The Santa Cruz coastline is nothing short of majestic, and its beaches are no exception. With panoramic views of Monterey Bay, these secluded coves and sandy shores are perfect for a day of sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. From the laid-back atmosphere of Capitola Beach to the wild waves of Pleasure Point Beach, there’s a beach that will fit your needs. In this post, I’ll be sharing with you a list of the 10 Best Beaches in Santa Cruz. So pack your swimsuit and sunscreen, and get ready for some fun in the sun!
Best Beaches in Santa Cruz, CA
1. Santa Cruz Main Beach
Main Beach is a world-famous surfer’s paradise and one of the most popular beaches in Santa Cruz. Located right in the heart of the city, it’s a great place to people watch and take in the sights. The wide, sandy beach stretches for over a mile and is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and playing in the waves. There are also a number of beach volleyball courts and a children’s play area.
During summer, the Main beach can get quite crowded. However, the wide expanse of sand means that there is always plenty of room to find a spot to relax. And since it is located in the heart of Santa Cruz, it’s close to plenty of shops and restaurants. There are also public restrooms and showers.
Another highlight of Main Beach is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. The amusement park has been a fixture of the beach since 1907 and features rides, games, and food concessions. It’s a great place to take a break from the sun and enjoy some family fun.
On my most recent visit to Santa Cruz Main Beach, I had a great time playing beach volleyball with some friends. We also went for a swim and watched the surfers do their tricks.
So if you’re looking for one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz, then you can’t go wrong with Main Beach. It has a lively atmosphere, and there’s always something going on at this beach. It’s wide, sandy, and close to all the amenities you need. Plus, who can resist the Boardwalk?
2. Capitola Beach
Just 6 miles east of downtown Santa Cruz is the charming town of Capitola. This town is known for its colorful Victorian homes and its picturesque harbor. But the best thing about Capitola is its beach.
This beautiful beach is shielded from the waves on either end by cliffs, which makes it a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and playing in the sand. The water is usually quite calm, making it ideal for families. There are also a few beach volleyball courts and benches along the beach for relaxing.
The best part of Capitola Beach is the pier. It’s a great place to walk, fish, or just sit and watch the boats go by. The pier is over 855 feet long, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. And if you’re interested in scenic strolls, you can do this via the pleasant sidewalks of the town, which leads you to the Capitola Wharf. This area is full of fun places to eat, drink and shop. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening.
During my visit, I had a great time with people watching and admiring the colorful homes. The pier is also a nice place to take a break from the sun and enjoy a good book. Bear in mind that this is one of the busiest Santa Cruz beaches, so it can be a bit noisy at times. But, it’s well worth a visit if you are looking for a great beach to spend the day on.
3. Seacliff State Beach
Five miles further south is Seacliff State Beach, which I consider one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz. The wide, sandy beach stretches for over a mile and is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and playing in the waves. It’s also great for fishing, as there is a large pier that goes out into the ocean.
The beach is situated in a protected cove, so the waves are usually calm. This makes it a great place for families with young children. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer. There is a large parking lot, as well as restrooms and showers.
One of the highlights of Seacliff State Beach is the abandoned concrete ship that sits in the bay. The SS Palo Alto was a World War I-era cargo ship that was later used as a fishing pier. The ship was beached in the 1930s and has been slowly deteriorating ever since. It’s now a popular spot for taking photographs and exploring the rusting hulk.
On my last visit to Seacliff State Beach, I enjoyed a day of fishing on the pier. I caught a few perch and catfish. It was a lot of fun trying to scale and cook them up on the BBQ pits. The beach is also close to Aptos Village, so you have plenty of places to eat and shop. All in all, this is a great place to spend a sunny day.
4. Four Mile Beach
Located within the Wilder Ranch State Park, Four Mile Beach is known for its rugged beauty and awe-inspiring views. The coastline here is wild and undeveloped, with towering cliffs, secluded coves, and pounding surf. Because of its isolation, the beach is a favorite spot for those looking for a quiet getaway.
Four Mile Beach is accessible via a moderate hike along the Ohlone Bluff Trail from the parking lot. The journey is well worth it, as you’re rewarded with stunning ocean views and a chance to explore the rocky coastline. The sand is coarse, and the waves are high, so this beach is best suited for those who are comfortable in rough waters.
Lifeguards are not on duty at Four Mile Beach, so you should be cautious when swimming. There are no amenities at this location, so come prepared with food, water, and sunscreen. Hiking trails, picnic areas, and restrooms are available in the park.
In general, Four Mile Beach is a beautiful and secluded spot perfect for those who want to get away from it all. Be prepared for a challenging hike, but it will be well worth it when you reach this stunning beach.
5. Seabright State Beach
Seabright Beach is a great choice if you are looking for a beautiful beach with a more relaxed atmosphere. Located between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Harbor, this beach is just a short drive or bike ride from downtown Santa Cruz.
The beach stretches for almost half a mile and is a well-known spot for sun worshippers. The sand is soft, and the water is crystal clear. The waves are usually gentle, making it a great place for swimming and body surfing. There are also several volleyball courts on the beach.
Dogs are allowed at this beach, making it a popular spot for taking your furry friends for a walk. In addition, there are several restaurants, and shops close by, so you won’t have to go far for a bite to eat or something to drink.
The highlight of this beach is the sunset views. In fact, this is one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz to watch the sun go down. And since bonfires are allowed on the beach, this place lights up with flickering flames as the night goes on.
