Natural Bridges State Beach (Santa Cruz)

Last week we tried to visit this beach but ended up at Wilder Ranch instead, so this week I double checked the GPS and made sure we made it to Natural Bridges State Beach.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a Tuesday and there was plenty of street parking, spots in the 20 minute free lot, and availability in the pay lot. I opted for the $10 pay lot since we had a lot of sand toys and gear and wanted to be as close as possible. Plus I like supporting state and national parks.

I do often struggle with having exact change on hand for these parking fees, so I took a short break from writing this post and purchased the California Explorer Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass. With shipping it came out to $200, but I can get that reimbursed through Chris’s work’s wellness program.

K in the parking lot of Natural Bridges State Beach
K in the parking lot

It was chilly and I was bundled in a blanket, but the kids had no problem kicking their shoes off and getting right to work playing in the sand. HJ didn’t even complain when her dress got wet fetching water for her sand castle.

The beach wasn’t crowded, but I did have to wait for a group to move before I could snap my own pictures of the natural bridge.

From a wildlife standpoint, the highlight was watching the flocks of pelicans diving for fish.

HJ getting some water
The park only has one natural bridge, but it used to have 3! Thus the name Natural Bridges State Beach.

Natural Bridges State Beach K posing with the natural bridge

After about an hour playing in the sand, we decided to follow some people who were climbing over rocks towards the tide pools. Once you climb onto the first set of rocks there is a sign describing the different levels of sea life that may be uncovered depending on how low the tide is.

With two small kids I was overly cautious and held their hands on the way out. Coming back I gave them more credit and let them walk most of the time. There were definitely several spots where I had to jump down onto the beach and carry them one at a time, but it was a very doable walk.

Even before we came to the tide pools it was a beautiful and enjoyable walk. We made some friends to play with and explored the tide pools together, but otherwise it wasn’t crowded at all. Including ourselves, I’d say there were 8 people total spread across the rocks as far as I could see.

K and HJ looking in tide pools
K got into the habit of walking to a tide pool and demanding “Show me.” He seemed to think there were creatures in every pool and I just had to come point them out to him! ?
Sea anemone
HJ called these “enemies”
Crab in tide pool at Natural Bridges State Beach
Can you see the little crab? We saw tons of these little guys! ?
Crab, snails, and sea anemone
Crab, snails, and sea anemone
K exploring tide pools
Such a beautiful spot!
Cliffs at Natural Bridge State Beach
The cliffs behind the tide pools were beautiful.
Natural Bridges State Beach Tide Pool Walk
Looking back towards the beach.
The kids on a fallen log
The path was full of fun things to climb on!


Overall I was really impressed with this outing. We spent a full 3 hours here and the kids and I had a blast. I think this will become a weekday favorite spot of ours, I imagine it gets much more crowded on the weekends!

HJ and K are birds
The kids flying like birds in front of Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach

What do you think?