13 Best Hidden Beaches in Santa Cruz: Secluded Beaches

Imagine, how good it feels to discover an isolated beach in Santa Cruz, far from sun-seeking and tanned crowds, where you enjoy the breeze, and sounds of waves.

Moreover, you need to spend qualitative time around blue space to improve your body and mind. Just curious, have you ever tried coming to Santa Cruz’s secret beaches, away from crowds, to play kabaddi with the waves?

Hidden Beaches in Santa Cruz

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It may sound crazy, but give it a try someday! Let me know about your experience! Haha! But, make sure to roll up your jeans, control your breath, and have fun with the strategies!

I’m here to give you a beautiful surprise, sharing some hidden beaches in Santa Cruz, California, which I love. Moreover, California is known for its gorgeous beaches, so hidden beaches are true gems!

I guarantee you’ll love this list of off-beaten sandy shores where you can leave your solo footprint and enjoy peace and privacy. If you’re a budget traveler, remember to check out my blogs on budget-friendly tips to travel!

So, let’s start…

Best Time to Visit Hidden Beaches in Santa Cruz

Welcome to the city that never disappoints! It is designed for relaxation and excitement for groups of friends, couples, families, singles, and solo! 

Moreover, the best time to swim in Santa Cruz’s hidden beaches is from June to November when the water temperature average is 22.5 degree Celsius. 

I love coming to Santa Cruz beaches in late May and early June when the place is less packed and the accommodation prices are much cheaper!

During the summer, beaches are quite crowded, leaving no space to put on your beach towel and relax. Additionally, prepare to pay a price that practically doubles during this time.

No denying that summer is the best time so if you’re here during this period, I recommend coming to Seabright Beach or beaches along West Cliff Drive to enjoy the tranquility.

Secluded Beaches in Santa Cruz, California
Secluded Beaches in Santa Cruz

Hidden Beaches in Santa Cruz

I once spent a night camping at Sunset State Beach, and I was in awe of the stars as I sat by the beach at night clicking pictures and enjoying the silence. If you’re not aware of essential camping types of equipment, do check out my other blog.

That experience is something I can never forget! It was so enriching and I felt that night seriously brought some calmness to me!

And, that’s the prime reason I want you to spend a night or at least a day on any of the secluded beaches in Santa Cruz to relax because you need that in your life. 

As a nature lover, I have visited other remote beaches in Santa Cruz which I’ll mention later on this list, and they’re all great places for your next beach trip.

Moreover, some of these places I’m listing were found by me, while others were suggested by locals, ensuring I get the best saltwater pastime.

So, here come the collections of some secret picturesque beaches in Santa Cruz that you need to come – 

1. Seabright State Beach / Castle Beach

Welcome to the banana belt of Santa Cruz! 

My all-time favorite is Seabright State Beach, the hidden photographed beaches in Santa Cruz that feels very spacious and sunnier compared to other beaches.

The first time, I was here with my college friends getting tanned, roasting marshmallows, having hot dogs, reading books, pleasantly strolling around, and clicking pictures with the dunes.

Its location between Santa Cruz Harbor and Santa Cruz Boardwalk makes it perfect for beach lovers to chill and enjoy. The water is also calm and blue. 

No wonder why readers of the local Alt-weeklies voted Seabright State Beach as one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz! I recommend bringing your hula hoops and let your kid have fun!

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Things to do at Seabright State Beach

  • If you’ve got a four-legged best friend at home, bring him here. He will have great fun, but, remember to keep him on a leash
  • Enjoy bonfires by the beach at the designated fire rings at the night
  • Come to see the Walton Lighthouse or walk further to enjoy the air at Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor
  • Spot sea otters, dolphins, harbor seals, cormorants, and sea lions in the waters. 
  • You can have lots of delicious local food stalls down the road on Seabright Avenue. I love smoothies from Java Junction

Note: From the start of Daylight Savings Time through the end of October, they organize weekly sailboat races from 6.30 pm – 8.30 pm on Wednesday 

Popular Activates: watching sunrise and sunset, volleyball, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, surfing, and windsurfing

seabright state beach
Seabright State Beach

2. Fern Grotto Beach

A magical oasis to soak into!

Santa Cruz’s natural beauty has always impressed and awed me. To reach Fern Grotto Beach which sits south of Wilder Ranch State Park you’ve to hike 2.4 miles. So, no arguing, you’ve to wear good quality hiking shoes.

Normally tourists come to check the historic dairy farm at Wilder Ranch not knowing about this incredible ocean scenery spot filled with wildflowers, beach, and no tourists. 

Fern Grotto Beach is one of the most beautiful hidden beaches in California where you’ve to hear the sound of the ocean and hike following the trail (Old Cove Landing Trail) through the park’s historic environs to reach the tranquil atmosphere. The walk itself is so enthralling!

This Santa Cruz beach is one of my favorite hidden gems for photography as it is surrounded by find caves, coves, sea caverns, farmlands, and wetlands.

