Santa Cruz is the largest city in Santa Cruz County, California, on the central coastline. There are approximately 63,000 residents in nearly 22,000 households with about 7,000 fur babies. That is almost one dog per every three homes. The average high temperature in the summer is 76 degrees F and 65 degrees F in the winter, so it is never too cold or too hot here. This makes outdoor activities a blast, no matter when you are in Santa Cruz.
The city boasts almost 30 miles of coastline with 20 state parks and beaches, many of them dog-friendly. Whether you and your cuddly canine companion want to swim, go boating, do some fishing, or just hang out at the waterfront, Santa Cruz has what you are looking for and then some. But always pack doggie bags and extra water. These are our top 15 choices for dog-friendly beaches in Santa Cruz.
Lighthouse Field State Beach (Its Beach)
Whether you call it Lighthouse Field State Beach or Its Beach, this pup popular spot in the sand is stunningly beautiful and welcoming. Just 1.8 miles southwest, it is also called Point Santa Cruz by the locals and is one of the last open headlands in the state. Your pooch will have to stay attached to a leash no longer than six feet the whole time during your stay. Also, bring baggies to clean up after him. They do have restrooms with water, but it does not hurt to bring your own.
The beach is sometimes crowded, especially from June through August. Weekday mornings are best if you want some space. They also have a concession stand with sandwiches and beverages as well as surfing supplies and other stuff. You and Fido can also take a hike on the trails or just relax on the beach. But do not forget to visit the surfing museum. It allows dogs, too!
Mitchell’s Cove Beach
You will find Mitchell’s Cove Beach less than a mile west of Lighthouse Field State Beach. It is one of the only beaches in Santa Cruz that allows pups to play at the beach off-leash. Yes, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, your fur baby can run and play without the leash holding him back. This is perfect for playing fetch or frisbee! Dogs are still allowed between 10 and 4 but they have to be on a leash.
If you come when the tide is out, there are several caves and lots of tide pools. However, please keep your canine compadre from getting too close to any of the wildlife you see. The water at Mitchell’s Cove is calm and clear, so it is a great place to let your dog dive in. Just keep him close because there may be marine creatures out there if he goes too far.
Pyramid Park (West Cliff Beach)
Keep going west past the West Cliff Tide Pools and Whale Point to get to Pyramid Park, also known as West Cliff Beach. Named after the pyramid statue right in the middle of the upper section of the park, there are two ways to enjoy the space. You and your pup can play in the grassy areas up top where you can see some incredible views or take one of the paths at the western end of the park to get to the beach.
Just make sure you check the tide tables so you can be there during low tide or there will be no beach to walk down to. From the beach, you can see the famous rock formations at Natural Bridges State Park. However, do not go too far west because dogs are not allowed there. Up on the cliffs, you can often see dolphins and sea lions playing in the water and maybe even a whale or two.
Just two miles southeast of Santa Cruz downtown, Seabright Beach is also a dog-friendly place to bring your fur baby to play. Once known as Castle Beach, it was once the home of a castle built by James Pilkington in the early 1900s as a bathhouse. Then, it was a gallery and restaurant until 1967. Even though it is gone, the beach is still popular and has some incredible views of the Walton Lighthouse on the southeastern tip of the beach.
During the summer, there are lifeguards (on the weekends), restrooms, and concessions so you can have everything you need even if you forgot something. If your pooch gets anxious around crowds, visit during weekdays or take him further west near the San Lorenzo River or to the east near the lighthouse. You will also have an excellent view of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where the amusement park is. But dogs are not allowed.
Twin Lakes State Beach at the Santa Cruz Harbor
Right across the Santa Cruz Harbor, Twin Lakes State Beach invites all dogs to enjoy the beach as long as they are on a leash. There is a mile of golden sand here with clear blue water to enjoy. It is a popular spot for locals as well as visitors because it is right next to the harbor. It is also right next to Schwan Lake, which is also dog-friendly and has waterfront space.
