When Is the Best Time
The popular small beach at Natural Bridges State Beach Reserve is awesome for swimming. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the day in summer. The Natural Bridges State Beach and Park is situated in Santa Cruz.
This park is an important habitat for the overwintering monarch butterfly. The Natural Bridges Beach is less busy and breathtaking at sunset and low tide in the evening. Tide pooling is a great activity, especially for the kids at low tide and King Tide. During King Tide, the natural arch is not surrounded by the sea having a level of around 1 foot only excellent to spot more creatures of the sea.
Natural Bridges State Beach Opening Hours
The Natural Bridges State Beach is open from 8 am. until sunset. The visitor centre is open from 10 am until 4 pm.
There is limited parking in front of the State Beach allowed for 20 minutes only. The State Beach vehicle fee is 10 $ a day. There is plenty of parking close to the visitor centre, shoulder parking direction the entrance kiosk, and outside the State Beach, which is for free. However, on weekends in summer it gets pretty busy here.
Monarch Butterfly Season
There is a big event for the monarch butterfly on the second Sunday in October, where the endangered butterfly is welcomed from 11 am to 4 pm. It is a wonderful festival for the whole family. The park is a temporary home for roughly a thousand Monarch Butterflies during the winter. They migrate from the cold Rockie Mountain Valleys to the south the Monterey Bay. They can't fly if the temperature is below 13°C/ 55°F.
The mild climate and the eucalyptus trees provide a safe place for this beautiful butterfly species. They feed on the milkweed's nectar only and lay their eggs on this plant. The population is endangered and numbers are decreasing due to the lack of food. They depend on milkweed nectar. Milkweed contains poison that remains in the caterpillars and butterflies.
This is their protection against predators who get ill after eating and won't catch them again. The butterflies arrive around mid-October and stay until late January to mid-February. Guided Monarch Butterfly Tours are offered in fall and winter at 11 am and 2 pm. The good news is the population is twice as high this winter in November 2021 as last year.
The tide pools are for sure another highlight here. You can find giant green sea anemones, starfish, and sea urchins in the pools. The tide pools are accessible during low tide and are exceptional at king tide or spring tide.
This is an astronomical phenomenon that occurs in the winter or early spring. The closer the sun to the earth the stronger is the gravitational force causing an extreme high and low tide. Tide times Natural Bridges scroll down for the exact tides.
Other Highlights and Events
Walking through the bridge is possible at spring tide only a couple of times a year, and it usually occurs in the winter or early spring when the full or new moon is closest to the earth. It is also a nice beach for swimming but be aware of the occurring rip current. For me, 62°F are too cold in the summer.
- The second Saturday in February is dedicated to the whale migration.
- During spring, wildflowers are in bloom.
Weather and Sea Temperature
During the summer months from June to August, it is nowadays too dry, and droughts occur. The average daily temperature is 17°C/ 62°F but can rise to 30°C/ 86°F. Even in the summer, the water temperature is cold around 16°C/ 61°F. Most precipitation is in the mild winter from December to February, with its peak in February. Average day temps are around 10°C / 50°F.
Beach wheelchairs are available free of charge. Natural Bridges Park Map and Brochure, including wheelchair accessibility
Restrooms are available at the parking lot and picnic area behind the beach.
Update November 2022
The State Park gets a big upgrade in all areas for better accessibility: the main parking lot, the visitor centre entrance, the picnic area, restrooms, and even a wheelchair-accessible path to the beach.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Natural Bridges is a gem of a state beach and park. Definitely worth visiting for a couple of hours or an entire day. The name originates from the three bridges in the early 1900s. The outer arch was collapsed a long time ago and the inner arch during a storm in 1980. Only the middle one remained, which is an Arch Rock now.
Many shorebirds like pelicans but also otters and seals can be spotted. You may see whales from the short-term parking lot during their migration.
The beach is protected by law. Dogs are not permitted on the beach and trails, only at the parking and the picnic area.
Where to Stay Nearby
Camping in this State Park is not allowed. However, Santa Cruz is a lovely city with a wide variety of accommodations.