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Posted August 2006

Santa Cruz: Bask on the Beaches

santa cruz beaches

The vast state of California has much to offer travelers and residents alike; each of its counties and regions provide opportunities for varied activities that range from the most extreme to the most mundane. Mid-way up the lengthy coastal stretches of the state, sun and fun lovers will find something for both the pedestrian outdoor devotee and the extreme sport fanatic on the 29 miles of beaches that are part of diverse county of Santa Cruz.

Beach Activities :

Other good places to surf:
Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

Waddell Beach, Davenport

Twin Lakes
Seabright/Castle State Beach,
Sunset State Beach
Rio del Mar State Beach
Manresa State Beach

Sunset State Beach, Watsonville
New Brighton State Beach, Capitola
Seacliff State Beach, Aptos (RV camping only)

Dogs (no leash):
Its Beach, Santa Cruz

Seacliff State Beach, Aptos
Grey Hound Rock County Beach, Davenport

Main Beach, Santa Cruz
Capitola Beach, Capitola
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz
Seacliff State Beach, Aptos

Capitola Beach, Capitola

Waddell Beach, Davenport

People watching:
Main Beach, Santa Cruz

Seacliff State Beach, Aptos

Romantic sunsets:
Bluffs above Seacliff Beach, Aptos
West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Sunset Beach, Watsonville

Scenic drives:
West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

Twin Lakes State Beach, Santa Cruz

Swimming au natural:
Red, White and Blue Beach, Davenport

Main Beach, Santa Cruz
Capitola Beach, Capitola

Any of the beaches in Aptos or Watsonville West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

Whale watching:
Davenport Beach (bluffs), Davenport

While Santa Cruz beaches are only part of the fun you can have in this Central Coast county, almost any beach activity that you want to enjoy can be explored here.

If you are interested in partaking of that timeless California ocean sport of surfing, you can get started at Cowell's Beach next to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Also know for its people watching, Cowell’s has been called one of the best places on the west coast to learn to surf. Long, gentle waves in shallow waters with a soft, sandy ocean floor make for great learning conditions. Wet suits, surfboards, along with boogie boards and other water paraphernalia are available for rent nearby. Surf school instructors offer lessons in small groups or one-on-one and guarantee to get you up on the waves before your first lesson is finished.

Here’s an idea of what you can find at some other Santa Cruz beaches:

Main Beach/Cowell Beach
Beach St., Santa Cruz
Open sunrise to sunset.
Play volleyball, swim, surf or stroll along the beach in front of the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and its amusements. There is a beachgoing wheelchair available in summer at Cowell Beach on first-come basis.

Capitola Beach
The Esplanade, Capitola
Open sunrise to sunset
No dogs, no alcohol or smoking. Located in Capitola Village along the famous Esplanade (know for its restaurants and shopping). This beach is a local favorite and has made many a top 10 list for west coast beaches. Swimming, surfing, volleyball, kite-flying, and of course, sun bathing.

Davenport Beach
Davenport Landing, Davenport
Open sunrise to sunset
This is the original site of Davenport, once considered one of the best landings along the coast. It is located north of the current city, and about 15 minutes north of Santa Cruz. Strictly a day-use beach, it is generally less crowded than many of the north-coast beaches and is a favorite for kitesurfers and windsurfers.

East Cliff Coastal Access Points
12th Ave. to 41st Ave., Live Oak
Open sunrise to sunset.
The County has many coastal access points throughout the East Cliff area for ease in reaching beaches – many are stairways. For information on access points, go to

Manresa Uplands State Beach
205 Manresa Rd., La Selva Beach
Open sunrise to sunset
Camping is not available at Manresa State Beach, but it is at Manresa Uplands State Beach. Picnic tables are available, and food and lodging are nearby. Outdoor showers and restrooms. Day-use fee of $6. Tent camping only at the Uplands, walk-in, 64 sites: $25 a night. Dogs allowed on leash at all times. (831) 761-1795

Natural Bridges State Beach
2531 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz
Open 8am to sunset.
This 65-acre park is world-renowned for its population of migrating Monarch butterflies. The peak season is October to January, but call ahead for status. Named for its famous natural bridge, this is an excellent place to view shore and ocean birds, migrating whatles, and seals and otters. An excellent natural habitat of tidepools offers a good look at sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other ocean life. Tide charts are available in the bookstore. Restrooms, visitor center, family and educational programs, and a sand wheel chair are available.

Red, White and Blue Beach
5021 Coast Rd., Santa Cruz
(831) 423-6332
This is a privately owned beach that is clothing-optional. There are day-use facilities and overnight camping which range from $10 to $15 for adults and $1 to $2 for children under 18. Open 10am-4pm winter, 10am-6pm summer.

In general, temperatures along the Pacific Ocean tent to be mild with summer temperatures in the mid 70’s and winter temperatures in the mid 50’s. Humidity is low for a coastal area. Occasional fog occurs due to changing Pacific currents, and some beaches are know for being very windy – great for the kite flying and windsurfing, but not as much fun for sun bathing.

For a listing of other Santa Cruz beaches and parks, check out’s things to do.

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