Sea-sonal Wonders

Tidepool and See Migrating Wildlife at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz

{FEBRUARY 2024 NOTE: DUE TO RECENT STORMS, BEFORE VISITING NATURAL BRIDGES STATE BEACH CHECK THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE FOR CLOSURES AND UPDATES.}

You’ll need to go during low tides to safely enjoy tidepooling at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. As its name suggests, the beach has a natural arch and is an excellent spot for an intertidal adventure.

Among the best times to go tidepooling can be during winter’s king tides, when you have the highest and lowest tides of the year. The next peak is February 9 (2024), but the peak window lasts for a few more days, so you can still go tide-pooling during the weekend (February 10-11); low tide for each of those dates are 4:07 p.m., 4:46 p.m., and 5:24 p.m., respectively, which fall nicely into the golden hour and sunset times. Refer to this tide chart for Santa Cruz for more details. *Remember to stay safely within the low-tide timeframes.

The visitor center is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday to Monday. You can learn about the tide pools there (including the safest routes for exploring them) before heading out. If it’s low tide it may be possible to explore the tide pools along the rocky cliffside on the right side of the beach (map). Look out for the vibrant flower-like sea anemones—fascinating creatures with soft bodies that provide shelter for small fish, crabs, and shrimp during high tide. Try to see if you can also spot sea stars and mussels. As the wildlife here is protected, do not pick up or touch any of the marine life.

A few key safety notes: Rocks are slippery and very slick after big rains; waterproof or water shoes are recommended and exercise good judgment in prioritizing safety first. Never turn your back on the ocean—sneaker waves can come at any time. Venture into tide pools only at low tide and be mindful even then. Always check the tide chart for Santa Cruz before exploring these tide pools.

Even if you don’t go tidepooling here, Natural Bridges State Beach is a scenic spot for spying migrating whales, seals, and shorebirds.

BONUS MIGRATION FESTIVAL: Natural Bridges State Beach is hosting a Migration Festival this Saturday, February 10. There is no charge for the event, but parking is $10. The park is hosting migratory animal talks, and other activities in celebration of whales, butterflies, and birds that travel!

BONUS MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: If you get lucky with timing, you may even be able to see the monarch butterflies in the Monarch Preserve at Natural Bridges State Beach (the butterflies tend to leave by mid-February, though, so check ahead on the status).

Park near the visitor center (map), and explore the tide pools along the rocky cliffside on the right side of the beach (map). NOTE: Tidepooling after wet weather can be very slippery, and sneaker waves are dangerous, exercise caution and good judgement. No dogs.

Story and photos by Janice Lim, @wheresjanice (website: wheresjanice.com).

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