Things to do in Fern Grotto Beach

  • Go for a short hike to reach the caves and click pictures with the ferns growing on the wall. I recommend going inside the cave where sometimes you’ve to crawl, it’s adventurous!.
  • You cannot miss out on the view of underground springs and ferns that look like green curtains. Just walk and walk!
  • Stand on the edge of the massive sandstone cliff (bluff top areas) overlooking the ocean to click endless photos (its 15 feet above the Pacific Ocean, so be careful)
  • You can hike more to reach Strawberry Beach, another undiscovered beach in Santa Cruz for couples and nature enthusiasts to spot rare snowy plover birds. So, don’t forget to get the binoculars.

Note: The beach is so remote that it does not offer any lifeguards or other amenities. Additionally, Fern Grotto Beach does not welcome pets and dogs.

Popular activities: Tide pooling (near the coast), snorkeling, kayaking, boating, watching birds, seals, dolphins, and whales, sunbathing, hiking, and also horse riding trails

fern grotto beach
Fern Grotto Beach

Read where can you go hiking in Santa Cruz: Amazing Hiking Spots in Santa Cruz

3. Bonny Doon Beach

Does anyone want to visit the sandy hidden beaches in Santa Cruz to sunbathe without their costume? Bonny Doon Beach is a must-visit hidden spot in California.

Yes, between Davenport and Santa Cruz sits Bonny Doon Beach, the unofficial clothing-optional beach in CA. 

This mesmerizing beach is embraced by seaside cliffs and an array of distinctive rock formations that makes it ideal to sunbathe nude in privacy. 

Things to do in Bonny Doon Beach

  • Bonny Doon Beach sits in secluded natural coves of Santa Cruz where couples often visit to witness the classic Californian sunset!
  • This undeveloped “pocket beach” is ideal to spend time with your partner to detour from everyday life

Note: Public nudity can be a legal issue therefore be open-minded, and respectful towards others and always abide by the law

Tips:

  • Sunbathers refrain from laying your towel within 15 yards of the cliff face in the North section of the beach. The unstable limestone and sizeable rocks are prone to dislodging onto the beach. So, stay safe and keep your distance
  • No dogs or pets are allowed
  • No amenities are available. Hence, be very careful. I recommend not climbing the cliffs in the area. Some accidents have occurred in the past
Bonny Doon Beach
Bonny Doon Beach

What are the other clothing-optional beaches in California: Nude Beaches in California to Be Naked

4. Las Selva Beach

I came to Morgan Hill to relax over the weekend, and while talking to a resident, I discovered Las Selva Beach, which is the most beloved beach among the locals.

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After coming here I fell in love with the view of the Pacific Coast. You’ll thoroughly enjoy strolling upon the gentle, golden sand, which induces a sense of relaxation.  

The cascading hills, deep green forests, and fresh air make Las Selva Beach the most charming beach in Central California.

I shared the wonders of this place with my brother and the following year, he graciously hosted my birthday celebration at the adjacent clubhouse.

Things to do in Las Selva Beach:

  • Having the opportunity to savor handcrafted wines from The Monterey Bay Wine Company is an absolute must when you’re in Las Selva Beach. During my birthday celebration, they took charge of providing exquisite wines and delectable food.
  • For those seeking surfing adventures or picnics with friends, Manresa State Beach is the perfect destination. It offers the most pristine woodlands, allowing you to relish captivating views of the Monterey Peninsula.

If you love exploring wineries, check out my blog: 10 Must Visit Wineries in Santa Barbara County

5. Seacliff State Beach

Soniya and I were enjoying the sun at Potbelly Beach, lying down and basking in its warmth. Suddenly, Soniya snapped and said, “Let’s go to Seacliff State Beach because I want to introduce you to sea glasses.”

And that’s how I came for the first time to Seacliff State Beach, one of the quietest and most private beaches on the Santa Cruz coastline. Believe me, I did not see a single person there on the beach.

This “secret beach” sits between Rio Del Mar Beach and north New Brighton State Beach, and is backed by the old sea wall. That day I witnessed the best sunset of my life!

Things to do in Seacliff State Beach:

  • Seacliff State Beach has covered picnic facilities offering you the golden chance to spend Sundays with your family having lunch by the beach
  • Come with your grandfather to the half-sunken concrete freighter to enjoy fishing. You can also visit the pier, the best part is you don’t need a fishing permit. Beneath the pier, you can spot a lot of marine fishes 
  • If you’ve time, you can go to The Capitola Wharf just up the shore from Seacliff State Beach
  • Seacliff Beach is the dog-friendly hidden beach near Santa Cruz which was in 2014 ranked as the cleanest beach in Santa Cruz county

Note: Seacliff State Beach is the place on Monterey Bay that offers RV camping on the beach. You can check that out! Apart from the beach, try to attend Santa Cruz Art Festival in early November.

Popular Activities: Fishing, swimming, walking, barbecue, family gatherings, skim boarding, and leisure day

13 Best Hidden Beaches in Santa Cruz: Secluded Beaches
Seacliff State Beach

6. Shark Fin Cove

If you ever feel too crowded, come to Shark Fin Cove, the least crowded beach in Santa Cruz, North California.

The beach is filled with amazing rock structures which look like a shark fin out of the water. Shark Fin Cove is one of the best secret beaches in Santa Cruz for shelling.

