Best Beaches in Santa Cruz, USA

Set on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, about an hour and a half's drive from San Francisco it Santa Cruz, the epitome of a West Coast beach town. With its boardwalk, pier and seafront amusement park it really ticks all the boxes.

Few places can boast quite the surfing heritage of Santa Cruz. As far back as 1885 a trio of vacationing Hawaiian princes pioneered surfing here, and more recently it was the place Jack O'Neill invented the wetsuit (it can get chilly!). Despite losing out on the title of "Surf City" to Huntington Beach, Santa Cruz is a great place to learn to surf on the town's mellow beach breaks or rip it up at the legendary Steamer Lane.

One of the great things about Santa Cruz beaches is there is plenty of choice and it's not just about surfing. There are family-friendly beaches, dog beaches and even a few secluded spots that are clothing optional not far from town.

  • Santa Cruz Main Beach

    Santa Cruz Main Beach
    David Merrett

    Santa Cruz Main Beach is also known as Boardwalk Beach because it sits in front of the boardwalk amusement park. Dating from 1907, it contains the historic Big Dipper rollercoaster, a swimming pool, mini golf, and restaurants among its attractions.

    On the opposite side of the municipal wharf from Cowell Beach, Main Beach faces south and… read more »

  • Seabright Beach

    Seabright Beach
    Mike Fernwood

    Situated just along the coast from Main Beach and the boardwalk, Seabright Beach runs from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River to the entrance of Santa Cruz Harbour. The beach is accessed via the western end of East Cliff Drive, near the Museum of Natural History, and where there is free parking.

    Seabright Beach… read more »

  • Natural Bridges State Beach

    Natural Bridges State Beach
    David Merrett

    Located at the end of West Cliff Drive, this sand beach is protected by its status as a 26-hectare California state park and marine reserve. Relatively sheltered, it is named after the natural archways that have formed over time in the rocks, of which only one now remains.

    Its marine reserve status means there's a possibility… read more »

  • Capitola Beach

    Capitola Beach
    Dale Cruse

    Often voted one of the top ten beaches on the US West Coast, this beach of fine sand lies at the northern end of Monterey Bay. It sits in front of the almost-neon homes of the village of Capitola, where you can also find a good choice of restaurants and shops. Very popular on… read more »

  • Pescadero State Beach

    Pescadero State Beach
    Nick Amoscato

    A great all-round beach, Pescadero State Beach incorporates sands perfect for sunbathing with rocky cliffs, tidal pools, picnic facilities, and sites for shore fishing. The latter you might expect with a beach that takes its name from the Spanish for "the place to fish".

    The beach covers a length of around a mile in total, divided… read more »

  • San Gregorio State Beach

    San Gregorio State Beach
    Nathan Siemers

    Close to Silicon Valley in the South Bay Area, San Gregorio State Beach is a popular beach with a large car park and good amenities. Located on a wild stretch of the California coast this is a great place for picnics, birdwatching, beach activities, walking, hunting for fossils and exploring the trails.

    Accessed from La Honda… read more »

  • Cowell Beach

    Cowell Beach

    Cowell Beach is located on the westside of Santa Cruz's wood-built municipal wharf in the downtown district. Stretching from the wharf to the cliffs overlooked by West Cliff Drive, this broad sweep of golden sand is popular for a number of reasons.

    Beyond the delights of its sands, it is close to the amusements of the… read more »

  • Lighthouse Field State Beach

    Lighthouse Field State Beach
    Don DeBold

    Lighthouse Field State Beach lies at the north end of Monterey Bay in downtown Santa Cruz, and can be accessed via West Cliff Drive. A protected state park covering 15 hectares, it overlooks the famous Steamer Lane surf break, making it incredibly popular with experienced surfers and body boarders.

    The beach itself is formed… read more »

  • Mitchell Cove Beach

    Mitchell Cove Beach
    David Merrett

    The Santa Cruz beach of Mitchell's Cove is marked by a pinnacle of sandstone that stands right at the centre of its sands. South facing, much of the depth of the beach is lost during high tide, although there is the possibility of catching sight of migrating grey whales.

    Free parking is available at the… read more »

  • Twin Lakes State Beach

    Twin Lakes State Beach
    Don DeBold
    read more »

More beaches near Santa Cruz