Bay Area Bucket List: Strolling Along West Cliff Drive

Happy Summer! Have you put together your summer 2021 bucket list yet? Summer is a great time to explore your own backyard. West Cliff Drive was an item on my bucket list that we visited as a family earlier this year. We took advantage of the gorgeous weather and a free Saturday by hopping in the car and heading to Santa Cruz for half a day. West Cliff Drive is a great walk for people of all ages due to a paved path that can accommodate strollers, scooters, bikes and boards alike. There are plenty of opportunities to take frequent breaks on benches sprinkled along the way. Depending on your time constraints, this walk can take just over an hour or be stretched out over an entire day.

West Cliff Drive is a roughly 3 mile stretch of coastal road located between Natural Bridges State Park and the Santa Cruz Wharf. If you enjoy the smell of saltwater, crashing waves and spectacular views, this is the walk for you.

We decided upon a 4 mile route starting from Natural Bridges State Beach down to Lighthouse Point and then back to Natural Bridges State Beach. The highlight of the walk was taking a break at Lighthouse Point to watch the surfers (and sea otters) at Steamer Lane. Steamer Lane is one of the most popular surfing spots in California and you are almost guaranteed a good show. This would be an ideal spot to stop and have a picnic lunch. Looking for a longer walk? Continue on another mile to the the Santa Cruz Wharf before turning back. There are several spots near the wharf where you can grab lunch or an ice cream cone before making the trek back.

Parking

You have several parking options. Free parking is located all along West Cliff Drive as well as at the Lighthouse Field State Beach located closer to the Southern end of West Cliff Drive. There is a $10 fee to park at Natural Bridges State Beach at the northern end West Cliff Drive. On this particular day we chose to park at Natural Bridges State Beach because we knew that parking would be plentiful and we would have easy access to restrooms at both the beginning and end of our outing. Hourly parking is also available at the Santa Cruz Wharf. It starts at $1 per 20 minutes with a daily maximum of $24 .

Points of Interest along West Cliff Drive

Natural Bridges State Beach: Paid Parking, picnic areas, sandy beaches, tide pools, walking trails, wildlife and more all make this a great starting and stopping point for a walk along West Cliff Drive.

Tidepools: Visit the tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach during low tide to view thousands of sea creatures display in their natural habitat.

Monarch Preserve: Late fall through winter is the ideal time to stop and see thousands of Monarch butterflies in their winter habitat at the Monarch Grove in Natural Bridges State Beach.

Natural Bridges: Only one of the three original natural bridges remain at this popular photo location. The remaining stone arch makes a gorgeous frame for the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

Mitchell’s Cove Beach: A dog friendly beach with free parking located on West Cliff Drive. No restrooms.

Lighthouse Field State Beach: Free parking, restrooms, picnic tables and the Surf Museum are all located at this great beginning, midway or ending location along West Cliff Drive.

Surf Museum: The Santa Cruz Surf Museum is located in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse at Lighthouse Field State Beach . Check out photographs, surfboards, and other interesting artifacts tracing over 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz.

Steamer Lane: Lighthouse point looks down on the famous surfing location called Steamer Lane. This is a great spot to watch surfers rip and wipe out.

Santa Cruz Wharf: Steps away from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with plenty of spots to grab a bite to eat or have a sweet treat.

Looking for a spot to eat or shop other than the busy wharf area? These spots are just a short ride from West Cliff Drive and some of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the Santa Cruz area. Carpo’s in Soquel serves juicy burgers on a francese roll as well as chicken, steak and seafood options. I never visit without ordering one of their homemade olallieberry shakes. Sno White Drive-In in Aptos is an easy spot to stop and get a refreshing soft serve cone dipped in chocolate. Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria in Capitola is popular for ordering ahead and picking up gourmet sandwiches and salads to-go or eating on their patio. The Santa Cruz Boardroom in Santa Cruz is the original home of the iconic Santa Cruz apparel. Head here for an on-trend souvenir from your day.

Looking for other fun activities to do this summer in the Bay Area? Check out my Walking Across the Golden Gate Bridge or Berry Picking in Watsonville posts. What spots are on your bucket list? I’m always looking for new places to add to my list.

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