Santa Cruz Secrets: The 5 Least Crowded Beaches in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz County Beaches are known for being an outdoor lover’s playground, here are some of the most uncrowded options!

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What’s the least crowded beach in Santa Cruz?

When looking for the least crowded beach in Santa Cruz, you won’t need to look far. Long expanses of shoreline offer enough space to spread out and get into your zen zone. 

  1. Wilder Ranch State Park 
  2. Seacliff State Beach
  3. Natural Bridges State Beach
  4. Waddell Beach 
  5. Seabright State Beach 

The beaches in Santa Cruz are some of the most beautiful in the state. From walking on easy access to hidden beaches that require a short hike and an adventurous spirit,  stunning views await you on the beaches of this surf-happy community. Here are five of the least crowded beaches in California near Santa Cruz.

About Santa Cruz’s Beaches

Attracting weekenders from San Francisco and tourists from around the world, Santa Cruz has held down the beach scene for decades. 

A suburban surfer’s paradise, complete with flat streets making it perfect to take your beach cruiser down the boardwalk, this laid-back town has plenty of scenic beaches to choose from.

Santa Cruz County’s southern beaches are actually just one uninterrupted curving stretch of sand that extends up to the boundaries of Wilder Ranch State Park and down to the south to the Pajaro River. 

The Most Tranquil Shores in Santa Cruz

These unassuming hidden gems often include long stretches of sand, rocky landscapes filled with tide pools to explore, and stunning shoreline views. 

When searching for any “secret beach,” a good rule of thumb is to follow signs taking you away from the tourist attractions; that’s usually when you’ll find hidden gems like tucked-away coves and secluded beaches filled with beauty and tranquility. 

Wilder Ranch State Park 

least crowded beach in Santa Cruz

One of the best-kept secrets of Santa Cruz is Wilder Ranch State Park.  Located on secluded and scenic bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this beloved beach remains relatively uncrowded compared to other more well-known beaches in the area. 

Those looking to make the trip out to Wilder Ranch can expect uninterrupted ocean views, rolling hillsides covered in tall grasses, and beautiful sandy coastal trails. It’s a botanist’s dream with diverse ecology in flora and fauna. 

While it is one of the most popular beaches on this stretch of coast, it’s roomy enough not to ever feel too crowded. 

Not only can you soak up some sun and take a leisurely stroll along the beach, but there are also bike rentals available nearby, as well as kayaking and paddleboarding opportunities out in the waters. In addition, this is a popular area for horseback riding with stables nearby. 

Seacliff State Beach 

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Seacliff State Beach is considered one of Santa Cruz’s “secret beaches”  and is also one of the most charming and “people-free” beach options in the area. 

Located near the north of Rio del Mar Beach off Highway 1, the wide beach offers magnificent views of gorgeous sunsets and plenty of opportunities for swimming and surfing.

A covered picnic area makes this spot great for a quiet lunch break. 

In addition, the Seacliff Pier is connected to a half-sunken concrete freighter, the World War I era Palo Alto, and is known to be a great place to spend a leisurely day fishing. 

There is no fishing permit required off of this pier! 

The Capitola Wharf is located just upshore from Seacliff State Beach and is a great place to explore in its own right, if not a bit more crowded! 

Natural Bridges State Beach 

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If you’re looking for a nice beach to relax, visit Natural Bridges State Beach

This unique Santa Cruz beach features stunning sandstone arches created by wave erosion over thousands of years and even offers sightings of elephant seals and monarch butterflies in the right season. 

Getting there is a “breeze.” To get there, simply drive south along Highway One until you find Natural Bridges Drive. 

Once at the beach, visitors are treated to some truly breathtaking scenes; the bridge of the same name looms large just off the shoreline and offers something truly majestic for visitors to look out over. 

If you want a more relaxing, try whale watching or surf fishing, or sit back on a sunny day and watch hang-gliders soar overhead.

Waddell Beach 

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Waddell Beach is one of the best beaches for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Santa Cruz. 

This intimate beach is a great spot to watch kiteboarders and windsurfers coast by (this beach is renowned for both sports). Surfers delight in uncrowded breaks that have prime views of the bluffs that surround the beach. 

This beach is located just south of Año Nuevo State Park. You can access the entrance going a few miles north on Highway 1 north from Santa Cruz before exiting onto Waddell Creek Road. 

From there, enjoy the scenic California beachside drive as you wind your way past old-growth redwoods and down to the beach. There is plenty of parking in an unpaved lot facing the beach. 

Take note. Unfortunately, this beach is not dog friendly. Instead try Twin Lakes State Beach or Seabright Beach.  

Seabright State Beach 

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While some of the beaches on this list take a drive or short walk to reach, Seabright State Beach (also known as Castle Beach), one of the least crowded beaches in Santa Cruz, is a location that can easily be reached from downtown Santa Cruz. 

To reach Seabright Beach, you’ll take West Cliff Drive, heading southwest to find Seabright Avenue. 

While it may not be easy to stumble upon, visitors to this beach are rewarded with fewer crowds and plenty of things to do. 

Sandwiched between Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Harbor, this is a great option to escape the crowds but be close enough to be within biking or walking distance from the town’s restaurants nearby. 

You can sunbathe or take a leisurely stroll along the crashing waves of the shoreline while gazing out at the sea lions frolicking in the Pacific Ocean. 

There are also plenty of opportunities for swimming, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding in the bay. 

In addition, playing volleyball is popular here, and volleyball pits are usually free for the taking, and firepits are available to warm you up with a beach bonfire as the sun sets. 

Other Beaches In Santa Cruz That Are Not Crowded

While they didn’t make this list, other notable mentions for beautiful beaches without the crowds in Santa Cruz are: 

  • Cowell Beach (Downtown Santa Cruz)
  • Brighton State Beach 
  • Bonny Doon Beach 
  • Twin Lakes Beach 
  • Sunset State Beach 
  • Selva Beach 

Key Takeaways

  • Santa Cruz is a prime beach destination with many quiet beach options along the coast. 
  • Seabright State Beach is the best option close to Downtown Santa Cruz. 
  • Wilder Ranch State Park is the best uncrowded beach with access to activities and rentals. 
  • Waddell Beach is great for surfers looking to avoid tourists.