Santa Cruz County is home to some of the best beaches on the West Coast.
Tide pooling? Check.
Miles of uninterrupted sand, and beautiful sunset views? mmm hmmm.
Beach volleyball, Sand Castle Contests, Beach Concerts? Got those too.
Nude Beaches? Uh…
Guide to the Best Santa Cruz Beaches:
Santa Cruz beaches have something for everyone. Some are favorites with tourists due to proximity to hotels and shopping while others tend to be local favorites. Below you will find all the best Santa Cruz beaches. We’ve given you two options for navigating this post:
Browse By Location
Año Nuevo State Park
With its windswept dunes and rugged coastal beauty, the beach at Año Nuevo State Park is truly not to be missed. Located in the picturesque town of Pescadero, the beach is most known for its protected colony of elephant seals that migrate specifically to this spot each year.
Waddell Beach/Rancho del Oso
Part of Big Basin Park, Waddell Beach is located about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz and runs about ½ mile long before it turns into Greyhound Rock Beach. At low tide, there are some great tide pools, and the beach is known as THE best spot for windsurfing in the Santa Cruz area.
Greyhound Rock Beach
Named for the mudstone sea cliffs, Greyhound Rock Beach is located about seven miles north of Davenport and is adjacent to Waddell Beach. With spectacular views of the crashing waves on the cliffs, this beach is perfect for watching the sunset and enjoying the coastal beauty of the Santa Cruz area.
Scott Creek is one of Santa Cruz’s nude beaches. Located about three miles north of Davenport, this half-mile long beach is usually devoid of crowds, except on hot summer days.
Davenport Beach is a protected cove in the town of Davenport, a once thriving whaling town north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The beach is known to the locals as Shark’s Tooth Beach and is a popular spot for surfing, windsurfing, and exploring the tidepools on the north end.
Bonny Doon Beach
Bonny Doon Beach is much beloved by skinny-dippers as it is located in a wind-protected cove. Located about 11 miles north of Santa Cruz, this peaceful and picturesque beach allows dogs as well.
Panther Beach/Hole in the Wall
About 10 miles north of Santa Cruz on Hwy 1 is Panther Beach. This picturesque beach is another one Santa Cruz’s nude beaches and features some of the best sand in the area. Bring good walking shoes to explore the crumbly rock paths and caves along the southern end of the shore.
Four Mile Beach
Exactly four miles north of the junction of Highway 1 and Mission Street in Santa Cruz lays Four-Mile Beach, a mile long stretch of white sand along the coast. Known as surf hotspot because of the awesome breakers, this family-oriented beach is actually part of Wilder Ranch State Park.
Wilder Beach is part of Wilder Ranch and is accessible through the historical park. It is part of a larger natural preserve, and is a perfect spot for hiking around the trails that wind along the coast and checking out the wildlife.
Main Beach is the beach in front of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Cowell’s Beach is Main Beach’s neighbor to the north, just on the opposite side of the wharf. Main Beach is home to beach volleyball, Friday night concerts, and throngs of tourists, while Cowell’s is known as a top spot for beginner surfers.
Its Beach (Dog Beach)
Often referred to as Dog Beach, Its Beach does technically allow dogs, but they’re supposed to be on leashes and only on the beach at certain hours. Guess the memo never quite got out to dog owners, who treat this beach like their own personal dog park. Facing Steamer Lane, this is one of three nude spots within the city limits of Santa Cruz.
Ahh, dog lovers rejoice! Located north of Its Beach on West Cliff Dr., Mitchell’s Cove is a leashing optional frenzy of doggy debauchery. Dogs are allowed off-leash before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Natural Bridges Beach
Located at the north end of West Cliff Dr., Natural Bridges is home to picturesque views, photo ops, and tide-pooling While the beach, and its famous natural bridge is beautiful, Natural Bridges State Park is best known for playing host to thousands of Monarch Butterflies who migrate here each fall.
Seabright State Beach is a ½ mile long beach located between the Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Harbor. It is just across the street from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, where kids (and adults too!) can climb on the life-size concrete whale sculpture.
Santa Cruz Harbor Beach
Located adjacent to the Santa Cruz Harbor, this beach is known for its beach volleyball nets. A handful of restaurants and shops, including the popular Crow’s Nest Restaurant, make this beach a great one for watching passing sailboats while enjoying a cool drink out on the deck.
Twin Lakes Beach
Sunset views, bonfires, and classic summer fun dominate this beach just south of the Santa Cruz Harbor. With a mile of sandy shoreline, the beach is popular with swimmers. The beach’s adjacent Schawan’s Lake (the only remaining of the “twin” lagoons) is also a perfect location for bird watching and hiking.
14th Ave./Black’s Beach
At the end of 14th Avenue is Black’s Beach, given its name from the Blackpoint rock formation. Technically the beach is part of Twin Lakes Beach, but only at low tide, when you can walk from the harbor to the point.
Sunny Cove Beach
Sunny Cove Beach is a small, little-known beach in the Live Oak area. The waves are perfect for bodyboarding and skimboarding, though the walk down to the beach on narrow steps can be a little tricky.
Nicknamed Santa Mo’s, Santa Maria Beach is a popular spot for walking and beachcombing The spot is also great for evening bonfires, and exploring tide pools.
26th Ave Beach/Moran Lake Park
26th Avenue is a great small locals beach and is popular with dog-owners, bonfire-lovers, and skimboarders. There are also a few small coves on the side, perfect for hiding out from the wind on chilly days.
Pleasure Point Beach
Another dog-friendly beach, Pleasure Point is a great spot to watch the local surfers and play in the water. The beach is located within walking distance to nearby shops and restaurants, including the popular restaurants Pleasure Pizza and Pink Godzilla.
Privates Beach, a relatively unknown, gated beach is open to the public with $100 yearly pass, and is popular with local surfers. The beach allows nudity in one of the coves, and is a great place to play Frisbee or lay out in the sun.
Located in the heart of the seaside village of Capitola, the Capitola Beach is a great boogie boarding and people-watching spot. The beach is near many restaurants and shops, perfect for taking a stroll or grabbing a bite.
New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton State Beach is a popular camping location, with the campgrounds located on eucalyptus and pine-surrounded bluffs overlooking dramatic views of the Monterey Bay. This beautiful slice of California coast is located down a hillside, so bring walking shoes.
Located off of Highway 1 in Aptos, Seacliff Beach is best known for the concrete ship, the SS Palo Alto, which unfortunately is closed off to the public. The adjacent pier, however, is open for fishing, and the beach is a popular swimming spot as well.
Rio Del Mar Beach
On the other side of the concrete ship lies dog-friendly Rio Del Mar Beach, though it only allows dogs on leashes. Bonfires are allowed on this stretch of sand (a good place for finding sand dollars!), but only until 10 pm, when the rangers will come and tell you to put them out.
The Beach is part of a 1.5 acre neighborhood park, which includes a playground and grassy picnic area. The beach is a great place for building sandcastles, flying kites, and having picnics.
Manresa and Manresa Uplands State Beach
Manresa State Beach is a beautiful expanse of coastline that is great for walking, running, surfing, fishing, and general recreation. The bluffs above the beach where the campgrounds are located provide dramatic views for miles in either direction.
Sunset State Beach/Palm Beach
Another popular camping spot is Sunset State Beach. Located between Santa Cruz and Monterey next to agricultural fields, this beach features giant sand dunes bordered by pine trees and is perfect for beachcombing.
Located in Watsonville, the Pajaro Dunes are isolated and never crowded. There’s a good chance you’ll see dolphins, otters, and whales off the coast of this serene and peaceful beach.