New Brighton State Beach

The weather changed overnight, and we woke on Monday morning to cool fog with the tang of sea salt in the air. I immediately thought of a walk on the beach, and so made my way down the highway to Capitola and New Brighton State Beach.

Map of New Brighton State Beach

It was perfect. The fog clung to the tops of the trees, and save for a few loitering teenagers and a couple of fishermen, I had the beach to myself.

The beach with fog

New Brighton is one of the state’s most popular beaches, with 95 acres and a campground. It abuts Seacliff State Beach, so it’s possible to take a nice long walk along the shore. The beach at New Brighton is also known as China Cove, after a long-gone fishing village that used to exist there.

The cliffs with fog

I was surprised to see a group of expensive houses sitting right on the sand. I imagine they were once beach cottages, but have been upgraded in the years since they were first built. I also wonder what it’s like to live in one of them during a winter storm, and whether they can get insurance. I hummed “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” for the rest of the morning.

Houses on the beach

The beach is nice hard-packed sand, with islands of shingle perfect for beachcombing. I found some lovely lavender Purple Dwarf Olives, and a piece of abalone shell, all iridescent.

Seacliff State Beach is most famous for the Palo Alto, familiarly known as The Concrete Ship. It was towed to Aptos and used for several years as an amusement center, complete with cafes and a dance hall. The company that ran it went out of business, and the ship soon fell into disrepair. For a long time it was used as a fishing pier, but it’s now completely closed to the public. It still makes a scenic backdrop.

Fishing on the beach

The cement ship

The beach became busier down by Aptos, with families setting up umbrellas and picnic lunches, and tiers of hotels above the sand.


I reached the cut in the sand where Aptos Creek crosses the beach, and stood for a moment debating whether I wanted to take off my shoes and socks to cross it, or just turn around and explore other sections of the park. I was about to turn around when I scanned the horizon one more time, and saw Something Interesting. I quickly whipped off the footwear, and crossed the creek.

I walked as fast as I could, but was afraid that my clumsy bipedalism would be no match for the dolphins’ aquatic sleekness as they leapt and cut through the waves. And I did lose ground to them — until they turned around and came back my way. Dolphins! Right off the beach!

Dolphins on the beach

These photos are stills from the video I took (which I will post here in a day or two) and don’t do justice to what I saw. (They remind me of the famous fuzzy photos of the Loch Ness Monster.) The pod of dolphins was playing just past the breaking waves, and there must have been at least eight of them. I watched them for a long time as they dove and resurfaced. Most of the other people on the beach seemed to be oblivious to the dolphins’ presence, except for a group of teenagers.

Dolphins on the beach

I suppose there is a fine line between fantasy and reality, and we’ve all see way too many Disney movies to believe that nature really is red in tooth and claw. For whatever reason, two of the teens decided they wanted to swim with the dolphins, and made their way past the breakers to deep water. Luckily, the dolphins were smarter than the humans, and just swam away. I haven’t heard any reports of drownings or dolphin attacks, so I imagine the story ended benignly enough.

On their way to swim with the dolphins

On the way back I also witnessed an avian feeding frenzy, with hundreds of birds suddenly flying to one particular spot –I imagine a school of fish just below the surface– and began dive-bombing. The water was whipped into a froth by their wings, and this went on for some minutes. I took a video of the feast, which I’ll also post later this week.

Pelican over beautiful green-gray waves

The thing that struck me all day was the beautiful relationship between sea and sky. The colors would vary depending on wind direction and thickness of fog, and ranged from a deep blue to a wonderful viridian green. Sometimes the only delineation between sky and ocean was a thin streak of light at the horizon, and at other times they were contrasting yet harmonious combinations of green and gray. The photos in today’s blog give a hint of what I’m talking about, but still don’t approach the beauty of the real thing.

Fisherman as Seacliff State Beach

New Brighton State Beach:
Day use parking $8.00 (and please do pay your day use fee! State parks need our help!)
Camping fees range from $11 to $35; cabins are also available.
For more information, click here.

3 thoughts on “New Brighton State Beach

  1. Melissa you have an artist´s eye and a poet´s heart. I love reading about your quests.

  2. Kimlin! How are you doing out there in Spain? How is your walk progressing? Hope you’re having a wonderful time.

    Melissa’s sister, Joanna

  3. Just wanted to let you know about this:

    Transition to Walkable Neighborhoods: How to make it happen; a community discussion with Transition Santa Cruz, Thursday, May 28, 7-9pm, Police Community Room, 155 Center St. $5-10, Sponsor: Transition Santa Cruz; Contact: Rick Longinotti,

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