Sun and sand at one of Santa Cruz's favorite beaches.
by Molly Lautamo
A stone’s throw from the bustling Boardwalk with its thousands of tourists, the half-mile stretch of Seabright State Beach feels spacious even on the warmest of days. Known as the banana belt of Santa Cruz, the Seabright area is significantly warmer and sunnier than the rest of town. Take advantage of the relatively balmy weather and stay past sundown to roast marshmallows and hotdogs at one of the fire rings lining the west end of the beach. During the day, lay out with a good book behind one of the small sand dunes, dotted with pink sand verbena in the spring. The experience will make clear why this beach (actually a subsection of Twin Lakes State Beach) is often voted the best beach in Santa Cruz by readers of the local alt-weeklies.
For a pleasant stroll, start from the entrance found on East Cliff Drive, just below the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, a great place to take the kids to learn about Ohlone Indians, meet a live California king snake and make your heart skip a beat when you spot the stuffed mountain lion lurking atop one of the exhibit cases.
From the Museum, head through the white metal gates (the official sign says Twin Lakes State Beach, but don’t worry, you’re in the right place) and check out the sandstone bluffs to the far right of the beach. If you’re lucky, the tides and sands will be low enough that you can walk through the cave to the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. Looking inland, you’ll see an old wooden train trellis spanning the river. Directly across the river, roller coasters twist and turn and families stroll past vendors selling ice cream and cotton candy. In the distance, thrill-seekers surf the world-renowned Steamer Lane.
Head farther down the beach towards the picturesque Walton Lighthouse, built in 2001 to replace the unsightly harbor lights that signaled to captains for 36 years prior. When the surf’s big, heed the posted warning signs, and instead enjoy a meal over the water at Aldo’s, or continue your walk around the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Sea otters, sea lions, grebes and cormorants pop in and out of the calm waters. Black-crowned night herons and great blue herons roost in the oak and eucalyptus trees on the slope just above the water; early in the morning you can spy a belted kingfisher perched atop one of the boat’s masts in between diving for fish.
Free parking is available in the neighborhoods that hug the cliff, but keep an eye out for permit-only signs. Good luck finding a spot steps from the beach during spring break and summer, but if you’re willing to walk a little ways, you’ll find a space. Restrooms, outdoor showers and trash cans are located on the east end of the beach. Lots of delicious local fare lies in wait just down the road on Seabright Avenue, including coffee and smoothies at Java Junction, locally crafted beer at Seabright Brewery and wood-fired pizza at Engfer Pizza Works.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING your kite, guitar, hula-hoop, pup (on a leash), and your own firewood for the fire rings.
DON’T MISS the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History located across the street from the west entrance at 1305 E. Cliff Drive. Just look for the life-size gray whale sculpture with kids climbing all over it.
COME IN THE EVENINGS until 10 pm for bonfires in designated fire rings only. Also, check out the weekly sailboat races 6:30-8:30pm every Wednesday from the start of Daylight Savings Time through the end of October. The race is open to everyone with a boat, but if you’re landlocked, just come to watch the action!
DIRECTIONS From Highway 1, take the Ocean Street exit and turn left on Soquel Avenue. Continue until you see the Rio Theater on your left; Seabright Avenue is the street directly across from the Rio (the sign is obscured from view by trees). Turn right onto Seabright Avenue and continue all the way down the road, past Betty’s Burgers until you reach the beach. Park to the right to enter by the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History; turn left and continue to the end of the road to start by the Santa Cruz Harbor and Walton Lighthouse. There are also stairs going down to the beach located toward the middle of the cliff.
Next to the Harbor on East Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062. 831.427.4868.