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Seacliff State Beaches

Seacliff Trail

From New Brighton State Beach to Seacliff State Beach
is 3 miles round trip; longer beach walks possible

Just south of Santa Cruz, two lovely strands with British-sounding names located on Monterey Bay beckon the beach-walker. Both New Brighton and Seacliff State Beaches host lots of swimmers, surfers and campers.

New Brighton’s half mile long beach is backed by bluffs forested with cypress and Monterey pine. Raccoons, deer and other animals inhabit this wooded upland as well as the park’s grassy coastal terrace where the campground and picnic area are situated. Migrating monarch butterflies winter in the park’s groves.

Seacliff’s most obvious attraction is its odd pier. This pier begins traditionally enough with a 500-foot long wooden structure protruding into Monterey Bay; its extension, however, is something to behold. The wood pier connects to the scuttled Palo Alto, a World War I-era supply ship. A group of coastal entrepreneurs purchased the vessel in 1929, then sank the ship at the end of the pier. The Palo Alto was then remodeled into an amusement center complete with carnival booths, dance hall, restaurant and swimming pool.

The renovated plank part of the pier is popular with anglers hoping to hook halibut, perch, flounder and more. The pier’s far end is reserved for resting and roosting seabirds, including pelicans and cormorants. Migrating California gray whales can frequently be glimpsed from the pier.

Seacliff State Beach has a small visitors center (open Wednesday through Sunday) featuring exhibits that interpret Monterey Bay’s natural history.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, drive four miles south and exit at Park Avenue. Head south 0.1 mile, turn left, then after another 0.1 mile turn right into New Brighton State Beach.

You can begin this walk up on the bluffs by the picnic area or from the day-use parking area just above the beach at New Brighton’s west end. An access road leads under a train trestle to China Cove, the site of a 19thcentury Chinese-American fishing camp.

The hike: If you begin from the bluffs, join the 0.2 mile beach access trail (stairs and a path) that drops to the beach. Those embarking from the China Cove trailhead will simply descend a flight of stairs or the park’s access road to the beach.

Walk down-coast (that’s east along this section of Monterey Bay). After a half mile or so, you’ll beach-comb beyond the New Brighton State Beach boundary, then soon traipse onto Seacliff State Beach. Private residences line the cliffs above.

The near-view is dominated by the Seacliff Pier while more distant vistas, on fog-free days, encompass the Monterey Peninsula. What looks like a motor home sales lot above the beach is actually a state park “En Route” Campground.

Walk onto the curious Seacliff Pier and gaze down-coast. If you’re in the mood for a longer walk, hit the beach. Otherwise, return the way you came.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at