On my most recent visit to Seabright beach, I enjoyed a day of swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching. Note that this is a favorite local beach, so it can get a bit crowded on weekends. But that just means there is always something to see and do.
6. Twin Lakes State Beach
This is another one of the best Santa Cruz beaches. Twin Lakes State Beach is a wide, sandy beach that stretches for over a mile. It is well known for its crystal clear water and stunning views. This makes it a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and playing in the waves. There are also a few volleyball courts and a playground.
The best thing about Twin Lakes State Beach is the location. It’s situated between Santa Cruz Harbor and the Schwan Lake Park nature preserve. This makes for a really beautiful setting, with the harbor on one side and the rolling hills of the park on the other.
The beach is well-maintained and has excellent amenities such as picnic tables, restrooms, outdoor showers, and lifeguards during summer. It’s also a great place for bird watching, as there are several different species of birds that can be seen here.
The only downside to this beach is the limited parking lot. You have to find a spot on the street, which can be difficult during busy times. However, it’s definitely worth the effort to find a spot, as this is one of the most picturesque Santa Cruz Beaches around.
7. New Brighton State Beach
Just a short drive from Santa Cruz is the beautiful New Brighton State Beach. This stunning coastal park offers stunning views of both the Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz coastline. The wide sandy beach is perfect for a relaxing day by the water, sunbathing, playing in the waves, and there are plenty of picnic tables and BBQ pits to make a day of it.
If you need a break from the sun, take refuge in the shade of the large oak trees. There are several picnic areas with tables and benches, making it easy to pack a lunch and enjoy a seaside meal.
If you’re looking for a little more excitement, New Brighton Beach offers plenty of activities as well. There’s a large volleyball court, as well as a play area for the kids. The beach is also great for swimming, surfing, and fishing. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go on a whale watching tour from the nearby Santa Cruz Harbor.
The beach offers restrooms and showers, as well as several small stores where you can buy snacks and drinks. There’s also a large parking lot, so you won’t have to worry about finding a spot. So if you’re looking for a great place to spend the day with friends or family, be sure to check out New Brighton Beach. It is definitely one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz not to miss.
8. Natural Bridges State Beach
This is one of my favorite beaches in Santa Cruz. The name is quite fitting, as the beach is home to a natural arch made of limestone. The arch can be seen from a distance, and it’s quite a sight to behold.
Swimming and surfing are not allowed at the beach due to rip currents, but it’s a great place for sunbathing, walking, and picnicking. The best time to visit is during the late afternoon when the sun sets and creates a beautiful natural light show. There are also a few picnic tables and benches, making it the perfect spot for a lunch break.
The beach is also known for its tide pools, which are filled with a variety of marine life. So they are a great place to explore if you are interested in marine biology.
The beach is located in a nature reserve, so there are plenty of interesting things to see in the surrounding area. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including sea stars, crabs, and sea anemones. It’s also a great place to go bird watching.
And since the beach is located near the town of Santa Cruz, you can easily walk to nearby restaurants and shops. There is a small parking lot at the beach, but it often fills up quickly. I would recommend arriving early to get a spot.
9. Pleasure Point Beach
If you are looking for a surfers’ paradise, then Pleasure Point Beach is the place for you. This beach has a reputation for being one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz to find a good wave. The waves here are usually bigger and more consistent than other beaches in Santa Cruz. This makes it a popular spot with surfers.
The beach itself is a wide, sandy strip that stretches for over half a mile. And because of the dangerous waves, it is not recommended for swimming. The scenery is also beautiful, with the Santa Cruz Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop.
I had a wonderful time watching a few surfers catching some impressive waves. The sunset views here was also pretty amazing, and I enjoyed taking a few photos. And since the beach is located in a resort district, there are plenty of places to eat and accommodation options. You will also find a few shops that sell surf gear and other beach-related items.
Parking can be difficult to find, so I would recommend arriving early on a busy day. There is a small lot at the beach, but it often fills up quickly. The best option is to park in one of the neighborhoods nearby and walk down.
Pleasure Point Beach is definitely worth a visit if you are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere and some great waves to surf. But even if you’re not, it’s still worth a visit to check out the beautiful scenery.
10. Manresa State Beach
If you are looking for a more remote and scenic beach to visit, Manresa State Beach is a good option. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Santa Cruz and is located in a beautiful setting with rolling hills and views of Monterey Bay.
The beach is wide and long, making it great for walking, running, or playing Frisbee. However, the waves can be a bit rough, so it’s not ideal for swimming as there are also no lifeguards on duty. Only experienced surfers should venture out into the water.
One of the best things about this beach is the lack of crowds. It’s much less busy than some of the other Santa Cruz beaches. This makes it a great place to relax and take in the natural beauty of the area. There are also a few picnic tables so you can enjoy a meal outdoors. Other things to do in the area include hiking, Bird-watching, and camping.
During winter, the beach becomes a nesting ground for western snowy plovers. These small, brown birds are a threatened species, so visitors are asked to observe them from a distance and not to disturb their nests.
I visited Manresa State Beach on a weekday afternoon, and it was quite peaceful. I had the place to myself for a while, which was nice. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a more secluded beach to relax at. Just be careful with the waves if you decide to go swimming.
The best beaches in Santa Cruz offer something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a wide sandy beach to sunbathe on, waves to surf, or a pier to fish from, there is definitely something for you. My personal favorites are Main beach and Natural Bridges State beach, but all of the beaches on this list are worth a visit. So if you are planning a trip to Santa Cruz, be sure to add one or more of these beaches to your itinerary.