California Beaches

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Santa Cruz, CA Surf City Beaches, Boardwalk

To learn more about the beautiful beaches in Santa Cruz County please visit the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council's website.

Santa Cruz County beaches offer the perfect setting for seaside fun. Whether you enjoy surfing, playing beach volleyball, or hiking along the coastal bluffs, our beaches offer something for everyone. Looking for a dog-friendly beach, a place to picnic with the kids, or the perfect place for a romantic sunset stroll? From dramatic windswept cliffs to the charming ambiance of a picturesque seaside town, you're sure to find a beach in Santa Cruz County that is unforgettable. Check out our complete list of Santa Cruz County beaches below, or see a list of the best beaches for your favorite activity!

Manresa State Beach

Manresa State Beach features a beautiful expanse of sea and sand, with surf fishing, surfing, and recreation.

Location Directions
From Highway 1, south of Aptos, San Andreas Road heads southwest and continues for several miles to Manresa, the first beach access upon reaching the coast.

Seasons/Climate/Recommended clothing
The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended.Natural Bridges SB
Palm State Beach

Palm State Beach is a popular day use area located in Southern Santa Cruz County. The wide beach is perfect for a long walk or a day in the sun. Fishing and swimming are popular activities at Palm Beach. Picnic tables are available in the day use area. Dogs are allowed on the beach, on leash.

Climate/Clothing
Layered clothing recommended due to changing weather conditions and strong offshore breezes.

Amenities
Picnic tables
Barbecues
Restrooms
Outdoor Showers
Food, lodging and supplies are available nearby

General Info/Trails
Dogs are allowed on the beach, on leash.
Sunset State Beach

The beach features pine trees, mountainous sand dunes, and ocean side picnic spots. Bordered by large agricultural fields west of the city of Watsonville, the beach is a year-round destination for thousands of visitors.

Location Directions
The beach is 16 miles south of Santa Cruz via Highway One and San Andreas Road.

Zmudowski State Beach

The beach is a popular fishing area, featuring perch, kingfish, sole, flounder, halibut, bocaccio (tomcod), jacksmelt, lingcod, cabezon, salmon, steelhead and occasional rockfish.

The beach features the Pajaro River estuary, where a natural preserve has been set aside.

The sandy beach is also popular with bird watchers and equestrians. Horses are only allowed near the waterline. Swimming and water sports are hazardous because of strong rip-currents.

Location-Directions
The beach is located 20 miles northwest of Monterey off Highway 1. Take Struve Road and turn to Giberson Road.

Zmudowski State Beach The beach is a popular fishing area, featuring perch, kingfish, sole, flounder, halibut, bocaccio (tomcod), jacksmelt, lingcod, cabezon, salmon, steelhead and occasional rockfish.
Natural Bridges State Beach

This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life. The park also includes a large area of coastal scrub meadows, with bright native wildflowers in the spring. Moore Creek flows down to the ocean through these meadows, forming a wetlands in the sand.

Location Directions
Take Swift Avenue west from Highway 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges.

Facilities Activities
A picnic area is located off the main parking lot in a eucalyptus and pine trees grove. Tables, barbecues, water faucets and restroom facilities are available. There is a day-use fee per car to park in the state beach area.

The visitor center highlights local natural history, and the bookstore has a selection of butterfly shirts, postcards and books for all ages.

Next to the park's Visitor Center is a demonstration milkweed patch where visitors may view Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides. For about half a year, milkweed is the Monarch's home, super market and maternity ward.


Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve
The park's Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for up to 100,000 Monarchs each winter. From roughly mid-October through mid-February, the Monarchs form a city in the trees. The areas mild ocean air and eucalyptus grove provide a safe roost until spring. In the spring and summer, the butterflies live in the valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where milkweed, the only plant a Monarch caterpillar eats, is plentiful. Monarch migration is variable, and numbers vary each year. Before you visit, you may want to call the park for current information on the population.

The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting the Monarchs and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California. Access to the preserve area is limited to a handicap accessible boardwalk and observation area.

Monarchs begin arriving in October and most are gone by the first week of March. The grove contains eucalyptus trees which are located in a canyon, providing the Monarch needed shelter from the wind. These winter flowering trees are also a convenient food source for the butterfly. On chilly days when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, the butterflies cluster together in the eucalyptus trees for warmth.

The park maintains a demonstration milkweed patch where visitors may view Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides. For about half a year, milkweed is the Monarch's home, super market and maternity ward. The Monarch larva eats only the milkweed plant. Tours

Docent-led butterfly, tidepool and nature trail tours are available. Large groups should reserve beach use and tours by phone at least 2 weeks in advance. Special event reservations should be made at least 1 month in advance.

Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park's wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to an observation deck in the eucalyptus grove.

Please, do not touch or throw objects at the fragile butterflies.
For everyone's enjoyment, no smoking, dogs, bicycles, skates, or skateboards on the boardwalk.
Quiet please. Monarchs and other visitors are relaxing.

New Brighton State Beach

The beach features picnic areas, swimming, fishing and a nearby forest of Monterey pine and Coastal Live Oak. The camping area is on a bluff overlooking northern Monterey Bay.Location Directions
The beach is in the town of Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. The beach can be reached by taking the New Brighton/Park Avenue exit off Highway One.

Seacliff State Beach

This beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter, The Palo Alto. Unfortunately, the ship is unsafe and closed to the public. Only the pier is open for fishing. The beach is also a popular swimming spot. There is a long stretch of sand backed by bluffs. There is a covered picnic facility. The park also has an interpretive center.

Location Directions
Take the State Park Drive exit from Highway One in the neighborhood of Aptos.

Why is there a ship at the end of the pier?
Was it built there or did it sink there?

In 1910 a Norwegian civil engineer named Fougner thought of using concrete to build ships. It wasn't until 1917, when wartime steel shortages required the use of cement for construction that Fougner's idea was used. Three concrete ships were built. Two, the Peralta and the Palo Alto, were built at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California while the third, the Faith, was built in a shipyard in Redwood City, California. The Peralta and the Palo Alto were built for wartime use as tankers, however World War One ended before ship construction was finished so they were never used.

The Palo Alto remained docked in Oakland until 1929, when the Cal-Nevada Company bought the ship with the idea of making her into an amusement and fishing ship. Her maiden voyage was made under tow to Seacliff State Beach. Once positioned at the beach, the sea cocks were opened and the Palo Alto settled to the ocean bottom. By the summer of 1930 a pier had been built leading to the ship, the ship was remodeled. A dance floor on the main deck was added, also a cafe in the superstructure was built, as was a fifty-four foot heated swimming pool, and a series of carnival type concessions were placed on the afterdeck. The Cal-Nevada Company went broke after two seasons then the Palo Alto was stripped, leaving the ship and the pier to be used only for fishing. Twin Lakes SB State Beach The beach has a mile of sandy shoreline, popular for swimming and picnicking. The park's adjacent Schwan's lake is a good location for bird watching.

Location Directions
The small craft harbor in downtown Santa Cruz is approximately in the middle of Twin Lakes State Beach, which extends for a distance parallel to East Cliff Drive and Portola Drive.