Beaches in Santa Cruz.
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12 BEST Beaches in Santa Cruz

You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches in Santa Cruz, each offering a little something different.

The vast stretches of sandy coastline are packed with recreational activities, prime surf spots, wild, untouched wonders, and opportunities to escape or embrace the crowds.

Here are our favorite Santa Cruz beaches!


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1. Coast Dairies State Beaches in Santa Cruz

Numerous Coast Dairies State Beaches make up some of the best beaches in Santa Cruz, far too many for us to go into detail about them all, but luckily, we have our favorites.

First up is Shark Fin Cove Beach, which got its name from the large rock that protrudes from the coast and looks remarkably like a shark fin.

Three tourists and a fisherman on Shark Fin Cove Beach.
Can you see the shark fin at Shark Fin Cove Beach?

Panther Beach, which sits at the mouth of Yellow Bank Creek, is another favorite. It is full of natural beauty and has a hidden rock arch.

Other honorable mentions include Bonny Doon Beach, Davenport Landing Beach, and Laguna Creek Beach.

An empty panther beach on an overcast day in Coast Diaries State Park.
A very empty Panther Beach.

All of these beaches are a little more on the wild side than some of the main beaches of Santa Cruz, with little development and sometimes challenging access, but that makes it all the more rewarding when your feet hit the sand.

If we’re being totally honest with you, these are our favorite beaches in the area, mostly because they are so raw, rugged, and not crowded! And the fact that you can access so many from this one area is a bonus too.

TIP: Parking is a bit of a nightmare for these beaches. They are usually small, crappy parking lots with potholes, or it’s a random dirt pull-off.

RELATED: 9 TOP Hikes in Santa Cruz

2. Lighthouse Point Beach

Lighthouse Point sits at Lighthouse Field State Beach, a famous beach in Santa Cruz, away from the city with so much to do.

Few tourists walking along Lighthouse Point Beach in Santa Cruz.
Lighthouse Point Beach on a sunny day.

There is a cool trail that heads along the cliffs, popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists, which offers prime surfer viewing.

The elevated path also offers majestic views of the coastline crashing waves and the lighthouse, which stands proudly on the point.

A girl walking along the promenade next to a red brick lighthouse along Lighthouse Point Trail in Santa Cruz.
Check out the Surfer Museum at the lighthouse.

The beach itself is dog-friendly, so you will see many people walking their four-legged friends.

TIP: At the lighthouse, be sure to pop into the Surfer Museum to learn more about the famous surf spot here, Steamer Lane, or if you are a pro surfer, you could always get out onto the water yourself.

3. Natural Bridges State Beach

If you are looking for fewer crowds and a ton of natural beauty, then Natural Bridges State Beach is for you.

As the name suggests, there is an incredible natural rock bridge sitting just offshore, and because the beach is relatively small, it comes into its own at low tide, and then the plentiful tide pools are exposed.

Man standing in front of rock arch formation which is covered in seagulls at Natural Bridges State Beach.
A natural arch at Natural Bridges.

In addition to smaller marine life in the tide pools, the beach also makes a great whale-watching beach if you are in the right place at the right time, so keep your eyes peeled.

TIP: When we visited, a ranger told us a new arch is slowly forming offshore; let us know if you spot it!

4. Santa Cruz Main Beach

Main Beach is just that, the town’s main beach, sitting front and center right next to the iconic Santa Cruz Boardwalk, meaning it sees plenty of visitors and action all through the year.

Part of its popularity is due to its accessibility, but it also boasts relatively calm waves, making it a hot spot for families and those who want to take a dip.

Santa Cruz main beach and Boardwalk theme park on a sunny day.
Enjoy the Boardwalk theme park at Santa Cruz’s main beach.

It is one of the busiest beaches in Santa Cruz, packed with people having a competitive volleyball match, relaxing on the sand, and enjoying a picnic.

There are plenty of facilities nearby and a lifeguard on duty during the warmer months. It is not surprising it is one of the most popular beaches in Santa Cruz.

RELATED: 24 AWESOME Things to Do in Santa Cruz

5. Cowell Beach

On the other side of the pier to Main Beach, you will find Cowell Beach. Think of it as Main Beach’s little sister, as it is smaller and less crowded than Main Beach.

There is plenty of space to go for a walk, admire the sea shells, and watch the surfers catch a wave, although you will have to be aware of the flying volleyballs as there are several courts on the sand.

Surfers on the ocean with a kayaker besides a busy Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz.
Beginner surfers catching a wave at Cowell Beach.

The huge hotel, Dream Inn, sits as a backdrop to the beach. A room in the inn or on the sand offers spectacular pier views and a colorful sunset if you time it right.

6. Seabright Beach

Located between the boardwalk and the harbor, you will find Seabright State Beach, stretching for half a mile; it is a beach filled with surfers, sunbathers, and swimmers.

The beach area offers everything you could want from a beach in Santa Cruz, with fire rings for evenings around the bonfire, volleyball nets, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and fishing.

A surfer carving a wave in a golden hour glow with a backdrop of a lighthouse at Seabright Beach.
Seabright Beach living up to its ‘bright’ name.

Head out for a stroll along the jetty and watch the boats as they leave the harbor.