Many people come to do some boogie boarding or surfing, but it is also fun for paddleboarding and swimming. You can even try fishing if you move further away from the swimming area. After your swim, you and your fur pup can use the outdoor showers to wash away the seawater and sand before going back to the car. There are also several trails to explore, geocaching, and interpretive exhibits as well as restrooms with clean drinking water.
Right next to Twin Lakes State Beach is another stretch of golden sand and clear water where pooches can play. Black’s Beach, also known as Lincoln Beach or 14th Avenue Beach, welcomes dogs on leash for swimming, playing in the sand, and whatever else you want to do. The water is great here, with enough waves for surfing out a ways while the shores are nice and calm. Even though it is small, between Twin Lakes and Sunny Cove, it is so peaceful.
Parking can be difficult because you are only allowed to park on the streets with a permit on weekends. But you can park in the Twin Lakes lot for $5 and just walk on down. There are port-a-potties and two beaches where you can sit and watch the water. It is a perfect spot for spotting marine animals like whales and dolphins because it is not as popular as the others.
Sunny Cove Beach
Right around the corner from Black’s Beach to the east, Sunny Cove Beach is another pup popular place to enjoy the sand and surf. The cove (Sunny Cove) is small, but since it is relatively unknown, you will not have to worry about finding a spot on the sand. Being in a cove, it is semi-calm, but since the opening is so small, the waves can be rough and have rip currents. Make sure you keep your cuddly canine companion on a short leash.
There is parking along the side of the road, but some of the spots require a permit, which you can get from city hall. It is in a quiet residential area, so you will not see many tourists here. Unfortunately, you will also not see any restrooms, water, or other amenities you would get at the larger beaches. It is mostly just a place to hang out on the sand and enjoy the view.
Santa Maria Beach
Next door to Sunny Cove, you will find the secret spot called Santa Maria Beach or St. Maria’s Beach. It is about three times the size of Sunny Cove Beach, which stretches all the way down to Corcoran Lagoon County Beach. However, it is still rather small compared to the more popular spots, so it stays relatively peaceful. As long as Fido is on a leash at all times while you are here and you pick up after him, he can join you.
To get to the beach, you can take the staircase at the end of 20th Avenue. Turn right, and you are there. You can also turn left and be at Corcoran Beach. You will need a permit to park here on the weekends, too, so make sure you get one. There is a portable toilet near the entrance but no other amenities, so pack enough water for you and your pooch.
Corcoran Lagoon County Beach
Next up is Corcoran Lagoon County Beach between 20th and 13th Avenues. Named after early settler John Corcoran, the beach is basically a sandbar between the Corcoran Lagoon and the ocean. At times, the water covers the beach but only in a small area of the beach. Your fur puppy is welcome here, but make sure you keep him on a leash shorter than six feet long. Also, bring baggies to pick up anything he drops.
Like the other beaches in this section of Santa Cruz, you may have trouble finding a parking spot on the weekends, especially during the summer months. And do not forget the permit or you may get an expensive ticket. It is a large beach with plenty of room for lots of pups and pup parents as well as families and everyone else. It is popular for boogie boarding, surfing, and kayaking. Pack a lunch and drinks because there are no concessions.
Two Six Beach
Also known as Double Six Beach or 26th Avenue Beach, Two Six Beach is the next dog-friendly beach to the east. As you probably have guessed, it is located at the end of 26th Street, where there is a stairway to the sand. It is another spot with limited parking, so try to visit during the weekdays when everyone is working or at school. With almost a mile of waterfront, it is one of the more popular spots for locals.
The sand is typically clean with a lot of driftwood and is a haven for many waterbirds too. Keep your cuddle buddy on a short leash. The water is relatively gentle most days, but going out too far is not recommended. However, you will see lots of surfing, boogie boarding, and kayaking here. There are porta-potties here but no other amenities, so bring what you need and make sure you pick up after your pup.
Moran Lake Beach
Moran Lake Beach is more than just a patch of sand and water. It is a park with close to 10 acres of space just east of Two Six Beach. Your canine compadre is welcome to join you anywhere in the park as long as you keep his leash on. Also, bring doggie bags to pick up after him. The park area has picnic tables, a playground, a trail, restrooms, water, and a parking lot with 40 spots.
