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Santa Cruz Beaches, Parks and Open Space

Santa Cruz, California Hotels and Resorts

Santa Cruz County has many State and Local Parks and miles of unspoiled beaches that stretch both north and south of  the City of Santa Cruz.

For State and Local Parks in and around Santa Cruz, Please scroll down the page or click on Santa Cruz area Parks.  Click here for Santa Cruz beach reviews and recommendations.

For a larger selection of State Beaches slightly north of Santa Cruz (5 to 40 miles), please click on North Santa Cruz County Beaches.

State & Local Santa Cruz Parks and Nature Preserves

Nisene Marks State ParkThe Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Aptos Creek Rd. & Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA  (831) 763-7062

The park has 10,000 acres of rugged semi-wilderness, rising from sea level to steep coastal mountains of more than 2,600 feet.

Harvey West Park — City Park

326 Evergreen Street , Santa Cruz, CA   (831) 722-3500

Harvey West Park is a 50-acre municipal park. Located just off the intersection of Highways 1, 9, and 17 and is truly Santa Cruz’ most complete central park complex. The park includes hiking trails, swimming pools, ball fields, play equipment, clubhouses, barbecue pits, picnic areas and more. It’s the perfect place for team sports, a Sunday picnic, an evening swim or just a walk on the trails.

Lighthouse Field State BeachLighthouse Field State Beach

701 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA  (831) 420-5270

The beach features an open, grassy field across from Lighthouse Point. The area is popular for picnics and family get-togethers.

Neary Lagoon — City Park

110 California Street, Santa Cruz, CA

Abundant wildlife viewing. Peaceful place for a walk. Interpretative signage and information available on site. No dogs allowed in wildlife refuge area.

Manresa State Beach

205 Manresa Beach Rd.,  La Selva Beach, CA 95076 (831) 763-7063

The beach features a beautiful expanse of sea and sand, with surf fishing, and recreation.

Natural Bridges State Beach

2531 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz, CA (831) 423-4609

The beach features picturesque arches cut out by ocean waves in a sandstone out-cropping, giving the park its name. The annual migration of monarch butterflies is another featured attraction.

New Brighton State BeachNew Brighton State Beach

201 State Park Drive.,  Aptos, CA  (831) 464-6330

The park features picnic areas, swimming, fishing and a nearby forest of Monterey pine. The camping area’s campsites are located on a bluff overlooking northern Monterey Bay.

Pogonip — City Park

333 Golf Club Dr Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (831) 420-5270

A scenic 640-acre expanse of open meadows, woodlands and creeks., A multi-use trail (approximately 1 mile) is open to bicyclists and equestrians in the northernmost portion of Pogonip. This multi-use trail provides a connection between Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Pogonip, and UC Santa Cruz campus lands. Bicycles and horses are prohibited on all other trails in Pogonip.

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

144 School Street, Santa Cruz, CA   (831) 429-2850

The site of a complex of buildings erected around the original Santa Cruz Mission.

Seacliff State BeachSeacliff State Beach

201 State Park Drive.,  Aptos, CA  (831) 429-2850

The park is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter, the Palo Alto. The beach is also a popular swimming spot. There is a long stretch of sand backed by bluffs.

Sunset State BeachSunset State Beach

201 Sunset Beach Rd., Watsonville, CA  (831) 763-7062

The park features pine trees, mountainous sand dunes, and Pacific Ocean side picnic spots. Bordered by large agricultural fields between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey, the beach is a year-round destination for thousands of visitors.

Twin Lakes State Beach

East Cliff Dr. & Portola Dr., Santa Cruz, CA  (831) 427-4868

The beach has a mile of sandy shoreline, popular for swimming and picnicking. The park’s adjacent two lagoons are good locations for bird watching.

Wilder Ranch State Park

1 mile north of  Western Drive, Santa Cruz  (831) 423-9703

The Park has 4,505 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian rails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.

North of Santa Cruz on Hwy 1

Davenport, Gazos Creek, and Pescadero

Ano Nuevo State ReserveAno Nuevo State Reserve

New Year’s Creek Road, off Hwy 1 Pescadero, CA   650-879-0227

This 4,000 acre Reserve is a major gathering area for northern elephant seals, which may be seen year-around. The males battle for mates on the beaches. The females give birth to their young on the dunes.

Bean Hollow State Beach & Pebble Beach

650-879-2170

The beach features fishing, picnicking and beachcombing. Visitors can explore tide pools with anemones, crab, sea urchins and other marine inhabitants. The beach also has a self-guided nature trail.

Directions: On the San Mateo Coast, Bean Hollow is 27.5 miles north of Santa Cruz and three miles south of Pescadero on Highway One.

Big Basin State Park—Rancho Del Oso

Big Basin Redwoods State Park (ocean side), Hwy 1   831-338-8860

One of our favorite short hikes – around 1 ½ hours!

Located 20 miles north of Santa Cruz on Hwy. 1, the park has miles of trails, which serves hikers and equestrians, links Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range. Maps >>

Big Basin Redwoods State ParkBig Basin State Park

21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA   (831) 338-8860

The park has over 80 miles of trails. Be sure and pick up a map at park headquarters before your hike and take a look at the multimedia kiosk in the Sempervirens Room (next to park headquarters). There you will find great information, photos, and video of some of the most popular trails.

Butano State Park

1500 Cloverdale Rd., Pescadero, CA  (650) 879-2040

A 2,200-acre redwood park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, featuring excellent hiking through the redwood groves. Only three miles from the Pacific coast, the park’s trails offer views of the Pacific Ocean and the Año Nuevo islands.

