Natural Bridges State Beach
Santa Cruz, CA
Reciprocal: California State Park Pass
Full Price Admission Cost: $10 per vehicle
WWWW Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
An absolutely beautiful park located in Santa Cruz, California, Natural Bridges offers an experience to remember. We went in not knowing what to expect, and came out astounded at the beauty we witnessed.
Before we even parked we could see the pristine beach, and we couldn’t wait to sink our toes into that sand. We parked, hopped out of our truck, and headed straight for the crashing waves.
Since we visited during the month of February, the water was much too cold for swimming. Instead, we stared out at the beautiful scenery and let our minds wander. To the left of us stood the Natural Bridges rock formation, which now only has one arch or “bridge” due to years of erosion (but was no less a sight to behold). To the right, we could see rocky cliffs and pretty homes. When looking straight ahead, we were treated to the sight of waves upon waves, and because we were visiting a bay beach, we were able to see the striking silhouettes of mountains beyond the vast waters.
Of course, gazing never lasts long when you’re six years old, and soon enough Brendon was ready to move on to the numerous tide pools up on the rocky cliffs. That was fine with me, as I’ve always liked the idea of tidepooling—so we were off.
In the tide pools, we found mussels, anemones, and crabs. We had a blast seeking out new and interesting creatures as we hopped from place to place, trying not to step on any clams (which was difficult because there are SO MANY).
After checking out the tide pools, we headed to the Monarch Grove. During the winter months, this trail is swarming with butterflies who migrate to Santa Cruz to escape the cold. Unfortunately, we just missed the lovely creatures. However, the trail provided a really pretty walk, and waiting for us at the end was the visitor center.
This center is small, but informative. We got to see butterflies up close and personal and learned the how to tell the difference between a male and a female monarch. We also learned about various marine mammals and got to see photos of the Natural Bridges rock formation through the years. We also used the restrooms here. They were less than clean, but we made do.
When lunchtime rolled around, we found a picnic table and sat down for a meal. I do wish we had gone a little further into the trees for a table because I realized later that we could’ve been staring out at the ocean while we ate. Still, we enjoyed our meal and the view of the woods.
Before we left the park, we hoped to see a pair of great horned owls that were rumored to be hiding in plain sight. We headed back down the trail through the woods, followed the ranger’s instructions, and sure enough, we found two gorgeous owls hanging out in an ivy-covered tree. This was a super cool sight!
Clearly, we adored this park. We hope you’ll visit if you’re ever in the area, and we recommend combining the park with a trip to the nearby Seymour Marine Discovery Center.
- Admission is per vehicle here. Therefore, if you’re going with friends, you’ll want to pile into one car.
- There are plenty of picnic tables near the visitor center and some have a great view of the water. Pack a lunch!
- Visiting between mid-October and mid-January will ensure you get to see plenty of butterflies.
- The water here is cold. Don’t plan to swim unless it’s mid-summer.
- Visit during low tide in order to get in some awesome tide pooling.
Books to Read
- Cracking Up: A Story About Erosion by Jacqui Bailey
- In One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails, and Salty Tails by Anthony Fredericks
- DK Eyewitness Books: Seashore by Steve Parker
- When Butterflies Cross the Sky: The Monarch Butterfly Migration by Sharon Katz Cooper
- Butterfly and the Bog Beast: A Book about Butterfly Camouflage by Nancy Krulik
Videos to Watch
- The Magic School Bus (Season 3, Episode 13): “The Magic School Bus Rocks and Rolls” (also available on Netflix)
- Tides and the Full Moon
- Monarch Butterfly
- Weathering and Erosion: Crash Course Kids
- Bill Nye the Science Guy: “Erosion” (also available on Netflix)
Activities to Do
Things to Discuss
- If you lived in a tide pool, which creature would you choose to be?
- What do you think the Natural Bridges rock formation will look like in 10 years? What about 50?
- If you were a butterfly would you migrate to Santa Cruz or somewhere else? Why?
Other Area Attractions
Below are some of the other great attractions in this area. We try to keep things affordable, sticking to free and cheap attractions and/or museums and zoos on reciprocal lists. If an attraction is affiliated with a reciprocal program or offers free admission, I have noted that beside the attraction listing. To learn more about saving money using reciprocal programs, see this post.
- Seymour Marine Discovery Center — NARM
- Santa Cruz Natural History Museum — ASTC
- Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History — NARM
- Monterey Bay Sanctuary Discovery Center — Free
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Mystery Spot
- Santa Cruz Surfing Museum — Free
- Mission Santa Cruz
- Wilder Ranch State Park
- Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
- The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Closest Places to Stay on a Budget
- Thousand Trails/RPI: San Benito RV and Camping Resort — 59.4 mi
- Passport America: Casa De Fruta RV Orchard Resort — 75.9 mi
- State Park: Henry Cowell Redwoods — 5.6 mi (no hookups)
- RPI/Trails Collection: Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort — 8.5 mi
Related Attractions in Other Areas
- Arches National Park — “America the Beautiful” Pass
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