TIP: While there, you might as well check out Walton Lighthouse, which sits at the end of the jetty. There is also free parking and restrooms, making it an easy place to spend a sunny day.

7. Twin Lakes State Beach

It’s hard to beat Twins Lakes State Beach if you are looking for an expansive stretch of white sand to relax on. The beach comprises a mile of sandy shoreline stretching out either side of Santa Cruz Harbor.

Sunbathing tourists and windsurfers at Twin Lakes State Beach.
A great place for beach and ocean activities.

The sandy shore under the water makes it a fun place to bodysurf, and if you are feeling sporty, challenge your friends to a game of beach volleyball.

In addition to the sand, the beach is also the home of Schwan Lagoon, a freshwater lake that is a bird-watching hot spot, and there are several restaurants along the beach with stunning ocean views.

8. Sunny Cove Beach

Sunny Cove Beach is a long but narrow cove with plenty of sand and places to lay down a towel.

It does get busy, but it will not be as crowded as some of the more popular beaches in Santa Cruz. The cove and beach are surrounded by bluffs, with access coming down either side.

Tourists enjoying a sunny day at Sunny Cove Beach.
A sunny day at Sunny Cove.

TIP: Bring a boogie board and ride the waves into shore! We saw lots of people enjoying it, and it looked like tons of fun, although watch out for rip currents.

9. Pleasure Point

At the east end of Santa Cruz, Pleasure Point is a thriving beach community popular with surfers and those who just want a taste of quintessential Californian beach life.

House built into the side of the cliffs of the Pleasure Point beaches.
The two beaches at Pleasure Point.

Pleasure Point is almost split into two different beaches. At the south end, find waves filled with surfers and a cool little cove. Although this area isn’t particularly beachy, there are several places to put a kayak in and explore the site via the sea.

A sea lion basking in the sun at Pleasure Point.
Fortunately, we did get lucky!

The north section is again made up of many little coves, some of which have stairs leading down, while others seem more of a scramble.

It’s not just humans who like to lounge on the smaller beaches here; you may be lucky and see a seal also bathing on the sand.

Two girls on stand up paddle boards on the calm ocean waters of Pleasure Point.
The calm water is perfect for SUP.

Kayakers, SUPs, and beginner surfing are popular activities here, as is walking along East Cliff Drive. This incredible trail offers epic views of the coves below as it winds along the coastal bluffs.

TIP: Although there are a few parking lots here and there, parking can be tricky, so get here early if you want a stress-free experience.

10. Capitola Beach

Located in the small next town over, Capitola Beach is a quaint little beach that matches its quaint little town.

Brightly colored houses in all shades of blue, pink, yellow, and green line the shores, and the small cove it sits in means relatively calm waters.

Colorful houses lined up along the edge of a seagull covered Capitola Beach.
Even the seagulls enjoy the colors at Capitola Beach.

Many of the buildings house restaurants and shops if you want a break for beach bumming, and the colorfully tiled beach wall has become an iconic spot for a photograph.

No wonder it is considered one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz!

11. New Brighton State Beach

New Brighton State Beach is a big, long, sprawling beach backed with cliffs and big trees. The sandy shoreline is hot for fishing, swimming, and beach combing.

In the winter, the boogie boards swap for surfboards, and wetsuit-clad surfers brave the cold waters. Additionally, the 93-acre park offers stunning views out over Monterey Bay.

Tourists going about their day in the sun on New Brighton State Beach.
Come and relax on New Brighton, that’s what we did!

If walking along the sand is too tiring, a small trail behind the beach is nice to stretch your legs.

It leads to the campground, which sits high on the towering bluff. You could also head to the visitor center to learn more about the people and history of the region.

12. Seacliff State Beach

Seacliff State Beach is primarily known for its large concrete ship that’s permanently moored at the end of the closed fishing pier, which is half sunk and was once a floating amusement center!

Today, it is guarded by a flock of hungry brown pelicans.

Red sunset light glowing off a derelict pier at Seacliff State Beach.
The abandoned pier is sort of… beautiful.

With a large picnic area and charcoal grills, it is the sort of beach that families and groups head to and spend the whole day at, protected by the high bluff that backs the beach.

Many people choose to stay even longer, considering it is the only place in Monterey Bay with RV camping on the beach.

TIP: A few steps up from the beach, pay a visit to the micro visitor center and museum to learn more about the history of the ship and beach.

👉 Accommodation in Santa Cruz

Final Thoughts on Beaches in Santa Cruz

We love Santa Cruz so much. It’s such a vibe here! It’s certainly one of our favorite cities in California.

Cowell Beach is awesome for surfing, and we really like Natural Bridges for the beach and tidepool access.

While Pleasure Point is the least beachy of beaches in Santa Cruz, it offers up some of the best access for activities, and, of course, the seals that pop up here are a huge bonus!

View across Cove Beach on a sunny day while people play.
View across Cove Beach in Año Nuevo

If you’re willing to drive a bit, we also absolutely love Año Nuevo State Park, which has more beaches and some great trails, too. It’s only about 30 minutes west of the city.

We hope this helped you plan your visit to the best beaches in Santa Cruz!

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