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Natural Bridges State Parks on the Beach - Guide to Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California

Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California (in Santa Cruz County)

Natural Bridges State Beach is a 65-acre (26 ha) California state park in Santa Cruz, California in the United States. The park features a natural bridge across a section of the beach. This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent place to view shore and ocean birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life. Tide charts are available in the bookstore.

The park also includes areas of coastal scrub meadows, with bright native wildflowers in the spring. Moore Creek flows down to the ocean through these meadows, forming a wetlands in the sand.

Butterfly Watching in Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California

Monarch Butterfly in Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California During Migration

It is also well known as a hotspot to see monarch butterfly migrations. The Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve is home to up to 150,000 monarch butterflies from October through early February. Natural Bridges State Beach is world-renowned for its yearly migration of monarch butterflies. Visitors can see thousands during the butterflies' peak season. The best time to see monarchs in the park is usually from mid-October to late January. (Dates the butterflies arrive and leave can vary widely from year to year. Call ahead to find out if the monarchs have arrived in mid-October, and to make sure they are still in the grove in late January.)

Geology in Natural Bridges State Beach

The intertidal zone is home to mussels, sea stars, sea anemones and limpets, seen here being studied by children.

Natural Bridges State Beach is named for the naturally occurring mudstone bridges that were carved by the Pacific Ocean into cliff that jutted out into the sea. The arches formed over a million years ago when a combination of silt, clay and diatoms were solidified into a mixture of stone that formed the three original arches of the beach. Wave erosion carved the arches and then cut away the cliffs leaving only islands. Of the three original arches only the middle one remains. The outermost arch fell during the early 20th century and the inner arch collapsed during a storm in 1980. The middle arch is in danger of collapsing as well due to erosion by wind and waves. Visitors were formerly permitted to climb up, walk and even drive on the bridges. Now the arch is closed to public access.

Recreation in Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach is open to year-round recreation including swimming, surfing, hiking, nature walks and picnics. The beach is small and sheltered. The afternoon winds attract kite flying and wind surfing. The beach is open to surfing and is busiest during the winter when large swells wash up onto the shores of Natural Bridges State Beach.

Birds in Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California

Birds in Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California

Hiking trails pass through the Moore Creek estuary and the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve. Guided tours of the butterfly preserve take place on weekends during the fall and winter. Tours of the tidal pools take place year-round as do nature walks.

Educational Activities in Natural Bridges State Beach

Family and children's programs
Guided tours
Natural Bridges will begin taking phone reservations for school group butterfly tours on August 1 call Natural Bridges State Beach 831-423-4609.

Nearby state parks to Natural Bridges State Beach

The Forest of the Nisene Marks State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Lighthouse Field State Beach
New Brighton State Beach
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
Seacliff State Beach
Twin Lakes State Beach
Wilder Ranch State Park

Location of Natural Bridges State Beach

The Natural Bridges State Beach is located at 36°57'09"N 122°03'27"W. The location of Natural Bridges State Beach is 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. Take Swift Avenue west from Hwy 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges. Natural Bridges State Beach can be contacted at 831-423-4609.

The Visitor Center features displays on the monarch butterflies and other features of the park. An aquarium features animals found in the tidepools. A video is available for viewing. The Visitor Center is open most weekends and some weekdays. Call (831) 423-4609 for current visitor center hours and special events.

Here is a driving map to Natural Bridges State Beach.

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Here is a detailed list of other state beaches of California besides Natural Bridges State Beach.

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