If you’re interested in heading to a relaxing coastal town for an amazing beach vacation or staycation, look no further! California beaches are some of the best in the world, and we’re going to share the 15 Santa Cruz beaches. No matter what you’re looking for on the west coast – relaxation, adventure, or a mix of both – there’s something for everyone on this list!
Santa Cruz County, also known as ‘Surf City,’ sits on the Pacific Coast in the middle of California. The city started marketing itself as a beach resort in the late 19th century and has been welcoming visitors from around the world ever since. Today, travelers and locals appreciate many things about Santa Cruz: gorgeous beaches, gorgeous weather, a vibrant arts scene, and lively surf culture.
Let’s get to it and take a look at the best beaches in Santa Cruz!
1. Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is the ultimate place to enjoy the California coast! It boasts incredible scenery, diverse wildlife, and an iconic natural bridge.
If you enjoy all things outdoors, Natural Bridges State Beach is the place for you. You can find hiking trails, picnic areas, and a monarch preserve. Of course, visitors also appreciate the pristine beach and tide pools.
One of the most special parts of Natural Bridges State Beach is the natural bridge itself. Surrounding the bridge, you can find shorebirds, migrating whales, seals, and otters. You can also spot shore crabs, sea stars, and sea anemones at low tide. Have your camera ready!
Pet owners appreciate that Natural Bridge welcomes pets on paved and picnic areas. However, they are prohibited on trails and the beach.
2. Capitola Beach
Capitola Beach is a small city beach that belongs to a quaint seaside village known as Capitola. Capitola is a famous urban beach and the perfect place to relax and enjoy the wind, the surf, and the sand.
Although the beach isn’t huge, there’s plenty to do at Capitola Beach. It’s easy to spend the day and evening with a walking and fishing pier, shopping, restaurants, and bars all around the beach community.
Beachgoers appreciate fishing and walking along the beach to the Capitola Wharf. If you’re interested in hitting the waves, you can also find group and private surf lessons in the area.
3. Cowell Beach
If you’re looking for a beach that’s close to everything, Cowell Beach is the place to go. It’s also ideal for volleyball players! You can find many first-come-first-serve beach volleyball courts along the beach.
When the conditions are right, it’s also a great place to go surfing. For big surf vibes, head a mile south to Steamer Lane.
Families also appreciate Cowell Beach because there’s plenty of space to spread out, and there are lifeguards on duty. Pristine sands and water make it great for strolling and swimming, too.
When you’re ready for a break from the beach, there’s plenty to do in the area. The beach sits right next to the Municipal Wharf in Santa Cruz, making it a short walk from countless attractions.
4. Twin Lakes State Beach
Twin Lakes State Beach is a mile-long sandy stretch of California paradise, where pets are allowed. It’s a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. Schwan’s Lake is just across the way and offers fantastic opportunities for bird watching.
Twin Lakes also has sand volleyball courts and hiking trails if you’re looking to get active. Take a break from the beach and explore unique shops and restaurants that are just a stone’s throw away. You can even watch the boats come in at Santa Cruz’s harbor.
5. Blacks Beach
Part of Twin Lakes State Beach, Blacks Beach of Santa Cruz is a dreamy spot that makes you feel like you’ve got a little piece of California all to yourself. It’s a favorite among locals, who you might hear refer to it as Lincoln’s Beach. Whatever you want to call it, it’s an excellent getaway from the hustle!
Blacks Beach is the perfect place to relax for the day, so we suggest packing a lunch and settling in beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines. Be sure to stick around for picturesque sunset scenery. Your furry family members are welcomes to join, too, as long as they’re leashed!
6. Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach is part of the famous Wilder Ranch State Park, a massive dairy farm that has been part of the California State Park system since the 70s. It’s nestled in the California wetlands by Baldwin Creek, just four miles from western Santa Cruz. While it’s one of several beaches in the park, it’s our favorite, boasting white sands and some of the best surf on the central coast!
The sandy beach also features beautiful rugged cliffs and sea stacks. For amazing scenery and some exercise, the beach connects to nature trails and mountain biking paths. For a real treat, stick around for the sunset!
Note: Four Mile Beach tends to get crowded, so we recommend arriving early. And, to avoid paying to park at Wilder Ranch State Park, you can bike or walk to the beach
7. Mitchell’s Cove Beach
Facing south and situated beneath the bluff of Woodrow Avenue, Mitchell’s Cove Beach offers peace away from the crowds. Beachgoers at Mitchell’s Cove enjoy stunning rock formations, tide pools, and boogie boarding.
As you soak up the sand and sun at Mitchell’s Cover, there’s also tons of marine life to enjoy. You may even catch a glimpse of migrating gray whales.
If you’re a pet owner and want to bring your furry family member along, Mitchell’s Cove is the place for it! They can even run around leash-free on the sandy beach in the morning and evening.
