Manresa State Beach

In southern Santa Cruz County, miles of empty beach in either direction.

How many miles of empty beach in either direction? Let’s put it this way: if you want to sun your bits but aren’t up to the potential trauma of a day at the nudie beach, Manresa is the place for you, because a 10-minute walk from the parking lot is a vast expanse of wild seashore that is almost certainly uninhabited. (Best to go to the right for total privacy, though; going left condos overlook the beach.)

Even if you don't plan to doff your swimsuit, Manresa is a perfect beach for folks who want to get a powerful nature experience. For starters, it's just too big and too remote to get crowded. Summer weekends do see throngs of families grilling around fire rings on the stretch of beach immediately in front of the parking lot while kids boogie board and build sand castles and surfers ply the shorebreak.

As with all Central California beaches, the water here is cold—mid-50s most of the year, warming to a relatively manageable average of 60 degrees in August and September—but it is often features some of the least-frigid water of any beach on Monterey Bay. In summertime the fog frequently takes over the morning, generally burning off by early afternoon. The wind sometimes picks up late in the day—but on that wild stretch north of the crouds, it’s almost always calm and warm next to the bluffs, and that means that even in January and February, those in the know can experience some no-frills chillaxing in a surprisingly wild shore setting.

The marine and bird life here is crazy good. December through February you might catch a glimpse of gray whales migrating south from their feeding grounds in Alaska to their calving grounds in Mexico; February through May they’re making their way back north. In spring and summer you will hear the distinctive (and regionally accented) song of the white-crowned sparrow.

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, a nonprofit organization that supports state parks in Santa Cruz County and along the San Mateo Coast, provides Visitor Service Aides and funding for projects at Manresa. Visit the Friends website or read an article about them here.

You can often see dolphins in the waters just off the shore, along with sea otters. On occasion acrobatic humpback whales come close to shore and show off. Marine birds include sooty shearwaters, which skim the water a mile or two offshore in huge flocks that stretch for miles and look from the beach almost like a layer of smoke; brown pelicans, osprey and of course many varieties of seagull also come and go, as do some red tail hawks. Godwits, with their long beaks and stilt legs, and tiny sanderlings race in front of the waves in the tidal zone and dig for food in the wet sand.

GOOD FOR Dogs, surfers, surf fishers, barbecuers, skimboarders, kite fliers, fans of bonfires. There's walk-in camping at nearby Manresa Upland Campground.

THE AUTHORITIES FROWN ON Camping on the beach, stomping around on snowy plover nesting habitat near the cliffs..

YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU TO Take the riptide warnings seriously when they’re posted; take a jacket; and pee while you’re at the parking lot, because there are no facilities elsewhere.

IF YOU’RE LUCKY YOU’LL see dolphins, whales and sea otters.

From Highway 1, take the San Andreas Road/Larkin Valley Road exit (about 10 miles south of Santa Cruz and 6 miles north of Watsonville) and turn toward the ocean. Follow San Andreas Road about 2 miles; look for the park entrance just after the train trestle.

San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, CA, 95076. 831.761.1795. Learn more at the official Manresa State Park website.

Manresa Upland Campground
Rio Del Mar State Beach
Sunset State Beach