Directions: The park is on the San Mateo Coast, off Highway One. Three miles northeast of the Gazos Creek Coastal Access Point by way of Gazos Creek Road, and about 4.5 miles southeast of Pescadero by way of the Pescadero and Cloverdale Roads.

Dunes State BeachDunes State Beach

Half Moon Bay Beach Headquarters — 650-726-8819

Directions: just north of Half Moon Bay — from Hwy 1, turn west on Young Ave.

Gazos Creek Coastal Access

Bean Hollow State Beach, 650-879-2170.

Directions: From Hwy 1, north of Gazos Creek Rd. & south of Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Santa Cruz State Beach, 650-726-8819.

The beach (a.k.a. Devil’s Slide) features a sheltered cove surrounded by cliffs that drop abruptly into the Pacific. A steep trail leads down to the beach. There is a small picnic area on the bluff above Gray whales can often be seen close to the shore the beach. Sunbathing is the most popular activity between mid-April and mid-May

Directions: On the San Mateo Coast, north of Montara on Highway One. The only available automobile parking is on the east side of Highway 1. Crossing to the ocean side of the highway can be both difficult and dangerous.

Pescadero Creek County Park  ─ San Mateo County Park

Pescadero, CA  (650) 363-4021

The park has 8,020 acres and is comprised of San McDonald, Memorial, and Heritage Grove parks.

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve

Highway 1 & escadero Rd., Pescadero, CA  650-879-2170

Across the highway form the Pescadero State Beach is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a popular spot for bird watchers and other naturalists. The Reserve is a refuge for blue heron, kites, deer, raccoons, foxes and skunks.

Directions:  The beach is located 30 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway One.

Pescadero State BeachPescadero State Beach

Highway 1 & escadero Rd., Pescadero, CA  650-879-2170

The beach has a mile-long shoreline with sandy coves, rocky cliffs, tide pools, fishing spots and picnic facilities.

Across the highway is Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a popular spot for bird watchers and other naturalists. The Reserve is a refuge for blue heron, kites, deer, raccoons, foxes and skunks.

Directions:  The beach is located 30 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway One.

Pigeon Point Light StationPigeon Point Light Station

210 Pigeon Point Rd. Hwy 1, Pescadero  (650) 879-0633

Directions: California Highway 1, 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 27 miles north of Santa Cruz.

Pomponio State BeachPomponio State Beach

650-879-2170

This area provides access to miles of gently sloping, sandy beaches at the base of high sandstone bluffs. This day-use facility features a small lagoon, roaring surf – and a wide parking area, picnic tables, and barbecues.

Directions:  The beach is located 35 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.

Portola Redwoods State ParkPortola Redwoods State Park

650-948-9098

The park has a rugged, natural basin forested with coast redwoods, Douglas fir and live oak. Eighteen miles of trails crisscross the canyon and its two streams, Peters Creek and Pescadero Creek.

Purissima Creek Redwoods Open Space PreservePurissima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Santa Cruz, CA  (650) 949-5500

The 3,120-acre preserve is located on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Half Moon Bay. The preserve was established with a gift of $2 million from the Save-the-Redwoods League.

The centerpiece of the Preserve is Purisima Creek Canyon, with its towering redwoods, creek, ferns, berries, and wildflowers. Coastal scrub, tanoak, madrone, and Douglas fir border the canyon. The coast and Half Moon Bay are visible from the northern part of the preserve.

Redondo BeachRedondo Beach

Surrounded by the Ritz-Carlton property, the beach is more secluded and less used than the more popular beaches in the Half Moon Bay State Beach system.  Redondo Beach offers sweeping ocean and bluff views, but please note that access to the beach is a very steep, difficult climb. There are no available stairs.

Directions: The beach is located .40 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.  Turn right on Redondo Beach Road and travel to the end

San Gregorio State BeachSan Gregorio State Beach

650-879-2170

The area includes a protected, driftwood-strewn estuary at the back of a wide, sandy beach – with grassy bluffs along the coast. The estuary is home to many birds and small animals. California Historical Landmark 26 commemorates the passage of Spanish Explorer Captain Gaspar de Portolá through this area in October 1769. Directions: The beach is located 35 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.

What’s on Tap

Events

Santa Cruz Festivals & Events:

Open Studios Art Tour – Weekends during Oct. 2016

Welcome Back Monarchs Day – Oct. 9, 2016  10am – 4pm.

Annual Monte Foundation Fireworks Extravaganza! – Oct. 9, 2016

Santa Cruz Pumpkin Patches—Oct. 2016

Santa Cruz Halloween Celebrations—Oct. 2016

 

For more event information, click on our Festivals & Events page for Santa Cruz.

 

Attractions

Top Santa Cruz Attractions:

 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Fun for all ages.

Santa Cruz Campgrounds

Ocean views or Redwoods? Over 27 campgrounds and RV Parks

Santa Cruz Fishing 

Fall is fishing and crabbing season in Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz Surfing

With 11 world-class surf breaks such as Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point, it is easy to understand why the greatest surfers in the world call Santa Cruz home!

Whale Watching – Whale Watching December through May

 

For more information on local attractions, click on the Attractions or Recreational Activities.

 

 

Advisories

The Region’s Fall Advisories:

Traffic Conditions. Rush hour traffic can be extremely challenging – especially along Mission Street and Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Capitols. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and arrive early and leave late. Go to www.caltrans.com to learn about road conditions.

Yes, it’s still water, water, water! California is undergoing an extreme drought. If you are planning a lake vacation be sure to check about water levels. That rafting trip, fishing, or skiing can be impacted.

EXTREME fire danger. The drought has created a very dangerous combination of dry vegetation and no moisture in the air to help contain any fire. Please use extreme caution during your trip.