Not far from the western edge of urban Santa Cruz just off Highway 1 on West Cliff Drive is Natural Bridges State Beach, 65-acres of stunning marshlands, coastal scrub, sand dunes, creeks, an intimate beach, copses of trees teaming with with Monarch butterflies and the graceful stone arch for which the park is named.
Things To Do
Natural Bridges State Park is much more than a beach. Its diverse ecosystem is ideal for a variety of leisure pursuits including surfing (best in the winter months for seasoned surfers), swimming, hiking, kite flying, wind surfing, nature walks, picnics and the exploration of tide pools teaming with urchins, sea star and hermit crabs. The waters off the coast are a protected State Marine Preserve, conserving the aquatic life and ecosystem that flourish in the local waters. Natural Bridges is also an ideal place to spot gray whales, sea otters, seals and sea birds of all shapes and sizes. Guided one-mile nature walks through the park’s habitats are offered year-round. The Visitor Center showcases the area’s natural history and has a variety of butterfly souvenirs for sale.
The Natural Bridges
The Natural Bridges stone arch is one of the most photographed beach icons in California. Formed from mudstone and carved from the surrounding cliffs millions of years ago by wind, waves and erosion, the arch is the remaining of three freestanding bridges. The outermost fell into the sea in the early 20th century while the one closest to shore collapsed during a storm in the 1980s. Park visitors were once able to walk, climb and even drive on the bridges but all access to the sole surviving arch is restricted as it, too, is in danger of collapse due to the forces of nature.
Follow the boardwalk to an observation deck overlooking a grove of towering eucalyptus trees where thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate up to 2,000 miles each year to the mild coastal climate and safe harbor provided by the grove. From October through February, they cluster together on the trunks and branches for warmth and shelter, their gently flapping wings making every tree seem to breathe. The Natural Bridges Monarch Grove is a Natural Preserve, established to protect the butterflies and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California. One-hour docent-led butterfly tours of the Monarch Grove Preserve are available October through January; check the park website for dates and times.
The return of the Monarchs to Natural Bridges is heralded yearly with a Welcome Back Monarchs event in October. For thirty years, the Natural Bridges Migration Festival in the park has bid farewell to the Monarchs while also celebrating the long-distance journeys of California gray whales, nomadic birds and other migratory animals. In addition to giving visitors an opportunity to learn about the diverse wildlife, the festival includes displays set up by more than a dozen environmental, research and educational groups, guided hikes, live music, arts and crafts.
The diverse beauty of Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz offers outdoor activities for residents and visitors alike. Photographers, nature lovers, sun worshipers, families, picnickers and those looking for athletic adventure will all find something alluring at this unique state park.
2531 West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 423 – 4609
Open 8 am to sunset
There is a free parking lot on West Cliff Drive, an easy walk to the park. If you prefer to park your vehicle inside Natural Bridges State Park, there is a fee.