One of our favorite beaches in Santa Cruz is the lovely Natural Bridges State Beach. With gorgeous views of is delicate arch and nearby tide pools it is a must see. It is also less crowded than the popular boardwalk beach of Santa Cruz so you get more peace and serenity.
The park is open from 8am-sunset every day. You can pay $10 to park near the visitor center or park on one of the neighboring streets and walk half a mile to the beach. If you plan on going to the visitor center I recommend paying for parking. The walk would be over half a mile and it is hard to push a stroller in the sand. I tried having my toddlers walk and it took forever. At the visitor center you can see their fish tank with starfish and a giant monkey eel. We happened to be there when they were feeding them and it was really fascinating. My toddlers also enjoyed all the stuffed animals including a fox, raccoon, sea lion, and various birds. In the visitor center they also had great displays of the migration and life of monarch butterflies. We saw caterpillars up close as well as chrysalises and brand new monarchs with their wings still wet in the visitor center.
If you happen to visit this beach in the winter you are in for a treat. Right outside the visitor center is a large monarch sanctuary where the butterflies migrate to keep warm during the winter. The monarch butterflies are there from October to mid February and you can see them in droves. I was told the best times to visit are November to mid December. You can take a docent led tour or just meander yourself down the monarch trail wooden path around the grove of eucalyptus trees where the monarchs stay. It was a beautiful and fun adventure to take. Even my toddlers were spell-bound by all the butterflies soaring over their heads. Butterflies can’t fly when the temperature is below 45 degrees and these monarchs don’t fly out of their clusters until it warms up to about 55 degrees so make sure if you are going in the morning the weather is warm enough. If not you will still see lots of butterflies but they will just be hanging like dead leaves in clusters. If they are up and about flying around be prepared to be amazed. Bringing binoculars is also a good idea so you can spot them high up in the trees. Also a blanket to lie down and stare into the sky is a fun way to view them as well.