Beach Hours: 8am to Sunset
Visitor Center: 10am to 4pm
IT'S MONARCH SEASON! Monarch butterflies are currently visiting our Natural Preserve. Numbers typically peak between the end of October to mid-November - warm and sunny days are best for viewing. You can visit the preserve during park hours (8am-sunset), join us for a free 1-hour tour on Saturdays & Sundays at 11am and 2pm, or to arrange a tour for groups of 10 or more please click here. *Please remember food is not allowed in the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve as it attracts predators.
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.
FEES - There is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. [Regular Sized Auto: $10 (Senior $9, age 62 or older); Bus Parking (10-24 passengers): $50; Bus Parking (25+ passengers): $100]
OCEAN SAFETY— No lifeguards on duty. Enter tide pools only during periods of low tide. Surf can be unpredictable. Hazardous rip currents and large waves can appear out of nowhere and sweep people out to sea. Do not run on the wet rocks of the intertidal area, and never turn your back to the waves. Check at the entrance station or visitor center before entering the ocean and the tide pool areas.
COLLECTING is not allowed—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.
DOGS are allowed only in the parking lots and picnic areas, but NOT on the beach and trails (except for service animals). All dogs must be on a six-foot maximum leash and under human control at all times. Please do not leave your dog unattended in a vehicle. For a list of locations you can take your dog in Santa Cruz County, please click here.
BICYCLES are permitted only on paved roads.
FIRES are not allowed on the beach.
GLASS containers are not allowed on the beach.
ALCOHOL is only allowed in the park with a previously issued special-event permit. Submit permit applications at least 30 days before the event date.
DRONES are not allowed in the park. To protect wildlife and cultural resources, and for the safety and welfare of visitors and staff, the park is closed to the use of Model Aircraft, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), and Gliders in flight.
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.
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.