This gorgeous secluded beach has a lot of names like Shark’s Tooth Cove, Jah Beach, or Davenport Cove. You’ve to hike down 0.3 miles along the sandy trail to reach here.

During my visit, Soniya, my friend brought his pup – Benji, who ran all around without a leash and enjoyed it a lot. Furthermore, the fairly small size makes it very cozy and perfect!

Things to do in Shark Fin Cove:

  • Hike along to reach the large sea cave (an old mining tunnel) to enjoy the view of waves crashing against the rocks and sea cliffs.
  • Come to the Shark Fin Cove viewpoint during the low tide to see the wonderful tranquil beach down
  • During October and November, take the Monarch Trail to reach Natural Bridges State Beach to spot Monarch butterflies
  • Shark Fin Cove is a great place for tide pooling and offers large sea caves to test your photography skills.

Note: Do not come to Shark Fin Cove beach during high tide

Tip: Before getting the beach down, do not forget to click an aerial view photo. Know that the hiking trail is a little steep so be very careful while taking the steps

Shark Fin Cove
Shark Fin Cove

Where can you go tide pooling in CA: The Ultimate Guide: 13 Best Tide Pools in California

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7. Sunset State Beach

Watching the glistening Pacific Ocean’s rolling waves from Sunset State Beach, the least crowded beach south of Santa Cruz, with your camping equipment is an experience to savor!

This is my favorite hidden beach in Santa Cruz where I spent a night camping, and it was the night that changed my life for the better. 

This 3-mile coastline is a complete paradise for campers as you can spot dunes along the bluff that protects the campgrounds from strong ocean winds. 

The place is also home to plenty of flora and fauna, such as dune mats, pinyon mice, chickadees, coyote pocket mice, and much more.

Things to do in Sunset State Beach:

  • Sunset State Beach is one of the must-visit family-friendly Santa Cruz hidden beaches offering comfortable 85 campsites along the bluffs among the trees where you can enjoy and wander in peace
  • Hike to reach the intersection of Pajaro River mouth and Sunset Beach Park to witness the gorgeous California bulrush, willows, and other Saltwater marshes plants
  • Spend the night looking at the stars and reflecting on the life you’re having! This was the place where I decided to give up my full-time 9-to-5 job and start blogging. I believe there is something magical about this place!

Note: On-leash dogs and pets are allowed

Popular activities: Camping, hiking, photography, and swimming

8. Waddell Beach

Did you ever experience the strongest winds of the North-West? 

Waddell Beach is the secret spot in Santa Cruz that is internationally famous for Windsurfing, kite flying, kite surfing, and fishing. 

It sits south of Ano Nuevo State Park and about 20 miles north of the city of Santa Cruz. If you ask me, this is one of the best-hidden beaches in entire North California.

Truth be told, there is nothing great than relaxing at Waddell Beach on a sunny day, however, the ocean is very moody, so be careful about her!

Things to do in Waddell Beach:

  • If you dream of exploring tide pools in Santa Cruz, come to Waddell Beach
  • Surf during the sunset and have the best memory of your life
  • The beach has fine-grained sand, so I recommend opening your slippers and going for a run. You might get a glance at dolphins 
  • You can also visit Ano Nuevo, a feeding ground for great white sharks and elephant seals

Note: You’ll find no cell phone service at Waddell Creek Beach. For the phone tower, you need to walk south at South Creek.

Waddell Beach
Waddell Beach

My Bucket List: Clear Water Hidden Beaches near Santa Cruz

9. Twin Lakes Beach

Pretty and secluded dog beaches in Santa Cruz. You can walk from Seabright Beach to reach here.

10. Pleasure Point

Romantic hidden beach in Santa Cruz where you can spend nights at charming cottages by the beach. It sits on the north of Monterey Bay.

11. Panther Beach

 For hiking enthusiasts and photographers, Panther Beach is the best unknown beach in Santa Cruz to enjoy time like no other.

Panther Beach
Panther Beach

12. Brighton State Beach

 In the town of Capitola sits Brighton State Beach which is the best spot for camping in peace

13. Cowell Beach

West of the Municipal Wharf sits Cowell Beach, the most dreamt spot for surfers in California

Read More:

FAQ: Hidden Beaches near Santa Cruz

1. What makes these beaches hidden or secluded?

A. The undeveloped shoreline, lesser-known among tourists, and at times not easily accessible, bestows upon the hidden beaches their true gem-like quality, boasting clean sand and tranquil blue waters. For instance, I would have remained oblivious to the existence of Las Selva Beach in Santa Cruz if it weren’t for Reva, the local who enlightened me about its charm.

2. What should I pack for a visit to a hidden beach?

A. Grab a small travel-friendly hiking bag and include an extra pair of tank tops, shorts, and a bathing suit. Don’t forget to pack essential beach items such as sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, a reusable water bottle, and a beach mat. 

3. Are the hidden beaches clothing-optional in Santa Cruz?

A. Yes, 10 miles north of Santa Cruz and inland from the town of Davenport sits an unofficial clothing-optional beach known as BonnyDoon Beach.

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