8. Seacliff State Beach
Head to Monterey Bay’s Seacliff State Beach for a sandy shore and fun water activities. Its most popular attraction is the SS Palo Alto, a concrete ship lying in the water. With so much to do, just about every beachgoer loves a day at Seacliff, including pets!
Enjoy fishing, picnicking, swimming, surfing, and boogie boarding. There are also paved trails around the beach area. Head to the end of Seacliff’s pier for excellent views of the SS Palo Alto.
If you’re looking to spend a few days on the sandy beach, you can also camp out at Seacliff. Learn more about reserving a campsite here.
9. New Brighton State Beach
Whether you’re looking to hang out on the beach for a few days or hours, you’ll love New Brighton State Beach. It’s one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz for camping, and the campground welcomes tents and RVs. We highly recommend staying for a while! With so much to enjoy at New Brighton, you probably won’t want to leave.
California acquired New Brighton in the 1930s. With fun activities, full amenities, and over 100 camping sites, it’s been a popular spot for many years.
More than just a beach, New Brighton is a 95-acre beach park on Monterey Bay. At New Brighton, you can fish off the pier, stroll along the seashore, take a dip in the ocean, and set up your tent or RV and stay for a while.
Leashed pets are also allowed on the beach and at the campground.
10. Moran Lake Beach
Attached to Moran Lake County Park, Moran Lake Beach offers endless outdoor adventures. It’s easy to spend the day here with so much to do, including fishing, swimming, surfing, and more.
Moran Lake Beach attracts anglers, surfers, sunbathers, and everyone in between. Stroll the beach at low tide and make your way to Corcoran Lagoon as you take in the natural beauty of the California coast is on full display at Moran Lake.
The park also has full facilities and other activities. Enjoy hiking and biking the natural trail. There’s even a monarch butterfly habitat that you can visit.
Feel free to bring your leashed pet along, too!
11. Seabright Beach
Seabright Beach is a popular beach that’s a part of Twin Lakes State Beach. It’s located next to Santa Cruz Main Beach between the Santa Cruz Harbor and beach boardwalk and offers excellent views of the infamous Walton Lighthouse.
Seabright Beach provides all kinds of fun activities for every kind of beachgoer, including families, friends, and pet owners. Enjoy swimming, surfing, and beach bonfires. There are also lifeguards on duty.
To break up your beach day, there are plenty of shops and restaurants in the area. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is also within walking distance.
12. Rio Del Mar Beach
The main beach in the Rio Del Mar community is the place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. At Rio Del Mar, it’s easy to unwind, and there’s tons of space to do it!
There’s no shortage of fun activities at Rio Del Mar. Enjoy standup paddleboarding, surfing, fishing, and swimming. Lifeguards are also on duty during the peak season.
If you’re looking to relax, you’ll appreciate taking in the impressive scenery and watching wildlife (whales, birds, and more). You can also have a bonfire with several fire rings along the beach.
Rio Del Mar Beach is also pet-friendly.
13. Hidden Beach
True to its name, Hidden Beach is a little tricky to find. This small cove beach is tucked away off of Highway 1. You can take a somewhat short and well worth it hike in from the Yurok Loop Trail to access the beach.
Once you arrive on Hidden Beach, you’ll find about a fourth of a mile of fine gray sands, slightly dotted with boulders and tide pools. It’s the perfect place to relax, have a picnic, and go for stroll.
Tip: Some of the area is rocky, so be mindful of this while you’re enjoying the unmatched scenery!
14. Sumner Beach
Sumner Beach goes by many names, including Beer Can Beach and Dolphin Beach. This local beach is in the Rio Del Mar neighborhood and boasts cool rock formations and a beautiful sunset.
While Sumner Beach is simple with no facilities, it offers the best vibe for a chill day on the beach.
Families enjoy building sandcastles at Sumner Beach, while pet owners appreciate strolling on the sand. It’s also a great spot to hit the waves. Surf lessons are available in the area, too.
15. Manresa Main State Beach
Manresa Main State Beach is the perfect place to set up camp, throw a towel down, and soak up the sun for a few days. It’s also a photographer’s paradise with beautiful landscape views and an incredible backdrop of Santa Cruz mountains and forests.
The beach also boasts two major plant communities: coastal scrub and coastal strand. With this, visitors love the opportunity to watch various birds and sea life.
Enjoy relaxing, fishing, picnicking, swimming, and camping at the fabulous Manresa State Beach!
Enjoy Santa Cruz Beaches!
There you have it! We hope you’ve been inspired to check out the best of Santa Cruz beaches.
With fantastic waves, unmatched scenery, and every kind of seaside destination you can think of, Santa Cruz is easily one of the best places for a beach vacation or staycation!