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7 Santa Cruz Beaches to Visit Now
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7 Santa Cruz Beaches to Visit Now

Santa Cruz is a quintessential California beach town that’s all about sun, sand, and surf. These are the region's best beaches to visit.

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6 min read

February 02, 2021

Santa Cruz is a quintessential California beach town that’s all about sun, sand, and surf. The coastal city surprises visitors with its incredible coastline, excellent weather, old-growth redwood forests, laid-back lifestyle, and countless beach adventures. Only an hour-long drive from San Francisco, the seaside community is abundant with beaches—34 to be exact, and they run the gamut. There are dog-friendly, family-friendly, clothing-optional, and hidden beaches in Santa Cruz

Indeed, whatever your hobbies are, there’s a Santa Cruz beach for them—if you like surfing, Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane are epic surf spots on the Central Coast; meanwhile, bird-watching enthusiasts should head over to Laguna Creek and Moran Lake Beach. Aside from the variety of coastal destinations here, the weather at Santa Cruz’s beaches is temperate for most of the year. Though temperatures drop in the winter months, there are fewer crowds, so if you’re indifferent about sunbathing, that’s an ideal time to visit. 

While hitting all 34 beaches may seem impossible, we’ve narrowed down the best Santa Cruz beaches to see first.     

The Best Beaches In Santa Cruz 


1. Seabright Beach

When visiting Seabright Beach, venture out onto the jetty to view the beautiful Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse and passing boats.

Location: East Cliff Drive and Mott Avenue, Santa Cruz
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Paid street and lot parking
Amenities: Restrooms, firepits, lighthouse, lifeguard
Dogs allowed: On leash
Bike rack: Available

Seabright Beach is an expansive sandy beach located between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—a must-visit California boardwalk—and the Santa Cruz Harbor. Once known as Castle Beach, the wide stretch of sand is a part of Twin Lakes State Beach. Other than swimming, beachgoers come here for fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, playing sand volleyball, and riding the waves. This dog beach in Santa Cruz also has firepits available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Many people visit Seabright Beach to experience summertime coastal adventures, so the summer months are when it’s most crowded. Some bring their tanning oils, others bring their dogs, but everyone catches the sunset here. At the end of the half-mile-long beach, the Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse, a.k.a. Walton Lighthouse, stands tall at 40 feet. 

2. Capitola Beach

Sit back and relax on the pristine sands of Capitola Beach, set against a stunning backdrop of colorful beach homes.

Location: San Jose Avenue and Esplanade, Capitola
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Paid street and lot parking
Amenities: Fishing pier, volleyball courts, lifeguard, restrooms, showers, creek, benches
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

Capitola Beach is one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz County. The popular urban beach is full of energy—there’s always someone surfing, fishing, sunbathing, playing volleyball, or bird watching. The vibrant, charming homes built on the sand create the perfect backdrop for a picturesque setting. Capitola Beach is also lined with boutique shops and fancy restaurants that are reminiscent of a Mediterranean coastal town. 

First-time surfers enjoy coming to this Santa Cruz beach to practice riding the waves—its consistent small waves make it ideal for beginners looking to improve their skills. The gorgeous Capitola Beach is also home to the Capitola Wharf, a large fishing pier where people soak in the stunning views of Monterey Bay. Visitors might even catch a glimpse of migrating whales and passing dolphins during certain times of the year. 

3. Panther Beach

Seeking seclusion? Head to the remote Panther Beach and watch the spectacular sunset in peace.

Location: Cabrillo Highway, Santa Cruz
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Free
Amenities: No restroom facilities
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

If you’re looking for secluded beaches, Panther Beach is a top choice in Santa Cruz. This clothing-optional beach has a beautiful rock arch and several caves to explore at low tide. Most people come to this Santa Cruz beach because it’s hard to find—they have plenty of privacy and can enjoy being alone by the water.  

