Camping at New Brighton State Beach

Did you know that California has over 1,100 miles of coastline with over 450 beaches? Within those beaches there are around 63 designated California State Beaches that are managed by the State Parks system (this doesn’t include all the beaches in State Parks along the coast). New Brighton is one such California State Beach located in Capitola in Santa Cruz County and is situated right on the Monterey Bay.ย There is a day-use area, and many people come for the day to enjoy the beach.ย This is a popular beach, but the campsites with the ocean views are very highly sought after.

First of all, to the people that cancelled their reservations for a premium campsite at the New Brighton Beach campground on Easter weekend, I’m sorry that you weren’t able to use your reservations, but we thank you so, so much for giving us the opportunity to experience such a beautiful ocean view campsite. I happened to come across this lucky find through pure dumb luck while I was looking for campgrounds for the future. I happened to notice a tiny spec of green (available sites) in a sea of red… for the coming weekend in 2 days! After the initial shock, I kicked it into high gear, sweating as I clicked the reserve button, and then almost tripped head first while I was running to get my credit card info. Almost, thankfully. I really was expecting the campsite to be taken before I finished the reservation process, but somehow it all worked out and we had a lovely campsite on such short notice. It really does pay to check around because people do cancel reservations (I know I’ve had to cancel my fair share of them also).

We didn’t have much time to prep, but it was only an overnight camping trip so we relied on picking up some food on the way and stopping by Gayle’s Bakery and Roticceria in Capitola to pick up something special for Easter (the bakery and a produce market are only about 2 miles from New Brighton State Beach). Having the campervan stocked and ready to go made this last minute trip even possible for us. We don’t have the best track record when we pack for trips under pressure.

Treats from Gayle’s Bakery and Roticceria (everything was delicious, excuse the nibble it couldn’t be helped!)

New Brighton Beach State Park is located about 20 minutes east of Santa Cruz. It’s not a big park and is surrounded by civilization all around (no worries if you forgot something), but the beach is beautiful and as I mentioned before, the campground has ocean view sites up on the bluffs.ย We wound our way through the campground looking for site #73 and were NOT disappointed at our first look. #73 was a huge site and had, as promised, an ocean view. If you are thinking about camping at New Brighton, #73 is nice for a large group, but it was next to the trail that everyone took to get down to the beach. It wasn’t too much of a bother for us, but if you want more seclusion, then try to get another site along the bluff, most were very nice. On the other hand, it might be nice if you wanted easy access to get to the beach.

Campsite #73
Westward view (the popular Capitola Beach is around the bend)

We were able to enjoy a couple of hours of warm sunshine before the chilly ocean air made us retreat into the warmth of the van. We (ok, only my hubby and daughter) cooked dinner in the fire pit and enjoyed the fire as the ocean waves provided a soothing background sound.

Took a short walk around the campground and saw woodpeckers hard at work
The chefs for the evening figuring out how to cook our hobo packets of salmon, lemon and butter
Hazy sunset through the trees

Hearing the ocean waves is medicine for the soul and made for a peaceful slumber. I woke up early (darn my internal alarm clock!) and started feeling antsy when I looked out and saw what a beautiful day it was. Usually, I go for a walk or read so I won’t wake anyone up. BUT it was April Fool’s Day and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity go to waste, I have a reputation to protect ๐Ÿ˜‰ So, I casually looked out the window and started pointing and getting excited. “Come here and look at the giant fox (giant fox, really? so I panicked under pressure) that’s walking through our campsite. Wow! You have to get up and come right here to see it! It’s ginormous!” My peeps jumped out of their sleeping bags, always up for seeing wildlife. Only to hear, “April Fooooools!” Well, they weren’t exactly happy campers, but at least they were up ๐Ÿ™‚

Gigantic fox?!?
Plenty of space to set up chairs to view the ocean
View down to the beach
View eastward towards Aptos (you can see the wreck of the S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach)

We stayed at the campsite until the noon check-out time, these sites are for savoring and enjoying. The premium sites don’t come cheap, $50/night (with a non-refundable reservation fee of $7.99), so you want to make sure you get the most out of them. We eventually, made our way to the beach for a stroll. Just a beautiful beach on a bright sunny day. There were bathrooms and outdoor water spigots/showers to rinse off, all very convenient for a beach day.

New Brighton Beach
Sand crab getting ready to burrow with the next wave
Black Phoebe bird, sooooo cute
A little seal followed us along the water
A sunny, breezy day, perfect for sailing

We headed home by driving north through Santa Cruz, enjoying the views on Westcliff Drive. It was so popular on Easter Sunday that the parking situation was a little too crazy for us. So, we kept driving …

This bench in the middle of an ice plant patch looked very inviting
A little area to sit along a path, what a great idea

We took a quick detour through UC Santa Cruz, reminiscing about our college days. It was a perfect time to drive through the college since the students were on their Spring Break. So much has changed since we were there, but it was also nice that so much hasn’t changed either.

The science library where we spent many hours cramming our brains full of info that we’ve long forgotten
The bookstore still looks the same although there are many newer buildings around it now

Continuing up Hwy 1 we pulled over on Pigeon Point Rd near the Pigeon Point Lighthouse to have lunch and explore a new beach, Pistachio Beach. The wildflowers grow tall and abundant along Pigeon Point Rd, perfect for picture taking. On the beach we noticed some rocky areas in the northern section and headed over to see if we could do some tide pooling. We saw some hermit crabs, sea snails, and sea anemones as we scrambled over the slippery rocks.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Wildflowers grow tall here
Pistachio Beach
Tide pools on the northern section of Pistachio Beach
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Rocky areas perfect for exploring
Sea anemones, sea snails and hermit crabs were abundant
Anemones up close

As we were walking with our heads down looking intently at the tide pools, we noticed that we had quite accidentally gotten close to a sea lion sunbathing on the rocks. It was so still that we wondered if it were alive. At some point a lady walked by the sea lion and the sea lion lifted its head up ever so slightly. Alive, and so well camouflaged!

2018-04-01 17.05.53.jpg
We didn’t even notice the sunbathing sea lion…
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…until we were much closer

The stretch of Hwy 1 north of Santa Cruz and below Half Moon Bay has got to be one of our favorite drives, and we can’t help keep coming back to it. There are so many beaches and tide pools to explore, wildlife to see and breathtaking scenery to marvel at.ย DSC_4258.JPG

New Brighton Campground information:
9 Premium sites: $50/night
10 Hook up sites: $50/night
88 Standard sites: $35/night

11 replies to “Camping at New Brighton State Beach

  1. I have driven from Lafayette, Louisiana to New York before and have been to every state on the east coast but have not been any farther west than San Antonio. I have always been in love with the idea of visiting the west coast but just have not got around to it yet. All of your posts and beautiful pictures are making me impatient. haha. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The east coast has its own great vibe (I lived in New York a couple of years as a kid and loved it!), and I hope you get to experience the west coast’s unique vibe as well. Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by.


  2. What an awesome treat to snag that cancellation. I know the feeling of scrambling to complete the reservation process before the site is gone. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Funny April Fools joke too! And I love the picture of the up close sea anemone!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Know this area some from past visits and experiences. Fun to see the pics and also journey to some happy past memories. Is this near a past Aptos vacation site? Yes, the ocean clears the mind and body..Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so happy for you that someone cancelled last minute. Sometimes you just get lucky ๐Ÿ™‚ Awesome! Looks like a gorgeous campground. I did visit the day use area last summer. The Santa Cruz area is very beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

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