Spotlight on Parks: Santa Cruz County State Beaches

With over 29 miles of picturesque coastlines, Santa Cruz County is a beach-lover’s dream! Admire the natural beauty of scenic Monterey Bay while walking along its sandy shores. Many of the beaches in Santa Cruz County are cared for by the California State Parks in collaboration with the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, who are dedicated to the preservation and conservation of these natural spaces. Grab your sunscreen and get ready to discover the sun-kissed wonder of the Santa Cruz County State Beaches! 

Coast Dairies State Park

Towering above the Pacific Ocean along Highway 1 near Davenport, the craggy cliffsides of Coast Dairies State Park are a sight to behold! The stunning scenery includes Shark Fin Cove: a photographer’s dream and beachgoer’s paradise. Head to Coast Dairies at sunset to take in the dramatic, sweeping views as the off-white mudstone cliffs are transformed by the golden glow for a truly spectacular experience! 

Natural Bridges State Beach

Tucked away in the westside of Santa Cruz is Natural Bridges State Beach, a natural wonder situated amidst breaking waves. The park’s namesake sandstone arch was formed over time as the waves carved away at a rocky cliff, once forming three arches along the coast. On the cliffside, the awe-inspiring tidepools are home to sea stars, anemones, urchins, and other intertidal dwellers that are best visited at low tide. The sandy beach is a great spot to relax and observe migratory birds, whales, and other wildlife, while the inland grove plays host to the seasonal migration of Monarch Butterflies. Natural Bridges is full of wild wonders you won’t want to miss!

Lighthouse Field State Beach

Perched along the cliffs above the famed surf spot, Steamer Lane, is Lighthouse Field State Beach: explore the grassy meadow along West Cliff Drive that are illuminated as golden rays of light break through the eucalyptus trees at dusk, spot the iconic red-bricked Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, and head to Its Beach, where dogs romp around in the waves. This is an epic spot to catch a Santa Cruz sunset!

Twin Lakes & Seabright State Beach

Seabright State Beach

Twin Lakes and Seabright State Beaches hug the Santa Cruz Harbor on either side, making these great locations to catch a sail in the Monterey Bay! Cruise past Walton Lighthouse, which shines bright on the Seabright Jetty at the harbor’s mouth. Just across the water is The Crow’s Nest, situated on the shores of Twin Lakes State Beach. Both of these beaches are centrally located, near the neighborhoods of Midtown and Live Oak, which makes for great access to local eateries, shops, and places to stay! Bring marshmallows for roasting on a beach bonfire at Seabright, which has ten fire pits available on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s a great way to end a day at the beach!

New Brighton & Seacliff State Beaches

SS Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

Heading further south in the county, each beach begins to blend with the next, seemingly one long coastline stretching from Capitola to Rio del Mar. New Brighton has 93 acres of natural space to explore, swim, hike, and even camp overnight! The highlight at Seacliff is the Cement Ship: The SS Palo Alto! Built during wartime, this historic concrete ship has looked over its stretch of beach since the 1920s. There is a mile-long beachfront promenade overlooking the waves that leads to Rio del Mar’s Esplanade, a great place to fuel up before continuing on a shoreline stroll.

Manresa & Sunset State Beaches

The expansive coastlines at Manresa and Sunset State Beaches were made for long walks on the beach! Indulge in a leisurely stroll with sweeping views of the seaside bluffs or spread out with a picnic blanket and enjoy a day at the beach. Boogie boarding, surfing, and kite flying are all popular activities at Manresa! Further south in Watsonville is Sunset State Beach, which offers a cool summer locale to relax on the beach, thanks to the coastal fog. Reserve a campground along the bluffs and wake up to magnificent views overlooking the Monterey Bay!

To keep the beach views coming, consider checking into one of these hotels with amazing ocean views, and to explore more of the natural spaces around Santa Cruz County, check out these parks, which encompass the redwoods and inland beauty of the area. When visiting natural spaces, being prepared to pack out what you pack in, including your trash as well as others’ debris if you’re up to it – helps keep these majestic places clean and beautiful for all of us to enjoy for years to come!

Beach wheelchairs are available at eight state beaches in Santa Cruz County, including Natural BridgesSeabrightTwin LakesNew BrightonSeacliffManresaSunset and Palm. Reservations are free and can be made at the Friends website. There are ten beach wheelchairs available, and it is recommended to make reservations at least five business days before visiting.

Twin Lakes State Beach

Discover the diverse scenery of the Santa Cruz State Beaches, which ranges from the rugged cliffs of Davenport to the sandstone arches along West Cliff Drive, all the way south to the seemingly never-endless stretches of shoreline in Watsonville. Brimming with tidepools, scenic vistas, and sprawling coastlines that are perfect for long beach walks, there is something for everyone on Santa Cruz’s sun-drenched shores!