I recently visited Capitola and Santa Cruz with my family. Our favorite beaches to visit are New Brighton State Beach, where we camped, and Natural Bridges State Beach.
Natural Bridges has a small sunny beach, tide pools, and a fun visitor center. It’s known as a site where swarms of monarch butterflies pass through on their migratory routes. A short distance away (10 to 20 minutes on a bike), is the famous light house / surfing museum. There used to be a number of “natural bridges,” but most have eroded over time.
Images: top left: view along shore from bike trail, looking towards Natural Bridges (not visible); bottom left: the lighthouse; right: the remaining “natural bridge.”
New Brighton State Beach is farther down the coast. It’s characterized by steep bluffs and exposed cliffs. It’s at the very north end of Monterey Bay, and you could walk unimpeded just about as far as you pleased down the beach.
The cliffs, which stretch from New Brighton towards Capitola City Beach for about 3,500 feet, are part of the “Purisima Formation,” and feature layers of fossil shell deposits from 3 to 5 million years ago. If you visit the Santa Cruz City Museum, you can purchase an informative little pamphlet (cited below) that explains the composition and natural history of the cliffs.
Images: top: view from end of beach looking south-east into Monterey Bay; Images of the cliff face with my dad offering comparison for scale; close ups of various fossils.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sancuary encompasses this area, making it a wonderful place to view marine wildlife. We spotted a pod of dolphins and sighted whale spumes. Other commonly seen animals include sea lions and sea otters, and a wide variety of sea birds.
Image: least sandpiper.
Perry, F. A. (1988). Fossil invertebrates and geology of the marine cliffs at Capitola, California (pamphlet). Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum Assoc.