New Brighton State Park and Beach
New Brighton State Beach is six miles south of Santa Cruz. Only a few minutes away unless it is rush hour. The campground sits on the bluffs above the north end of this very long beach. You can walk on it for almost five miles. Some of the campsites are right on the bluff, so you can see the ocean from your tent. You can hear the ocean from all of the campsites.
The campsites are fairly close together, except for some prime ocean view spots. Many of them are under the shade of tall cypress trees. There is not very much vegetation. The road that connect the campsites is level, paved and good for little bike riders. There are ranger led campfires on the weekends and a nice visitor center that highlights the migration of both people and whales into the area.
The walk to the beach is a short, but very steep. People who struggle walking or families with too much stuff, drive down to the beach and park at sea level. Depending on the weather, the water can be calm or have swells large enough to surf on. Many folks boogie board. There are no tide pool areas. There are some fire rings on the beach and the restrooms have running water.
This is a large campground with brand new bathrooms with lights, running water and showers. Despite their newness, and maybe because the campground is so large, they were rarely clean during our visits. There are few mosquitoes. At the shoreline you will see seals, sea lions, dolphins and diving pelicans. While we were there in July there were schools of little fish that the pelicans and dolphins were chasing after. They put on quite a show.
Reservations: Campsites can be reserved starting on January 2nd through Reserve America. Make your reservations early as this campground is near the Bay Area and is a very popular weekend get-away. Expect it to be reserved from May through September. It was completely reserved for the Memorial Day weekend by 11 am on January 2nd.
Weather: New Brighton is on the northern California Coast. Expect costal fog all summer, and warm days in the early fall. It can be very pleasant even in the winter. The water is warmer than north of San Francisco, but it is by no means warm. Kids will be able to play in the water, but only a few adults will last long.