dream and a paradise for beach goers looking for a unique escape from ordinary life. Be prepared for a steep descent to reach the beach itself, but even if the climb down isn’t for you, the view from the surrounding cliffs is just as gorgeous!

2. ) Four Mile Beach

Wilder Ranch State Park has many beautiful beaches, but Four Mile has to be one of the most beautiful. Located at the north end of Wilder Ranch, this beach is accessible by trail from a parking lot off Highway 1. The vast sandy beach offers tons of space for you to spend your day in relative seclusion. On both ends of the beach, large marine terraces during low tide allow for excellent tide pooling. The most iconic feature of this beach is the towering pinnacle outcropping just offshore that you can view from the beach or climb the cliffs to see from above. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hike from Four Mile along the bluffs down to Three Mile or Strawberry Beach. This short hike is one of the best coastal bluff hikes in the area!

3. ) Davenport Landing

The beach at Davenport Landing is the perfect spot on the north coast to take your kids. Davenport Landing is just north of the town, Davenport, and right next to an Abalone Farm. Featuring a swing set and an easily accessible beach, this location is perfect for those looking for a purely relaxing beach day fit for the whole family. If you’re looking for a little more adventure at this location, climb the cliffs to the north of the beach to get sweeping coastal views from atop the cliffs.

4. ) Laguna Creek Beach

Coast Dairies State Park is another California State Park covering a large part of the coast north of Santa Cruz. Within Coast Dairies, there are numerous pocket beaches to explore, and Laguna Creek Beach is one of the largest sandy beaches within the park. After stopping at the Laguna Creek Beach parking lot, you can follow the trail to the beach, where you have marine terraces, sandy shores, a beautiful running river, and sea cliffs covered in wildflowers. This beach often has resting pelicans that gather on the beach around the river, which can be quite a sight to see! Laguna Creek weaves through marshy lands before reaching the ocean creating a unique river ecosystem at the top of this beach.

5. ) Scott Creek Beach

Scott Creek Beach is a spectacular location known for its kite surfing and long sandy shores. This beach has some of the most impressive marine terraces that are perfect for tide pooling during low tides. The vast expanse of tidal shelves covered in sea life and seaweed is truly something to experience. The rugged sea cliffs that stretch to the sides of this gorgeous pocket beach are impressive in stature and even have seasonal waterfalls that cascade down the cliff faces after heavy rains. Whether you are looking to lay out on the sandy shores, brave the waves by kite surfing, or explore the tidal treasures of marine terraces, Scott Creek Beach is a must-see north coast gem!