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Natural Bridges State Beach

Between the ocean and the edge of Santa Cruz lies one of the largest monarch butterfly overwintering sites in the west.

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Difficulty: Unknown
Length: 1.1 miles
Duration: Less than 1 hour

Overview:  In this oasis between the ocean and the edge of Santa Cruz lies one of the largest monarch butterfly overwintering sites in the... more »

Tips:  2531 West Cliff Drive

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 423-4609

Open 8:00 to sunset

Wi-Fi access available with wireless enabled laptop... more »

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Points of Interest

In 1983, California State Parks made this monarch grove a natural preserve and sanctuary for these fragile world travelers. The Monarch Grove provides the ideal conditions for the butterflies, and for you to see them.

Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park's wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to an... More

2. Seasonal Pond

During the winter, groundwater fills this half acre and turns it into a bustling habitat for red-winged blackbirds, belted kingfisher, American coot, American bittern, Sora, Virginia rails, and even great blue herons. Can you hear any frogs? That could be a Pacific chorus frog or a Red-legged frog.

These natural benches were formed a million... More

3. Meadow Area

Today's meadows are very different from the meadows the Ohlone knew. The Spanish missionaries converted open lands to cattle pasture in the late 18th century. The Europeans also brought nonnative meadow species, such as wild oats and other grasses, plantain, wild radish and wild mustard. Many of these plants now dominate the landscape.

Related to... More

4. Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis)

The fluffy white flowers (not shown) on this densely growing shrub give the plant its name: coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). It looks as though it has caught the downy fur of a passing coyote! This plant can grow in thin soil with little water. The wood burns easily, but the roots regenerate quickly after a fire.

Poison hemlock (Conium... More

5. Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata)

How can you tell the age of a Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)? Count the whorls of existing branches and broken stubs extending from the trunk. Each year, a new whorl of branches emerges from the tree top. This species is restricted to the Central Coast. It not only can survive fires, it needs the heat to release its seeds, which then flourish in... More

6. Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)

These Monterey cypress trees (Cupressus macrocarpa) have been sculpted by the wind. With one of the most restricted ranges of any tree in California, this species grows only in narrow strips along the Central Coast. Recognize it by looking at the female cones: they look like little soccer balls!

Can you tell who's been here? Look in the soft soil... More

7. Open Field

The spot where you're standing might have been a luxury hotel, if early Santa Cruz settler Fred W. Swanton had had his way. The wealthy entrepreneur built the casino and boardwalk a few miles south. In 1881, he owned this land and planned to develop it before bankruptcy ended his dream. The State of California bought this land in 1933.

8. Natural Bridge(s) in the distance

Once there were three natural bridges carved by the waves out of the Santa Cruz mudstone. Town residents used to drive onto the bridges to picnic or have weddings. Human use, coupled with the pounding wind and waves, helped erode the formations. The first bridge fell in the early 1900s and the second in 1980 after a heavy storm.

9. Moore Creek

Moore Creek originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains and flows through the park out to the ocean. Water samples taken here show evidence of human contamination from industry and development.

The Ring-tailed cat ((Bassariscus astutus), also known as the ringtail or cacomistle, is an endangered nocturnal species related to the Raccoon. It has been... More

10. Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis)

Hottentot Fig, also referred to as ice plant, is an introduced species that can tolerate high levels of salt. The crushed leaves may be used as a deodorant. Small mammals eat the fruit of the plant.