Beach Hours: 8am to Sunset
Visitor Center: Friday-Monday, 11am to 4pm
Guided hikes and other in-person park programs have resumed in Santa Cruz-area State Parks! Pre-registration is required. Visit www.santacruzstateparks.as.me to see the schedule and make reservations.
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
Monarch migration is variable and population numbers and dates are different each year. The monarchs typically begin arriving in mid-October and leave by mid-February (In 2013, 2016, and 2017 the monarchs had left by January). At Natural Bridges, late October and all of November is often the best time to go for a walk and observe the monarchs. The Monarch Grove at Natural Bridges has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting these butterflies and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. It 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.
The tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach are filled to the brim with thousands of creatures, each one doing its best to survive in a constantly changing environment. The moon's gravity pulls on the tides twice daily, converting this habitat from a fully submerged underwater world to an arid and exposed rocky shore. Salinity levels skyrocket and hungry predators swoop in for a tasty meal. These tide pools are preserved and protected by law as part of a Marine Protected Area, which will help maintain their pristine state for generations to come. Stop by at low tide to view this awesome display of nature's resiliency.
Visiting the Tide Pools
The Visitor Center has a map to the tide pools. Stop by during open hours to ask for directions. The best time to visit the tide pools is during a low tide. You can view low tide times here.
Remember to practice good tide pool safety:
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]
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. This is a day-use park only, there is no camping.
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.
Fall volunteer training starts September 12 with a focus on monarch butterflies, habitats and wildlife in the park.
For more information and the volunteer application, please click here.
Natural Bridges State Beach offers several guided tours for school groups including Monarch Tours (offred October through January), Tide Pool Tours (offered March through July), and Guided Nature Walks (all year). For more information, please click here.