Natural Bridges State Beach

Named for it’s natural bridge, Natural Bridges State Beach is a great spot for surfing, boogie boarding, swimming, spotting whales & otters, flying kites, and tide pooling. It’s also known for its yearly migration of Monarch Butterflies (mid-October through late January).

We picked up sandwiches & cookies at Emily’s Good Things to Eat and set up a picnic on the beach before heading out to explore the area. The Monarch migration is supposed to be amazing so we’ll need to come back for that, especially since my 5th grader’s school mascot is the Monarch!

A great spot to admire the view of Natural Bridges State Beach. Santa Cruz, California
A great spot to admire the view of Natural Bridges State Beach
Walking to the tide pools off in the distance. Santa Cruz, CA. Natural Bridges State Beach
Walking to the tide pools off in the distance

Check the tide chart for low tide to take advantage of the tide pools! We spotted sea anemone, crabs, muscles, and lots of kelp! I wanted to find a starfish, but no such luck.

Exploring the tide pools. Santa Cruz, CA. Natural Bridges State Beach
Exploring the tide pools

West Cliff Drive Trail

From the entrance of Natural Bridges State Beach, we picked up the trail to walk along West Cliff Drive. It’s a well-trafficked dog-friendly trail with bikers, joggers, and walkers, but we felt like we had plenty of space. The trail is a total of 4.8 miles out and back with a turnaround point at Lighthouse Field – I would definitely consider this a “walk” and not a “hike”. We only went about halfway and then turned around. We were there on a cloudless day and the views were over the top. We saw surfers and kayakers. While we didn’t see any whales this time, it would be a great place to spot them!

I wouldn't mind living in one of these houses! West Cliff Drive. Santa Cruz California
I wouldn’t mind living in one of these houses!

My 10-year-old wanted to explore all the offshoot paths and sit on all the benches along the way to watch the surfers. Many of these paths end at a steep and abrupt drop so be careful if you’ve got little kids.

Exploring all the paths. West Cliff Drive trail. Santa Cruz California
Exploring all the paths
The view from West Cliff Drive. Santa Cruz California
The view from West Cliff Drive

Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz is home to the famous Beach Boardwalk. It was founded in 1907 and is California’s oldest surviving amusement park. The historic wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, which opened in 1924 is perhaps the boardwalk’s most well known landmark!

Giant Dipper

There are lots of rides & games for all ages and it’s right on the beach so it’s easy to spend an entire day here!

Flying Swings at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

As of June 2020, the boardwalk has only partially reopened due to Covid-19. Dining & shopping have reopened however all the rides and arcades remain closed. Check here before visiting.

Beach Train: Felton to Santa Cruz

Taking the Beach Train from Roaring Camp in Felton through the redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park is a fun way to get to Santa Cruz! It departs daily during the summer. Read more about our Beach Train & Boardwalk experience here.

Arriving at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk via the train
Arriving at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk via the train

Holiday Lights Train

If visiting near the holidays, try the Holiday Lights Train! Sing holiday carols and sip spiced cider as you roll through the streets of Santa Cruz in cars adorned with thousands of colorful lights. Our kids always love the moment it starts “snowing”! This is very popular so book early to get your preferred time.

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train
Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train

Mt. Herman Adventures

We’ve been wanting to go to Mt Herman Adventures for quite some time now. Set among the redwoods in Felton (about 7 miles from Santa Cruz), they have two options: a Canopy tour or an Aerial Adventure which includes suspended rope & timber obstacles. We were waiting for our youngest to turn 10 (the minimum age required) and had a reservation in late March which was canceled due to COVID-19. This would have been the first stop on our Highway 1 roadtrip we had planned for spring break (which was also canceled!).

Mt Herman just opened up again on July 6th. While they are taking many precautions to keep their staff & guests safe, as of right now, this is not something I feel comfortable doing, but who knows, I might feel differently tomorrow!

The Mystery Spot

Another stop we had planned for our roadtrip was The Mystery Spot. If you live in the Bay Area then you’ve undoubtedly seen these bumper stickers everywhere. But what is it? It’s a gravitational anomaly located in the redwood forest. An area that puts into question our ideas of gravity and physics. There are guided tours as well as trails to explore. They are also currently open for tours at reduced capacity. This is also high on our list!

Need a Place to Stay?

Try the Dream Inn located right on the beach just steps from the Boardwalk!

What Am I Missing?

Admittedly, we still have much of Santa Cruz to explore and I’ll update this list as we do! Am I missing one of your favorite spots? Let me know in the comments below!

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