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Sunset State Parks on the Beach - Guide to Sunset State Beach

Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California

Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California (in Santa Cruz County)

Monterey Bay offers a chance to watch dolphins, sea otters and gray whales. Shore birds, whitetailed kites, western snowy plovers and red-tailed hawks make Sunset and Manresa their home.

The beach features pine trees, mountainous sand dunes, and ocean side picnic spots. Bordered by large agricultural fields west of the city of Watsonville, the beach is a year-round destination for thousands of visitors.

A peaceful campground under the pines, picnicking on the beach, and unmatched views of Monterey Bay make Sunset State Beach a favorite year-round destination. Manresa State Beach rewards visitors with sweeping views of bluff-backed sand and sea, with the Santa Cruz Mountains to the northwest and the forested hills of the Monterey Peninsula to the southwest. Sunset and Manresa state beaches are approximately one mile apart off Highway 1. Area History Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Ohlone lived along the coast between San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay. They traded mussel and abalone shells, as well as dried abalone and salt for piñon nuts and obsidian. They also hunted small game, elk, deer and an occasional bear. Sea mammals were a food source, and streams supplied salmon and trout. However, the mission padres forever changed the lives of the Ohlone by bringing them into the mission. The effect on their culture and traditions was disastrous, and their numbers were nearly decimated by European diseases to which they had no immunity.

From the 1830s to the 1870s, Ranchos San Andreas and Bolsa del Pajaro encompassed the area. In 1852 John H. Watson claimed a half interest in Rancho Bolsa del Pajaro to build the town of Watsonville. His claim was overruled eight years later, but the town continued to grow. Pajaro Landing, built in 1868, became a major produce shipping point before Southern Pacific took over freight conveyance in the 1880s. In 1903 lumber dealer W. J. Rogers built Port Watsonville to provide steamship service to San Francisco, but in 1913 the port went bankrupt.

Leslie A. Kester bought the land in 1919 and in 1938 sold it to dairy farmer William Van Laanen. In 1983 Mrs. Van Laanen sold eight acres to be added to 159 acres the State had acquired in 1931 for Sunset State Beach. The Van Laanen farm complex near the entrance station includes a redwood frame farmhouse dating from the early 1900s. With increased private development in the area, residents concerned about a loss of public access to the beach became the driving force behind public ownership of this sensitive resource.

Sunset State Beach is a beach approximately 1.5 mile (2.5 km) long, near Watsonville, California in Santa Cruz County. It is operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. It is surrounded by large agricultural fields west of the city of Watsonville. North of Sunset Beach is Manresa State Beach.

For more information about Sunset State Beach brochure refer here.

Camping in Sunset State Beach

Camping in Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California

Map of Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California

Sunset has 90 shady, duneprotected family sites without hookups that can accommodate recreational vehicles up to 31 feet. Parking for the 64 walk-in tent sites at Manresa Uplands is in a separate lot near the campground (no RVs permitted). Reservations are recommended from early spring through October. Call (800) 444-7275 up to seven months in advance. Pets must not be left unattended at any time.

Campground Map of Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California

Campground Map of Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California

FEES: The camping fee pays for a maximum of eight people and one licensed piece of equipment (including trailers and vehicles) in each campsite. Extra vehicle fees may apply.

CAMPFIRES: Fires must be confined to either stoves provided by the park or fire rings. Fires are not allowed in makeshift rock fire rings, on tables, or on the ground. Please do not gather wood. Firewood may be purchased at the Entrance Station or camp host site. The sale of firewood provides funds for the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, to be used to support interpretive programs.

QUIET HOURS: Quiet hours are from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Radios and other sound-producing devices must not be audible beyond your immediate campsite. Generators may only be used from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

CHECK-OUT TIME: Check-out time is promptly at noon. Please let us know when your campsite is vacant. If you wish to extend your stay, you may re-register at the Entrance Station as long as space is available. Re-register no later than 9 a.m.

