Only 16 miles from Santa Cruz, California, and within easy day-trip reach of San Francisco and Monterey, Sunset State Beach provides a diversity of experiences.
The State Beach provides 3 miles of unspoiled Pacific coastline for visitors to enjoy. The approximately 167-acre park contains four separate habitats to observe: coastal scrub, coastal woodlands, coastal marshland, and dunes.
Just south of the agricultural community of Watsonville, California, and on the grounds of an old dairy farm, Sunset State Beach has bluffs that support dunes that slope down to the shore.
The bluffs have two overlook points from which visitors can view Monterey Bay; in the summer and fall and at certain times of the year, viewers can catch views of large numbers of bottlenose dolphins in the Bay.
Monterey Bay is also in the path of migrating gray whales, blue whales, and the home at certain times of the year to humpback whales. Killer whales are also seen sporadically. There is always the possibility of seeing some whale sign from the overlooks.
Eucalyptus trees in the coastal woodlands provide shelter for another migrating species, the magnificent monarch butterfly. The monarch butterflies arrive in Monterey in the fall in one of the most strenuous migrations in the insect world, traveling on gossamer wings from North America to Mexico.
Some of the most stunning features at Sunset State Beach are the dunes along the bluff and protect the campground from strong ocean winds that tend to kick up in the afternoon. Between them are several different habitats that contain an astounding array of flora and fauna.
The coastal woodlands lie along the top of the bluff; coastal scrubs are also along the bluff and down the side. After the coastal scrublands are the dune mat, where the tenacity of life is astonishing; Coyote pocket mice, pinyon mice, and chickadees can be found beneath the trees, shrubs, and grasses.
Pajaro River Wetlands
You will find the rich marshland habitat at the point where the Pajaro River mouth and Sunset Beach Park intersect. Saltwater marshes include plants like willows, the California bulrush, and cattails, which provide living space for raccoons, mice, cinnamon teals, and mallards.
Sunset State Beach Camping
Swimming & Surfing
The beach at Sunset State Beach provides all of the normal attractions you expect at a beach. However, the possibility of strong rip currents cautions against all but strong swimmers going very deep.
The Pacific current that sweeps along the California coastline keeps the water fairly cold, so wetsuits are recommended for surfers or those who will be in the water for an extended period of time.
Sunset State Beach History
At the entrance to Sunset State Beach, you will see buildings that were part of the Van Laanan dairy farm. Mr. Van Laanan purchased the land for the dairy farm in 1938. Among the buildings on the land that he purchased stood a redwood farmhouse built in the early 1900s that visitors pass by today.
Ten miles down the coast from Sunset State Beach, you will find Moss Landing. A small seaside town that features fresh seafood and kayak rentals. Monterey Bay Kayaks offers guided tours into the Elkhorn Slough that can be followed up by lunch or dinner at Phil’s Fish Market.
Sunset State Beach has something for everyone, whether you want a picnic on the beach, play in the sand, explore the coastal habitats or kick back and relax. Here’s hoping you have the time to visit there soon!