Waddell Beach

North of Santa Cruz, a wind-and-wave paradise for kiters and surfers looking to escape town crowds.

How people can drive by this place without stopping I will never understand. Waddell Beach is easily one of the most beautiful in California. It’s a stretch of rugged coastline just south of Año Nuevo State Park and about 17 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway One. There’s plenty of parking both along the highway and in a dirt lot facing the beach.

Behind the beach sits Rancho del Oso, a section of Big Basin Redwoods State Park that is the ending point for the Skyline-to-Sea Trail—a 29.5-mile hiking trail that descends from the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains through Castle Rock State Park and all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. It usually takes about three to four days at a relaxed pace.

Waddell Beach is also one of the premier wind- and kitesurfing locations in Northern California. Large, powerful swells—double overhead at times—and heavy northwesterly winds create a mix of challenging yet extremely satisfying conditions. And those days when the wind is still and the water glasses off (and there are plenty of them) are a surfer’s dream.

On the south end of the beach is a mix of beach break that is usually a mess unless the conditions are just right. Some days it’s closeout after closeout, and others it’s straight tubes. If you’re a beginner, this is your best bet on smaller days, but be cautious, because the currents can be real strong here, and even the shorebreak can knock you around.

Up the beach, where a wall of rocks cascades from the highway, is a stretch of peaks that break over the reefs and sandbars. This section is always moving, so plan on doing a lot of paddling, but it can also offer the most reward. At the far north end is a rocky reef that’s pretty treacherous unless you know the spot well. It’s best to avoid this area on a low tide.

The best part: even if it could get crowded, it couldn’t get crowded. On the bigger days the main peaks will fill up, but it’s nothing like surfing in town. There’s so much open space to move around, and it’s not uncommon to get it all to yourself. However, if you’re a windsurfer or kiter it’s a different story. Windy weekends often turn into a giant kite party.

Truth be told, there is nothing better than paddling out at Waddell on a clear, sunny day and looking up at the giant bluff that overlooks the beach. It’s a good reminder that there are greater forces at play, and if that doesn’t remind you, the ocean will. She can be a real bitch sometimes, especially at Waddell.

DON'T FORGET: to bring a camera and/or binoculars. There’s so much epic scenery and wildlife.

DON'T BE A KNUCKLEHEAD AND: Surf at mealtime, a.k.a. sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, these are the best times to surf. But Año Nuevo, just up the road, is a feeding ground for great white sharks, which are drawn to the area by colonies of breeding elephant seals.


No Dogs (This is the beach your dog dreams of at night. Why, California, why??)
No Fires
Restrooms Onsite
Hours: 8am-sunset

Directions: From Santa Cruz, travel 17 miles north on Highway One 17. You'll see Waddell Beach to the left, across from the entrance to Rancho del Oso (a part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park).

From Half Moon Bay, travel south on Highway One for 30 miles.

Scott Creek
Four-Mile Beach

Greyhound Rock
Año Nuevo State Park