Surf City: A Family Guide to Santa Cruz’s beaches

With over 29 miles of coastline, it’s no mystery why families flock to Surf City all year round. But, not all Santa Cruz beaches are alike. They can vary significantly between crowded city hotspots and surfing holes to rustic state beaches and quaint neighborhood coves.

So, before you book your dates for the Northern California coastline, let us point you towards the best beaches in Santa Cruz for you and your family. When that’s done, we’re ready to help you find your perfect place to stay!

Your Guide to 22 of the Best Santa Cruz Beaches for Families

Most Santa Cruz beaches are family-friendly by default, but it’s essential to be aware of the following conditions before heading out:

  • Surf Conditions – look for waves listed as appropriate for beginners, watch out for riptide warnings, and choose beaches with lifeguards on duty.
  • Beach Access – beyond the main Santa Cruz city beaches, many beaches are located below steep cliffs and are accessed by long staircases. Most are not stroller-friendly, so plan to use a baby carrier and backpack when necessary.
  • Know the Tides – Santa Cruz beaches have fluctuating tides, and some beaches are fully submerged at high tide. Be aware of which beaches could be dangerous at high tide, study the tide tables, and always watch the sea for unexpected variations.

Now, onto the good stuff, the top 22 beaches in Santa Cruz for families: 

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California

Natural Bridges State Beach

The Natural Bridges State Beach encompasses 65 acres of pristine Santa Cruz coastline, including its namesake natural stone bridges carved by the sea, eucalyptus groves full of Monarch butterflies, and vibrant tidepools riddled with diverse sea life. It includes the westernmost beaches of Santa Cruz city.

What to do at Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

  • Look for anemones and sea stars during low tide
  • Fly a kite below the windy cliffside
  • Witness the 10,000 Monarch butterflies wintering here from October to February.
  • Watch for migrating humpback whales between March and November  
  • Take the kids for a hike on the stroller-friendly Natural Bridges to Lighthouse Field Loop

Lighthouse Field State Park, Santa Cruz

The Lighthouse Field State Park is on the northern tip of Monterey Bay and is known by locals as Steamers Lane. This 38-acre beach reserve makes up the main beaches along Cliff Drive between Natural Bridges State Park and the Beach Flatts communities. It’s a nature and history lovers paradise, boasting the best surfing, dog beaches, and wildlife viewing in Santa Cruz.

Things to do at Lighthouse Field State Park

  • Watch pro surfers at Steamer Lane
  • Let your dog off the leash on Its Beach
  • Bring your binoculars to spot birds and seals
  • Check out the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse
  • Take a bike ride on West Cliff Drive Bicycle Path

Cowell’s Beach, Santa Cruz

Cowell’s Beach is one of the main city beaches in Santa Cruz, frequented by locals and travelers alike. The large, flat beach sits between West Cliff Drive and the Santa Cruz Wharf Pier, serves as an apex for sunbathing and beach sports, and has an abundance of surf shops, beach bars, and restaurants.

What to do with Kids at Cowell’s Beach, Santa Cruz

  • Learn how to surf on the long, slow waves great for beginners
  • Join a game of beach volleyball
  • Fish off the half-mile long Santa Cruz Wharf Pier
Image of Boardwalk Beach in Santa Cruz California
Boardwalk Beach in Santa Cruz, California.

Boardwalk Beach, Santa Cruz

Boardwalk Beach is officially named the Santa Cruz Main Beach, but it’s called Boardwalk Beach for its historic boardwalk. The mile-long walkway is one of the city’s main attractions, filled with family-friendly activities like roller coasters, arcades, bowling alleys, and mini-golf. But, there is still plenty to do on the sand, too.

Things to do on Santa Cruz Main Beach

  • Walk The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • Wade or swim in the gentle seas lined with lifeguards
  • Set up an umbrella and build a sandcastle

Seabright & Harbor Beaches

Seabright is an area on the eastside of Santa Cruz with numerous residential beaches between the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and Yacht Harbor. This section of coastline features a lighthouse, natural history museums, caves and sandstone arches, beach bonfire rings, and sailboat races while remaining within walking distance of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. 

