A list of beaches in the North and South County area.
Capitola Beach, Castle Beach, Its Beach, Moran Lake, Manresa State Beach,
Sunset State Beach, Natural Bridges State Park, New Brighton State Beach,
Pleasure Point Beach , Privates ., Rio Del Mar Beach, Santa Cruz Main Beach
Seacliff State Beach , Twin Lakes State Beach
North Coast Beaches
Davenport Beach, Panther Beach , Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel , Waddell State Beach
Capitola Beach / The Esplanade, Capitola Village / It typically gets voted best beach in California. And with its close proximity to the Capitola Wharf, and a slew of other great restaurants and bars around, it’s pretty much one big slice of paradise. To avoid the crowds, the beach on the other side of the wharf is usually less crowded. With free shuttle service to your car, you can’t beat it.
Castle Beach / East Cliff Drive at Seabright Avenue / The castle may have fallen over but this hasn’t affected Castle Beach’s great sandy stretch. Located between the Boardwalk and the Harbor, it’s a great place to let the saltwater air flow through your hair and the ocean lap over your feet.
Twin Lakes State Beach / East Cliff Drive at 7th Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-427-4868 / This is a smart and swinging beach that caters to families, kite flyers, picnickers and the like, and is said to be one of the warmest beaches in the county. It is also a great place at night around a bonfire. Great vibe.
Its Beach / West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz / Located just below the Mark Abbott Lighthouse, this picturesque plot of sand is probably more often photographed than the Lone Cypress Tree in Pebble Beach. Beloved by the locals.
Moran Lake / East Cliff Drive, Live Oak / It’s one of the more overlooked beaches in the county but with its clean sand, great views, easy access, you have to wonder why. So set down your blanket, roll on the sunscreen and kiss your cares goodbye on this stretch of loveliness. A secluded treasure.
Manresa State Beach and Sunset State Beach / La Selva Beach and Watsonville 831-761-1795, 831-763-7062 / Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins that regularly surf the waves and, of course, the priceless sand dollars that wash up on shore. Do keep in mind the waters have a notorious reputation for rip currents, but lifeguards are on duty during the summer months. There is also tent camping just up the road from the day-use parking area at Manresa State Beach and Sunset State Beach. Call 831-761-1795 because you’ll need reservations as the spots tend to fill up fast.
Natural Bridges State Park 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 831-423-4609 Though the natural bridge returned to the sea from which it broke, Natural Bridges is still a Santa Cruz treasure. With fascinating tide pools and the monarch butterflies hanging from the eucalyptus trees, the locale never ceases to inspire generations of beachgoers.
New Brighton State Beach / 1500 Park Avenue, Capitola, 831-464-6330 / A great campground nestled in coast cypress and pines make this a beach-camper’s paradise. The campground is always full in the summer, making reservations a must. This spot is great for those long summer walks, especially during low tide.
Pleasure Point Beach / East Cliff Drive, Live Oak East Cliff Drive and Pleasure Point Drive, Santa Cruz / A little left of Jack O’Neill’s green cliff house (yes, that’s the world-famous wetsuit maker) is a nice little protected beach that makes for a sunny spot after the morning fog has burned off. Perfect pleasure.
Privates / East Cliff Drive, Capitola / Like its name, Privates isn’t a public beach. But this fact hasn’t kept clothing optional enthusiasts and longboarders from enjoying its charms. For $20 you can buy a key to the place that will last a year. If the lock is broken or the gate has been left open—which is usually the case—you get in for free. Go down a well-kept path (presumably paid for by the key fees) to a wooden staircase that leads right down to the water. Fun.
Rio Del Mar Beach / Rio Del Mar Blvd., Aptos / Another wide-open space beach. The surf is milder than Manresa but this doesn’t preclude the nasty riptides that have towed numerous unsuspecting swimmers into the deep. Watch out for them and remember to always swim sideways if you get caught in the current. Nice beach to curl up under an umbrella and read a good murder mystery
Santa Cruz Main Beach / Beach Street, Santa Cruz / Boasting volleyball nets, yards and yards of sunscreen-swathed sunbathers and the faint cries of roller coaster riders mixed with lolling surf, Main Beach, directly in front of the Boardwalk, is pretty much how it used to be 80 years ago, except for the size of the swimsuits. If you left your heart at Coney Island, Santa Cruz Main Beach is where you’ll find it.
Seacliff State Beach / State Park Drive, Aptos / Surf perch and halibut have been known to be caught off the side of the area’s well-known cement ship here but the locale stands out for its striking views.
North Coast Beaches
Just a few miles north of the Santa Cruz city limits are some of the most beautiful miles of coastline in the world. The same goes for the beaches that abut the small Brussels sprouts and pumpkin farms that dot the land. Most beaches can be accessed by crude dirt trails or small roads. Park at your own risk. These beaches are well worth exploring.
Davenport Beach / Davenport Landing, Davenport It’s an easily accessible beach that is popular with the wind surfing set. But it also makes for a nice place to plop down a towel and enjoy the sea and sun. Nice locale (Davenport) and great vibe.
Panther Beach / Highway 1, a mile south of Davenport Known for its beautiful rock formations and shiny, clean sand, Panther Beach is a memorable adventure. A take-your-breath-away beach. Drive south on Highway 1 and stop between mile marker 26.86 and 26.4, cross railroad tracks down the small path to the amazing beach.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel / 210 Pigeon Point Road, off Hwy 1, Pescadero, e-mail pplhostel@NorCalHostels.org/pigeon
650- 879-0633 Twenty-five miles north of Santa Cruz, you can relax in a cliff-top hot tub with a panoramic view of the ocean and then fall asleep gazing up at one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States. Close to natural attractions, including Pescadero Marsh, Butano State Park and Año Nuevo State Reserve, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel offers affordable shared or private accommodations in the restored 18th-century lighthouse keeper’s quarters perfect for families, groups, couples or individual travelers. A captivating pitstop during your travels.
Waddell State Beach / Highway 1, about five miles north of Davenport, 831-427-2288 Great beachcombing, tide-pooling beach, though it tends to get too windy for lying in the sun. Every sort of sport except skiing seems to be practiced here including hang gliding, windsurfing and kite surfing.