Sandy beach
Hike-in Required
Snorkeling / SCUBA
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Located right next to the Santa Cruz Wharf and Beach Boardwalk, this beach is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. Cowell Beach is a popular surfing spot as well. If the surf is up, you can expect to see dozens of wetsuits dotting the ocean waiting for the next wave. The shoreline is sandy and stretches along the cliff face where West Cliff starts. Some amazing sunrises and sunsets can be seen from here also.

Wildlife can be abundant here at times, and to get a better view just walk down the wharf. There are always sea lions coming to and from the wharf, and you may see an occasional sea otter. Gray whales can be seen from the far end of the wharf during migration season, and there are always plenty of sea birds hanging around. 

Parking can be a little tricky here at times. If this small parking lot is full, try your luck along Beach Street or on the wharf and walk in. A few restaurants and bars are within walking distance from here as well.

Logistics + Planning



Parking Pass

Not Required


Easy access. Sheltered beach. Surfing




Whale watching
Bird watching


Nearby Adventures

San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California
San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California
San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California


We loved Cowell Beach. My girlfriend who had never surfed before in her life caught her first wave on her first attempt here. We hired Richard Schmidt Surf School for a lesson. I had surfed since a teen but felt gettting a lesson was a good idea for her. The waves are rolling and friendly and the local surfers were very accommodating to all the beginners in the water. Surf experience of a lifetime for sure.
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