Tidepool enthusiasts are also very fond of Panther Beach in Santa Cruz, but swimming here can be quite dangerous due to rip currents. Even though there are plenty of geological structures here, rock climbing is also treacherous because of strong waves crashing against them, so resist the urge. At low tide, Panther Beach makes way for Hole-in-the-Wall Beach—another hidden, clothing-optional spot that’s accessible through an opening in the rock wall on the south end of Panther Beach.

4. Natural Bridges State Beach

Make your way to the iconic Natural Bridges State Beach to marvel at the magnificent rock formation and explore teeming tide pools.

Location: 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: $10 day-use fee
Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, lifeguard, trails
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

Named after the natural arch in the enormous rock by the shore break, Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the most photographed places in the Golden State. The incredible spot is a wonderful spot to view shorebirds, migrating whales, playful seals, and cheerful otters. Natural Bridges is Santa Cruz’s most unique destination—it’s home to a monarch butterfly migration preserve that attracts over 100,000 monarch butterflies every year. 

If you’re not busy sunbathing, whale watching, bird watching, or taking photos, you’re most likely tide-pooling here. People come to Natural Bridges to view life beneath the sea; you may spot vibrant anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, and many other marine creatures. Don’t worry about the lockdown—this Santa Cruz beach is open during COVID-19

5. Cowell Beach

Hit the waves at Cowell Beach, one of the best surf spots along California's Central Coast.

Location: Pacific Avenue and Beach Street, Santa Cruz
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Street parking and lot parking
Amenities: Pier, volleyball courts, lifeguard, restrooms
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

Californians’ go-to surf spot on the Central Coast is Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz. Located west of the Santa Cruz Wharf, this sandy beach is a surfer’s paradise. Beachgoers frequently hold friendly volleyball matches, too, thanks to the plethora of courts. Steamer Lane, one of the most well-known surf spots in Santa Cruz, is found right next to this beach as well. 

While Cowell Beach’s water quality isn’t the best, the destination is one of the best places to watch the sunset in California. As the sun rays start to dim, the pier’s hues darken and the West Coast sky explodes with shades of red, orange, and purple—it’s one of the most awe-inspiring sights you’ll ever behold.  

6. Santa Cruz Main Beach

Visit Santa Cruz Main Beach for a fun-filled day with the family—theme park rides, sun-soaked shores, and watersports await.

Location: 399 Beach Street, Santa Cruz
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Paid street and lot parking
Amenities: Lifeguard, restrooms, boardwalk, pier, volleyball courts, kayak rentals, amusement park
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

Santa Cruz Main Beach is occasionally referred to as Boardwalk Beach because it spans the length of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As the heart and soul of the Santa Cruz coastline, the beach is busiest during the summer. The watersports opportunities here are endless—fishing, kayaking, boating, and stand-up paddleboarding are a few of the activities people can do.  

When they’re not on the beach, visitors head over to the adjacent boardwalk to ride rollercoasters and hit the arcades. While kids are having fun, parents enjoy oceanside dining at the waterfront restaurants. There’s nowhere else you’d rather be in the summertime. 

7. Sunset State Beach

Catch golden hour at the aptly named Sunset State Beach for an unforgettable experience in Santa Cruz County.

Location: 223 Sunset Beach Road, Watsonville
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: $10 day-use fee
Amenities: Campground, picnic tables, group picnic areas, restrooms, lifeguard
Dogs allowed: No
Bike rack: Available

Sunset State Beach in Santa Cruz County is a year-round destination featuring a long, sandy shore; fantastic day-use picnic facilities; and a wonderful campground to stay the night. (Did someone say beach camping?) This scenic and peaceful beach usually isn’t crowded, which makes it the perfect place to spend a tranquil afternoon rejuvenating your mind and soul. 

Campers and beachgoers spend their days fishing, picnicking, beachcombing, and strolling as the calm waters race to touch their feet. The loudest noises you’ll hear at this Santa Cruz beach are the chirping birds and the soft crashing of the waves.

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