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Santa Cruz Beaches

Best Santa Cruz Beaches


With 29 miles of Santa Cruz County beaches to choose from, you may have a hard time picking one or two to visit. We've compiled a list of the best Santa Cruz beaches by type and interest to help you choose.

If you go, you should know that one stretch of Santa Cruz sand can go by two or three names. We've tried to use the "official" names here, the ones you'll find on signs and in print. If you ask a local for directions, they may not use the same moniker you do.

Best Santa Cruz Beaches by Type

  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: Amusements: Main Beach: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located at Main Beach. It's one of California's most classic oceanfront amusement parks.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: Beach Volleyball: Capitola and Main Beach: You'll find plenty of nets here, but beware of going in the water at Capitola. This beach has some of the worst water quality in the area.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: Bonfires: Seacliff and Sunset: These are popular places for beach bonfires, so arrive early to stake out the best spots.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: For Kids: Main Beach: With the boardwalk nearby and lifeguards on duty during the busiest times, this beach has lots to do.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: People-Watching: Main Beach: With all the goings-on a the adjacent amusement park, this place is people-watcher's heaven.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: Romantic: Seascape: The long, sandy beach just below this seaside resort is accessible to everyone, but it's seldom crowded. For a romantic, seaside, sunset stroll without getting sand in your shoes, try the walk along West Cliff Drive.


  • Best Santa Cruz Beaches: Surfing: Steamer Lane: The place where pioneering big-wave surfers got their start still boasts the area's best surfing, but the surfers here don't tolerate outsiders well, unless they know their stuff. Don't miss the nearby Surfing Museum. Beginning surfers may like Cowell's Beach better.


  • Santa Cruz Beaches to Bare it All: Judging from the cars parked along Highway One Bonny Doon is the local favorite.

Readers' Favorite Santa Cruz Beaches

POLL: What is your favorite Santa Cruz County beach?

We've listed the beaches below by the activities they're best for, now why don't you tell us which one you like best? Vote now, or see what other people just like you think.

The Truth about California Sunshine

The Beach Boys weren't quite telling the truth when they crooned about West Coast sunshine. If you've never been here before, you may find Santa Cruz less sunny than you expected. When temperatures rise inland, so does the air, pulling cool, moist marine air onto the beaches like a foggy blanket. It's most prevalent in early summer, but it extends into July and August, too. Some days, the fog and low clouds disappear early, but on other days, like a hungover beach bum, the sun may not put in an appearance until mid- to late-afternoon. Be sure to layer on the sunscreen even on these overcast days because the UV light goes right through the clouds.

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