Santa Cruz Marine Protected Areas Beaches Tour

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This self guided mobile tour features five different beaches along the Santa Cruz, California coast. Each beach is part of California’s statewide program to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs are similar in concept to national parks and forests on land. The goal is to protect and restore ocean habitats and increase the health, productivity, and resilience of ocean ecosystems.

The tour spans approximately 47 miles, from Elkhorn Slough at the apex of the Monterey Bay to Año Nuevo State Park just north of the line where Santa Cruz County becomes San Mateo County. It’s a beautiful driving tour, but make sure to leave time to stop and explore each beach. You’ll learn about elephant seals, shipwrecks, kelp ecology, geology, how native peoples interacted with the coastal environment, and more.

A screen shot of the stops and the interactive map feature in the self-guided mobile tour.
Location of the five stops in Mobile Ranger’s Marine Protected Area Beaches Tour. The five beaches from north to south are: Cove Beach at Año Nuevo State Park, Greyhound Rock, Natural Bridges State Beach, Seacliff State Beach, and the “Moss Landing Wildlife Area” at Elkhorn Slough.

Each MPA beach in the tour is highlighted below. All of the stories are in our free Mobile Ranger Guides app, which is available for Apple and Android devices. You can also read the stories in blog form (as we release them weekly) by following the links at the bottom of this page.

Elkhorn Slough

Here, you’ll stop at the wildlife viewing area along Highway 1 and learn about the slough’s salt ponds and how sea otters help keep the eel grass in check. You’ll also see how agricultural practices close to the slough have changed in the last few decades.

Arial view of Elkhart Slough in Moss Landing. Photo: US Army Corps of Engineers
An aerial view of Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing. Photo: US Army Corps of Engineers

Seacliff State Beach

Look for the famous “cement” ship, the SS Palo Alto (it’s really a concrete ship), and then learn how it was actually the last-ditch backup plan for a much more grandiose beachfront resort that wasn’t.

The S.S. Palo Alto in 1928. Photo: Gordon Woody, from the collection of Gerald Weber
The S.S. Palo Alto in 1928 at what is now Seacliff State Beach. Photo: Gordon Woody, from the collection of Gerald Weber

Natural Bridges State Beach

Stop at Natural Bridges State Beach and discover where all of the bridges have gone, how “Fabulous Fred Swanton” almost turned it into a hotel and resort in the 1910s, and why so many monarch butterflies hang out here.

Natural Bridges State Beach in 2016. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/Mobile Ranger.
Natural Bridges State Beach in 2015 with no bridges in sight, and only one arch. Photo: Julia Gaudinski/Mobile Ranger

Greyhound Rock

You’ll find out whether this Santa Cruz County park is aptly named, how the native peoples of the area used its shells to get rich, and why there is no nuclear power plant anywhere near this beach today.

Does Greyhound Rock look like a hound to you? Photo: Lauren McEvoy/Mobile Ranger
Does Greyhound Rock look like a hound to you? Photo: Lauren McEvoy/Mobile Ranger

Año Nuevo State Park

Here, you will walk out to Cove Beach and learn the history of kelp harvesting and how it affected the local surfers, find out exactly where William Waddell’s second wharf was located, be amazed by elephant seal feeding habits, and probably be glad you were not a lighthouse keeper at Point Año Nuevo.

Cove Beach, at the northern end of Año Nuevo Bay in 2009. Photo: © Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project .http://www.Californiacoastline.org
Cove Beach, at the northern end of Año Nuevo Bay, in 2009. Photo: © Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project

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Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store

Can’t drive to our Santa Cruz MPA beaches? No Problem. Read the stories below, blog-style:

About The Author

Ranger Salazar

Lauren McEvoy is a naturalist and Santa Cruz native with a passion for teaching through writing. She graduated Cum Laude with a BA in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2015. Lauren worked for Mobile Ranger as an intern and created a self-guided natural history tour of the UCSC campus. After graduation she has come back to Mobile Ranger to write and help things run smoothly.

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