8 am to Sunset
Visitor Center: 10 am to 4 pm
This park and beach is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, as well as seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, public access tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, shore crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life. The park also includes a large area of coastal scrub and grasslands, with bright native wildflowers in the spring. Moore Creek flows through the park, forming freshwater wetlands and a salt marsh before it reaches the sea.
The park's Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for thousands of Monarchs. In 2016, 8,000 Monarch Butterflies overwintered at Natural Bridges. From late fall into winter, the Monarchs form a "city in the trees." The area's mild seaside climate and eucalyptus grove provide a safe place for monarchs to roost until spring.
In the spring and summer, the butterflies live in the valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where the monarch's companion plant, milkweed, is found. For most of the year, where there are monarchs, there are also milkweed plants. Monarchs drink nectar from milkweed flowers, and female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. Milkweed contains a toxin that, when ingested by the caterpillar, makes it toxic to other animals. These toxins remain in the butterfly as well, providing protection from predators that would otherwise eat the monarchs.
Visiting the Monarch Preserve
Before you visit, you may want to call the park for current information on the population. Migration is variable and numbers and dates are different each year. The monarchs typically begin arriving in mid-October and leave by mid-February (In 2013 and 2016, the monarchs had left by January). At Natural Bridges, November is often the best time to for a walk to observe the monarchs. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting these butterflies and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.
The grove contains eucalyptus trees which are located in a gently sloping canyon, providing the Monarch needed shelter from the wind. These winter-flowering trees are also a convenient food source for the butterfly. On chilly days when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, the butterflies cluster together in the eucalyptus trees for warmth.
Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park's wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to an observation deck in the eucalyptus grove.
• Please help protect the health of the butterflies: do not touch or otherwise harm the fragile butterflies.
• For everyone's enjoyment, no smoking, dogs, bicycles, skates, or skateboards on the boardwalk.
• Quiet please. Help maintain the sanctuary experience. Monarchs and other visitors are relaxing.
Natural Bridges State Beach is located at the end of West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz at:
2531 West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Highway 1 turns into Mission Street when traveling through the westside of Santa Cruz business district. From Hwy. 1/Mission, turn left onto Swift Street and follow it to the ocean. Turn right on West Cliff Drive, which ends at the park.
A picnic area is located off the main parking lot in a eucalyptus and pine trees grove. Tables, barbecues, water faucets and restroom facilities are available. There is a $10 vehicle day-use fee to park within the State Beach lots. This is a day-use park only, there is no camping.
The visitor center highlights local natural history, and the bookstore has a selection of butterfly shirts, trinkets, jewelry, postcards and books for all ages.
Next to the park's Visitor Center is a demonstration milkweed garden for viewing.
Tours & Events
- Celebrate the butterflies' arrival with the Welcome Back Monarchs Day in October, and their departure with the Migration Festival in February.
- Docent-led butterfly, tidepool and nature trail tours are available. Large groups should reserve beach use and tours by phone at least 2 weeks in advance. Special event reservations should be made at least 1 month in advance. For School Group Tours, please see below for more information and reservations. Please call the park for more information about large group reservations (831) 423-4609.
- For more information about events and activities including public tours, please click here.
Natural Bridges State Beach offers several guided tours for school groups at various times of the year. For more information, and to make a reservation request please click here.
Monarch tours are offered October through January each year, last one hour, and can be reserved for Pre-K through 12th grade. The park begins accepting monarch tour reservations on August 1.
Tide Pool Tours are available from approximately March 1 to July 30 each year, last 1.5 hours, and are available for 3rd grade and up. The park begins accepting tide pool reservations on January 1.
Guided Nature Walks are available all year. This walk follows a one-mile trail through multiple habitats.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of Natural Bridges, especially during the Monarch butterfly season and tide pool seasons. Trained docents, college interns, and volunteers can help lead guided walks, host the visitor center, help with park restoration, and assist with special events.
For more information and the volunteer application, please click here.
- Surf Safety — Enter tide pools only during periods of low tide. Often there is no lifeguard on duty, and the surf can be unpredictable. Hazardous rip currents and large waves can appear out of nowhere and sweep people out to sea.
- The beach and tide pools can be extremely dangerous. Do not run on the wet rocks of the intertidal area, and never turn your back to the waves. Check with the lifeguard or at the entrance station or visitor center before entering the ocean and the tide pool areas.
- No Collecting — Do not disturb tide pool residents or the butterfly clusters in any way. The park’s plants, animals, and all natural and cultural features are protected by law.
- Except for service animals, DOGS are allowed only in the parking lots and picnic areas, but not on the beach and trails. All dogs must be on a six-footmaximum leash and under human control at all times. Please do not leave your dog in a vehicle.
- Stay on designated trails to protect plants, to prevent erosion, and to avoid poison oak and stinging nettles.
- Bicycles are permitted only on paved roads.
- Fires and glass containers are not allowed on the beach.
- Alcoholic beverages are only allowed in the park with a previously issued special-event permit. Submit permit applications at least 30 days before the event date.
- Do not smoke, ride bikes, roller skate, skateboard, or speak loudly in the monarch butterfly grove.
The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended.