Panther Beach

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Rating: B

Popular activities at Panther Beach, some 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, include sunbathing, reading, picnicking, rock climbing, bird watching, swimming, exploring the shore, or simply doing nothing at all. If the time is right, you can even spot a whale or two as they migrate past the shoreline, which has tall rock towers, natural arching bridges, and a wall of rocks with caves, on the south end. Tip: bring a beach umbrella and good walking shoes for the trail to this small but beautiful beach.

Legal status:

Undeveloped state beach.

How to find it:

Panther Beach is located between mileposts 26.86 and 26.4 on Highway 1, some 10.6 miles north of the junction of Highway 1 and 17 in Santa Cruz and 40.7 miles south of the intersection of Highways 1 and 92 in Half Moon Bay. Drive slowly so you can make a sharp right turn onto a small dirt road on the west side of the highway, which is difficult to see when approaching from the north. The road leads to a rutted parking area that lies on a ridge between the highway and some railroad tracks. From the north end of the lot, cross the tracks and, while watching for poison oak, follow the steep, sloping, somewhat crumbly path to the sand.

The beach:

High rock towers, natural bridges, and a wall of rocks complete with a cave on the southern edge make Panther picture perfect. Rock climbing opportunities range from easy boulders to challenges that are 25 feet. The area includes a beachside rock wall with a cave that extends inside for around 10 feet. Some climbers like the left side of the entrance of the cave, where there are some handholds. If you fall there, you'll probably land in the sand. Swimming is touch-and-go, so if your toes tell you it's too cold or the riptides are frothing, then you might want to stick to clothing-free tanning. The beach is about 100 yards long and 70 yards wide and has some of the area's best sand. 

Photos available here

The crowd:

Usually a half dozen people, half of whom are nude. Nude and suited sunbathers, surfers, rock climbers, and others usually get along well here.

Problems:

Patrols by rangers may eventually begin; rutted parking lot; eroded trail; poison oak; hazardous access to the south beach; auto vandalism.

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