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Natural Bridges State Beach

Monarch Trail

0.75 mile round trip

Until October 1989, when the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake shook Santa Cruz, it was easy to see why the beach here was named Natural Bridges. Alas, this strong temblor doomed the last remaining natural bridge.

While its offshore bridges are but a memory, this park on the outskirts of Santa Cruz nevertheless offers plenty of other natural attractions. A eucalyptus grove in the center of the park hosts the largest concentration of monarch butterflies in America. The park has an extensive interpretive program from October through March, when the monarchs winter at the grove.

Another park highlight is a superb rocky tidepool area, habitat for mussels, limpets, barnacles and sea urchins. After you explore the park, visit nearby Long Marine Laboratory, located just up-coast at the end of Delaware Avenue. University of California Santa Cruz faculty and students use the research facility, which studies coastal ecology. The Lab’s Marine Aquarium is open to the public by docent tours.

Directions to trailhead: Natural Bridges State Beach is located off Highway 1 in Santa Cruz at 2531 W. Cliff Drive. Follow the signs from Highway 1.

The hike:
Signed Monarch Trail begins near the park’s small interpretive center. Soon the trail splits; the leftward fork leads to a monarch observation platform. Sometimes on cold mornings, the butterflies look like small, brown, fluttering leaves. As the sun warms the tropical insects, the “leaves” come to life bobbing and darting. As many as 200,000 monarchs cluster in the state park on a “good” butterfly year. The other branch of the trail is a self-guided nature trail. It ends in a grove of Monterey pine.

When you head back to the visitor center, detour down to the beach. Just up the beach is Secret Lagoon, the domain of ducks and great blue herons. Up the beach is one of the Central Coast’s truly superb tidepool areas.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at