Mid Town Beaches

This stretch of beaches includes Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, Black’s Beach, and Twin Lakes State Beach. Here’s what to see and do at each:

Seabright Beach
  • Have a picnic, sunbathe, enjoy a bonfire,take a long walk with the dogs, go beachcombing, and fly kites when the wind is optimal.
Santa Cruz Harbor Beach
  • Check out the 1,000 anchored yachts and sailboats, look for seals and dolphins, walk to the Walton Lighthouse, launch a kayak or paddleboard, and stop by the Beach Market.
Black’s Beach, Santa Cruz
  • Have a sunset bonfire, explore the cave and cliffs, run with your puppy on a leash, go surfing or kayaking, and read a book on the benches beneath the old oak trees
Twin Lakes State Beach
  • Watch for birds, sea otters, dolphins, and whales; have a picnic, walk on the mile-long beach, or go for a swim in the calm seas.

East Side Beaches

On the east side of Black Point, just a few miles from Black’s Beach, are the eastern Seabright Beaches of Sunny Cove, Corcoran Lagoon Beach, and Santa Maria Beach.

Sunny Cove, Santa Cruz
  • Admire the old oak trees, have a picnic in the dry sand, sit on a bench above the cliffs, let your dogs run free, watch the sunset, and look for the natural blowhole. 
Corcoran Lagoon Beach
  • Enjoy the lake and the sea, watch nesting shorebirds, explore tidepools, go beachcombing, and fly kites when the wind is optimal.
Santa Maria Beach 
  • Have a picnic, enjoy a bonfire, watch the surfers, scan the rocks for sea life, or take a long walk with the dogs 

Best Santa Cruz Beaches for Families should also include nearby Pleasure Point & Capitola Beaches!

Capitola, California
View of Capitola, California

Pleasure Point and Capitola Beaches are three miles of south-facing shorelines that stretch south of Santa Cruz Main Beach to the Soquel Cove. These family-friendly Santa Cruz beaches include Moran Lake Beach, Two-Six Beach, Pleasure Point, Trees Beach, Hooper Beach, and Capitola Beach. 

Two-Six Beach & Moran Lake Beach

Two-Six Beach (also known as 26th Ave Beach) & Moran Lake Beach sit at the ending point of East Cliff Drive. Both are known for their rugged, natural beauty and off-the-beaten-path allure. Two-Six Beach is a famous local surfing beach, and Moran Lake Beach is part of a 9-acre park with a beach that divides an oceanfront lake from the Pacific Ocean. 

Two-Six Beach

  • Explore the tidepools of the rocky shoreline below, walk the dog, go beachcombing, and watch the advanced surfers

Moran Lake Beach

  • Go freshwater and ocean fishing on the same day, have a picnic, go bird watching, or hike the 1-mile Moran Lake Trail.

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz Beaches

Pleasure Point is a half-mile section of beaches between Pleasure Point County Park and Cliff Beach, including Pleasure Point Beach, 38th Ave Beach, and 36th Ave Beach.

Pleasure Point

  • Watch advanced surfers, sunbathe, and see the morning fog rise or the sunset

36th & 38thAve Beach

  • Watch the surfers from above on the rugged coastal cliffs and explore the beach boulders at low tide.

The Hook

  • Walk these beaches below the Opal Cliffs at low tide, have a picnic at the top during high tide, browse the 41st ave shops, and watch the professional surfers.

Capitola & New Brighton State Beaches

The family-friendly Santa Cruz beaches of Capitola begin about a mile east of Pleasure Point.  They include the City of Capitola Beach and New Brighton State Beach about 2 miles east.

Capitola City Beach

  • Sunbathe, go surfing, Kayak or SUP in the Soquel Creek, eat on the Capitola Wharf, shop in Capitola Village

New Brighton State Beach

  • Adventure through forests, cliffs, and parks of this 93-acres paradise, go camping, fishing, birding, wildlife spotting, swimming, or hiking on numerous easy, short trails.

After deciding on the best Santa Cruz beach for your family, give us a surf’s up at Surf City Rentals. We’re happy to get you set up at a cozy beach home exactly where you want, or need to be. If you are looking for more information on the area, check out our local tourism board.