Natural Bridges Beach

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Rating: C

Which do you like better, watching butterflies or sunbathing in the nude? Amazingly, at Natural Bridges, at the north end of West Cliff Drive, in Santa Cruz, if you're the adventurous type with at least a slight daring streak, you can do both. Better known for its beautiful butterflies, the park also features a cove that has been getting scattered nude use, during the moments when rangers aren't around, on hot summer days for decades, although we didn't see any nudies there on Memorial Day weekend this year, when it was rather chilly. The site has tide pools and a shoreline (bring binoculars) good for spotting whales, seals, and otters. The nude spot is a tiny, 150-foot-long "hidden" section located around the remains of the collapsed natural bridge that gives the park its name. "No one can see you there, and nobody patrols the area," says George, a UC Santa Cruz student. "The beach gets fewer nudists than 2222 [see below], but it's far less visible to the prying eyes of ogling tourists than Its Beach [see below]." Budget cuts have helped the nudists by sparking what George terms a "drastic reduction of lifeguard and ranger staff." Often lifeguards aren't even present on weekdays; on weekends they are more likely to patrol the main beach. However, except in low tide, getting to the nude spot isn't easy. Says George: "You walk down to the main beach, keeping tight to the cliff and then simply go around the point. Depending on the tide, your shorts might get wet and you might even be temporarily stranded on that side." While you're at Natural Bridges, be sure to visit the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve, the official state monarch refuge in California, where up to 100,000 monarchs form a "city in the trees," hanging from mid October until the end of February. From the park's parking lot, walk uphill and follow the Preserve signs and then an easy wooden walkway to the butterflies.

Legal status:

Part of Natural Bridges State Beach.

How to find it:

Take Highway 1 to Swift Street in Santa Cruz. Follow Swift to the sea and turn right on West Cliff Drive. Or coming from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, go north and stay on West Cliff until it ends at Natural Bridges

The beach:

150 feet long, located around the point from the main beach, hidden from view.

The crowd:

Most likely you, and perhaps a few other visitors.

Problems:

Water sometimes washes over the nude area; fog; wind; cold water; day use parking fee; except for the part around the point, Natural Bridges is a clothed, family beach.

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