Santa Cruz has a reputation as a classic California beach town and it’s well deserved. With miles of beaches and countless tiny nooks among the cliffs, there are a ton of great beaches to choose from, depending on what sort of experience you’re after. Whether you’re looking for great surf, a beachside stroll, or just soaking in an evening sunset, Santa Cruz has something for every beach lover.
Here’s our guide to the best local beaches in Santa Cruz, as well as a little information about each one:
Natural Bridges State Beach - Named after the now eroding land bridges that once graced the beach, Natural Bridges is one of the most beloved beaches in Santa Cruz. You can still see the remnants of the natural bridges and take in the gorgeous view, either up close and personal, or from the parking lookout at the end of West Cliff Dr. The beach is part of a large adjoining park, which draws thousands of monarch butterflies during migration season in October—definitely a signature Santa Cruz experience.
Seabright State Beach - Seabright is one of the more popular beaches in Santa Cruz and gets crowded during summers and extended weekends. It’s easily accessible since it’s centrally located and it’s a large open each in between the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and Main Beach (in front of the Boardwalk). Since it’s in the Seabright neighborhood, there’s also a variety of places to eat in the area, making it a great option for a beach day.
Lighthouse Field State Beach - One of iconic beaches in Santa Cruz, Lighthouse Field State Beach has several great local spots all wrapped up in one. The lighthouse itself is home to a small surf museum dedicated the history of surfing and the famous Steamer Lane, which is just over the cliffs. One the other side of the lighthouse is Its Beach, sometimes referred to as “dog beach” since it’s one of the off-leash beaches in town.
Pleasure Point Beach - One of the favorite local surf spots, Pleasure Point in Capitola is also a piece of surf history. The 38th Ave. break was the favorite surf spot of wetsuit inventor and surf icon, Jack O’Neill, whose house overlooks the water. If you’re an experienced surfer, this is a place you’ll want to visit and it’s one of the best places to watch surfers from the bluff above the beach.
Twin Lakes State Beach - Twin Lakes Beach is on the opposite side of the harbor from Seabright Beach and is similarly open and accessible. It’s a great beach for picnicking or relaxing as you watch boats sail in and out of the harbor near Walton Lighthouse. The Crow’s Nest restaurant uses the area nearest the harbor for its Summer Beach Party Series, which is a favorite event of locals and visitors during the summertime.
Sunny Cove Beach - Sunny Cove is just what the name implies: a small section of beach nestled between two bluffs. It’s not a surf spot, but is a quaint and relaxing place you could have to yourself at certain times of day. Parking requires a permit at some times of day, so it can be tough to find a parking spot that’s close to the water.
New Brighton State Beach - This is a campground as well as a state beach located in Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. It’s an expansive stretch of beach and the RV park looks out onto the water. There’s also hiking trails and nearby Seacliff State Beach is home to the retired concrete warship, the SS Palo Alto, at the end of the pier. The “concrete ship,” as it’s often referred to, had an interesting backstory before it was parked at the end of the pier.
26th Avenue Beach - This is a nice little beach in Capitola that’s not typically very crowded. Though there is not much parking available, there is a nice view of open water dotted with surfers when you take the stairs down to the water. There’s also several coves along the shoreline that offer some privacy for beachgoers.
Cowell Beach (Cowell’s) - Cowell’s is next to the Santa Cruz Wharf, opposite the side of the Boardwalk. The gentle waves are good for beginning surfers and there’s plenty of surf lessons going on throughout the day. The adjoining beach, Main Beach, has beach volleyball and the rides and attractions of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.