Santa Cruz, Ca – Home to thousands of migrating monarch butterflies from mid-October to mid-February, Natural Bridges State Beach offers an amazing view into an important piece of California’s natural history.
Species to Look Out For
About the Park
Santa Cruz, Ca – State Beach
Science Spotlight: State Marine Reserve at Natural Bridges
California was the first state in the nation to implement an expanse of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) along its coastline following the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999. Similar to a National Forest or National Park that protects areas on land, MPA’s work to protect marine areas from the effects of humans. MPA’s work to protect entire habitats from harm – rather than protecting just a single species.
Implemented in September of 2007, Natural Bridges is 1 of 29 protected marine areas along California’s Central Coast, and 1 of 124 areas in the state. It spans 0.25 square miles, spanning 4.1 miles along the shore. Natural Bridges is a State Marine Reserve, meaning that it is restricted from the recreational or commercial removal of all marine resources. The MPA was put in place primarily to protect the intertidal zone of the area.
Spanish colonization of the Natural Bridges State Beach area brought an era of changing ownership to the land that was once home to the Ohlone Native Americans. From the arrival of the Spanish onwards, the land was a brussel sprout farm, the site of a movie set, and an unfinished housing development. The ownership ceased changing hands in 1933, when the land was purchased by the state of California.
In 1983, the park also set aside the monarch grove as a natural preserve so that the area remains protected for future generations of monarchs and human patrons.
Visit the Park
Recommended Hike: Monarch Trail (0.6 miles)
Please note that there is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Dogs are not allowed on beaches or trails. Please also note that the monarch butterflies will only be present from mid-October to mid-February.
When visiting during the monarch migration season (mid-October – mid-February), we recommend taking the Monarch Trail to experience the amazing sights of the migrating butterflies. You have the option to connect to the Moore Creek Trail after viewing the monarchs, which ends at the beach.
Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:
Inverness, Ca – Ever hear of a place where you can see migrating gray whales and a common murre colony, all while climbing down a dramatic 308-step staircase to a lighthouse? Here we have the Point Reyes Lighthouse in a nutshell.
Point Reyes National Seashore has recorded nearly 490 species of birds – over 50% of the birds found in North America. This makes the area the most species-diverse park in America’s National Park System.
When hiking down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Dan and I caught a whiff of a smell on the breeze that brought me back to my summers spent monitoring nesting herring gulls. The smell was distinctively… seabird. Naturally, this piqued my interest. We stopped for a moment at one of the lookout sites, and within minutes found a colony of common murres in the distance.
Common murres are the most abundant nesting seabird found off the coast of north and central California, and several colonies make their home at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the mid-1980’s, the common murre suffered a severe population decline due to entanglement in fishing nets and the culmination of several oil spills along California’s central coast. Murre restoration projects have brought rising numbers and hope to the species populations, but they remain threatened by the consequences of a changing climate.
The Coast Miwok Native Americans occupied the area that we know now as Point Reyes for thousands of years. The first known European explorer to visit the area was Sir Francis Drake, who arrived to Point Reyes in 1579.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse, constructed in 1870, rests at the second foggiest place in North America. The lighthouse was replaced with an automated light in 1975, but it still remains as a museum piece with the National Park Service.
Visit the Park
Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.
With a total of 71,028 acres of protected land, you’ll certainly take a long time to run out of places to explore at Point Reyes. The Tule elk, a subspecies of elk only found in California, can sometimes be seen on the sides of roads or on grassy hillsides. We recommend completing the 1+ mile hike down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which offers seasonal views of common murres and gray whales. That said, anywhere you go will be rich in wildlife and scenic views.
Please notethat during whale watching season (late December to mid-April), the main road to the lighthouse is closed to private vehicles. Be sure to check the shuttle information if you plan on visiting during that time.
Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit: