Wilder Ranch Beaches and Coast Dairies Beaches

North of Natural Bridges

Caution: Check with rangers or lifeguards that conditions are safe for your planned activities.

Books of Interest

Wilder Ranch State Park

  • Location: 2.3 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.
  • Hours: 8:00 AM to sunset
  • Admission: Free

The Wilder Ranch property extends about 2.5 miles along the coast north of Natural Bridges State Beach and extends nearly 5 miles inland. The main features of the park are the old ranch buildings and a network of 34 miles of trails. Among the trails are several that lead to small beaches within the park: Wilder Beach, Fern Grotto, Sand Plant Beach, Strawberry Beach, 3 Mile Beach, and 4 Mile Beach.

Wilder Beach

Nesting place for snowy plovers, closed to public use.

Fern Grotto Beach

Plan to arrive at low tide so you can visit the cave. Follow the Old Cove Landing Trail, an old ranch road, from main parking lot toward the coast, 1.2 miles. Descend to the beach via a side trail at the north end of Old Landing Cove. Find the cave well back from the ocean. The ferns are watered by an underground spring.

Sand Plant Beach
3 Mile Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA

3 Mile Beach

Continue along the trail, soon becoming the Ohlone Bluff Trail, to the north another third of a mile to the beach. A shortcut trail descends onto the beach and crosses to continue north.

Strawberry Beach

A beautiful stretch of sand set between low bluffs and wave pounded cliffs. An idyllic setting for a day at a secluded beach. About a half mile up the coast from Sand Plant Beach.

3 Mile Beach

Watch for Needle Rock jutting out of the ocean as you hike the next mile up to 3 Mile Beach. You'll find another pristine little beach nestled against the bluffs. 3 Mile Beach can be accessed directly from a small parking area along Highway 1. A clear trail leads out to the bluff overlooking the beach.

4 Mile Beach

A mile beyond 3 Mile Beach, naturally enough, is 4 Mile Beach. This beach can be accessed fairly easily from Highway 1. Park in a small dirt lot just north of Jacob Farm and follow use trails for about half a mile to the long stretch of beach known as 4 Mile Beach. In the past it was a favorite of nudists, but much less so now. Spectacular coastal scenery.

Wilder Ranch State Park beaches map, Santa Cruz County, CA
Yellowbank Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA
Yellowbank Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA

Wilder Ranch Coast

Wilder Beach

Coast Dairies Beaches

  • Location: 3-4 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset
  • Admission: Free
  • Facilities: Parking

Southern Coast Dairies Beaches are scattered along the coast between Wilder Ranch State Park and Davenport. Large sections of coastal land were acquired by the Trust for Public Land and transferred to the State of California in 2006. A vast area of inland property was added in subsequent years and will most likely be overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Today the Coast Dairies Property covers about 6,800 acres surrounding Davenport and includes 700 acres of redwoods and 7.5 miles of shoreline.

The southern-most beaches in the Coast Dairies Property are Laguna Creek Beach, Panther Beach, Hole in the Wall, , and Bonny Doon Beach. A coastal trail connects all the beaches. Other beaches farther north on the Coast Dairies Property are Scott Creek, Davenport Landing, Davenport, and Sharktooth.

Laguna Creek Beach
Laguna Creek Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA

Laguna Creek Beach is a half mile long beach, sometimes frequented by clothing optional beach visitors. It is 3 miles north of Santa Cruz city limits. There is a small, secluded pocket beach at the north end and a broader expanse of sand near the mouth of Laguna Creek.

It is a nice spot for sunbathing, bird watching, and beach combing. Laguna Creek Beach is one of the few coastal beaches with restrooms located adjacent to the beach rather than back in the parking lot.

The beach is undeveloped and has no facilities. There is a small parking area on the north side of Highway 1 at the intersection of Coast Road. A short path leads to the beach. The nearest supplies are 2.8 miles north in Davenport.

Yellowbank Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA
Panther Beach and Hole in the Wall

Panther Beach is at the outlet of Yellow Bank Creek, about 4.4 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. Parking is in a long dirt lot on the ocean side of Highway 1. The trail to YPanther Beach can be somewhat treacherous, descending rocky bluffs via an eroded chute.

Geology enthusiasts find plenty of interest along the cliffs which show layers of sandstone and Santa Cruz Mudstone. Photographers, drawn by the interesting rock formations, often visit Yellowbank Beach. The Panther beach area has seen a number of emergency situations where visitors have fallen from the rocks or been trapped in pocket beaches by rising tides.

A natural passage through the cliff connects Panther Beach to its southern neighbor, Hole in the Wall Beach. Access is only available at lower tides. Visitors have to watch to be careful they don't end up trapped on Hole in the Wall Beach by rising the rising tide.

Bonny Doon Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA

Bonny Doon Beach

Bonny Doon Beach is at the intersection of Bonny Doon Road and Highway 1. The small beach is split into two sections, a secluded pocket beach to the north (favored by the clothing optional crowd) and the larger main beach. A hook of land on the south side of the beach offers some protection against both wind and waves.

Parking is in paved slots along the highway, approached from the north. The easiest access to the beach is from the northern end of the parking lot. The trail leads across the rarely used railroad tracks.

Coast Dairies beaches map, Santa Cruz County, CA

Hole in the Wall Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA
Hole in the Wall, Panther Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA

Hole in the Wall Beach

Passage to Hole in the Wall Beach from Panther Beach

Ocean Safety

California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at CA State Parks: Ocean Safety

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