The large sandy beach is just across the street and has tons of space for you and your pooch to run around and have fun. The water is calm in the shallows, but keep your pup away from the deep surf. It is a popular swimming spot, but you will not have to worry too much about it being crowded. You will, however, need to pack food and water because there are no eateries on the beach.
One of the only off-leash dog beaches in the Santa Cruz area, Hooper Beach is just about two miles east of Moran Lake Beach. It is not a huge place, but the sand on the western side of the pier is for letting your pooch play off the leash. This is great for playing fetch or frisbee! It is so much fun to watch your pup run around on the beach without being attached to a leash. And swimming is a lot easier too.
Parking is not too bad along Wharf Road and Cliff Drive, where you can get to the sand from the stairs. However, these are metered parking spots, so you will have to pay to park. The beach was named after Harry Hooper, a local Hall of Fame baseball player who played for the Red Sox. On the other side of the pier is Capitola State Beach, but dogs are not allowed.
New Brighton State Beach
Keep going east for about three miles past Capitola Beach, and you will get to New Brighton State Park and Beach. This place is pup popular for leashed dogs and includes a large park as well as a campground. Some of the activities you can do besides swimming include hiking, biking, fishing, surfing, geocaching, and picnicking. There are also a couple of playgrounds for the little humans, restrooms, and showers.
The swimming area is huge, and they have lifeguards on duty in the summer. Located on Soquel Cove, the waves are not bad, so you and your pup can swim if you like. It can be crowded, though. If you want to stay longer than one day, the campground has 110 campsites to choose from, but be sure to reserve your spot in advance. There is a camp host, visitor center, internet, hookups, and a trail you can explore with your cuddly canine.
Seacliff State Beach
Just three more miles east of New Brighton State Beach, Seacliff State Beach has one thing that none of the others do: A concrete shipwreck. The Palo Alto freighter was one of three ships made of concrete during the early 1900s when steel was hard to find. However, the ships were not finished in time for use in WWI, so they were used for other things. One company bought it and tried to make it into an amusement park, but that was a flop.
Now, the ship is just something you can see from the beach or the pier, as it is no longer safe enough for anything else. The beach also has a campground with 64 sites for RVs right along the sand. It is just a few steps to the water where you and your leashed pup can go swimming, fishing, or just hang out on the sand watching for sea lions and dolphins playing in the surf.
Manresa Uplands State Beach
Last but certainly not least, Manresa Uplands State Beach is another dog-friendly beach. Just about seven miles down the beach from Seacliff State Beach, this is one of the last uplands along the Pacific coastline and features both coastal strands with verbena, primrose, jellyfish, and crabs hanging out and coastal scrub, where you can see sagebrush, lizard tail, and a variety of birds and mammals. Dogs have to be on a leash six feet or under, and you have to clean up after them.
This beach also has a campground with 90 sites for RVs and tents, as well as 60 walk-in sites. Please book early, or you may not get a spot. They have showers, restrooms, and a camp host, as well as a trail that takes you to the beach. Fishing is fun here, too, with perch, smelt, bass, flounder, and even sardines. You can catch your dinner and cook it up at the picnic area or campsite.
The Final Woof
Had enough of the beach? Take your fur baby on a train ride with the Roaring Camp Railroads. Ride the 19th-century steam trail through the redwood forest with a historic narration to boot. Or you and your canine companion can visit some of the local off-leash dog parks like Frederic Street Park or University Terrace Dog Run. Another way to enjoy the outdoors with your pupster is hiking. Pogonip Open Space has over 11 miles of dog-friendly trails. Or take a walk along West Cliff Drive, where there is a three-mile trek along the ocean. Once you work up an appetite, take Fido to Betty Burgers on Seabright Avenue, where they have dog-friendly outdoor tables.
To explore more dog-friendly activities, parks, weather, and dining options in Santa Cruz, be sure to check out our dog-friendly Santa Cruz travel guide. This guide is filled with valuable information to help you and your dog make the most of your time in Santa Cruz, ensuring a memorable and enjoyable experience.