Top Five Beaches for a Beach Day in Santa Cruz

1. Blacks Beach/Twin Lakes State Beach
2. Rio Del Mar
3. Sea Cliff State Beach
4. Sea Bright State Beach
5. Sunny Cove

1. Blacks Beach/ Twin Lakes State Beach
View from Twin Lakes State Beach
This was a tough pick and really I am cheating and picking two beaches in one. Blacks Beach would be my first choice of these two, although it really is all Twin Lakes State Beach. The crowds tend to be a little less thick at Blacks and usually you are only contending with locals and vacation renters for prime beach real estate. The beach is great for swimming and has ample space to play games in the sand. There are also designated fire pits at both Blacks and Twin Lakes if you want to continue your beach day into the night (these can often be hard to get on a weekends throughout the year). In the summer you can stroll the whole length of Blacks and Twin Lakes (approx. ½ mile). You will want to get to the beach by 10am in order to get good parking.  
Tip: In the summer, permits are required on the weekends to park here between 11am-5pm. Parking is strictly enforced so either pay the $7 for a permit or park a few blocks back in a non-permit zone.

2. Rio Del Mar
Rio Del Mar is a wonderful beach day location. It has endless stretches of sand with lots of space to spread out. There tends to be smaller waves, larger shallow areas, and weaker currents, which makes it one of the best beaches for kids to swim at in Santa Cruz. This beach also has a few fire pits at both ends of the beach if you are interested in roasting some s’mores.
Tip: There is ample free parking, but you will want to get to the beach early to get a close spot. If there are no spaces in the parking lot, follow the roundabout down a small frontage road (beach and houses on your right). This road opens up (beach on your right) and there is more parking in front of the beach houses on your left.  

3. Sea Cliff State Beach
The highlight of this beach is the BBQ Picnic Areas, although, it comes at the cost of $10 per vehicle to enter the State Beach. You can park outside Sea Cliff State Beach, but you are in for a walk and very steep staircase to get down to the beach. The picnic areas overlook the beach and are great for family gatherings or large group parties.
Tip: There is parking that is down the cliff right next to the picnic areas and beach, in order to get this you will need to be in the park before 10am on a summer weekend. If you are not there before 10am you may have to park at the upper lot and walk down the long staircase to the beach. On most weekends and all holiday weekends in the summer this beach fills up and they close off the parking areas.

Sunset on Sea Bright
This beach arguably could be at the third spot on this list with its fire pits and long stretch of sand. However, it can be difficult to find non-permitted parking and the walk to put your feet in the water is quite long. If you do not mind the trek it is a very appealing option and usually is not too busy. At times the waves and be large and the currents very strong. The fire pits at this beach are far from the water but close to the road. This can make transporting firewood a little easier.

5. Sunny Cove
The mouth of Sunny Cove is on the right
Sunny Cove wass a hidden gem, which now seems to be known by everyone. Tucked away at the end of 17th Ave in Santa Cruz, the beach is small and has limited parking. Like Blacks and Twin Lakes there is only permit parking allowed in the summer. The beach is well protected by its cliff walls and is often a bit warmer than the surrounding beaches. The waves here can be large, but it can be a great place to boogie board. It is low on the list because its accessibility can be a bit challenging scrambling down the cliff to get to the sand and the beach sometimes attracts an unsavory local crowd. Most summer days, there are too many people on the beach to be bothered by the few trouble makers and ultimately is worth the scramble down the cliff.
Tip: This can be a great spot so see whales and dolphins swimming by so keep your eyes peeled!


©BMW Photography for all pictures on this page. 

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