DOGS: Dogs must be leashed and controlled at all times. Do not leave your dog unattended at the campsite, and keep it inside at night. Dogs are permitted on paved roads, in day-use areas, in campgrounds, and on the beach at Manresa State Beach. Dogs are NOT allowed on the beach at Sunset State Beach. Please clean up after your pet.

WASTE WATER: No water or effluence may be discharged onto the ground. Collect waste water from dishwashing, trailer or RV drains. Dispose of it in any restroom toilet.

Please Remember

• At Manresa dangerous rip currents, cold water temperatures, and deep offshore holes make surfing and swimming hazardous activities for any but the most experienced surfers.

• It is illegal to remove or harm plants, animals or other natural features.

• Park hours: 8:00 a.m. to 1/2 hour after sunset. Campground quiet hours: 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Generator quiet hours: 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

• The speed limit is 15 mph. Watch out for children, pedestrians and bicycles.

• Do not feed or leave food out for wildlife.

• Alcohol is not permitted on the beach or in the day-use area.

• Fires must be confined to a fire ring and attended at all times.

• Wood gathering is not permitted. Purchase firewood at the entrance station or from the camp host.

• Dogs are not permitted on Sunset Beach but are allowed in the campgrounds. Check with staff for areas open to dogs.

For more detailed information about Sunset State Beach camping maps refer here.

Other Recreations in Sunset State Beach

Fishing—Starry flounder, California halibut, barred surf perch, striped bass and surf smelt can be caught at Manresa. At Sunset surf perch, sardines and occasional striped bass are caught. A sport fishing license is required.

• Picnicking—To reserve two large ramadas for special events at Sunset State Beach, call (831) 429-2857. At Manresa picnic tables along the top of the bluff offer panoramic ocean views.

• Glider port— Remote control glider enthusiasts will find a glider port at Sunset State Beach.

Plants and Wildlife in Sunset State Beach

Sunset State Beach supports four major plant communities and associated wildlife.

• Coastal scrub—Mock heather, bush lupine, beach sagewort, Monterey and robust spineflower, coyote brush, poison oak, sand gilia and seaside woolly sunflower cover the sandy slopes and dunes. Wildlife includes brush rabbits, dusky-footed wood rats, western fence lizards and pacific gopher snakes. Song sparrows, rufoussided towhees, American kestrels, redtailed hawks and Anna’s hummingbirds are common.

• Coastal woodlands—Introduced Monterey pine, Bishop pine, and Monterey cypress are dominant. They support an understory of coyote brush and sea fig that shelters California pocket mice, pinyon mice, chestnut-backed chickadees and Steller’s jays. Eucalyptus trees are a gathering place for monarch butterflies.

• Dune mat/Coastal strand—Park managers are replacing the habitat-destroying European dune grass with native beach bur, sand verbena and beach sagewort to attract white-crowned sparrows, California towhees, and dark-eyed juncos. The mouth of the Pajaro River shelters California brown pelicans, Caspian, elegant and royal terns, and California gulls. Deer mice and brush rabbits live in low dune vegetation. Reptiles include black legless lizards, northern alligator lizards and coast garter snakes.

• Marshlands—The coast gum plant, pickleweed and coastal salt grass of salt marsh areas attract cinnamon teals, savannah sparrows, meadow mice and raccoons.

Nearby State Parks of Sunset State Beach

• Seacliff State Beach, 51/2 miles south of Santa Cruz (831) 685-6500, 429-2850
• The Forest of Nisene Marks, 6 miles south of Santa Cruz (831) 429-2850, 763-7062
• Zmudowski State Beach, one mile north of Moss Landing (831) 384-7695, 649-2836
• Moss Landing State Beach, in Moss Landing (831) 384-7695, 649-2836

Location of Sunset State Beach

The Sunset State Beach is located at 36.891052°N 121.834814°W. The Sunset State Beach address is 198 Sunset Dr, Watsonville, CA 95076 and is 16 miles south of Santa Cruz via Highway One and San Andreas Road. Sunset State Beach can be contacted at 831-763-7062.

Here is a driving map to Sunset State Beach.

View Larger Map

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

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