Exploring West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, a quaint seaside town located 75 miles south of San Francisco, is home to an iconic stretch of road known as West Cliff Drive. This 2.7-mile promenade, high above the azure waters of Monterey Bay, is a magnet for joggers, sightseers, cyclists, and surfers every day. This article explores the charm, the challenges, and the future of this beloved coastal pathway.

Perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, West Cliff Drive offers panoramic views that are nothing short of spectacular. This scenic road is not just another neighborhood thoroughfare. It is a place where locals and tourists mingle effortlessly, creating a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere. It’s especially popular at sunsets, but to be honest, you really should treat yourself to a sunrise over the city of Monterey across the bay – it’s truly spectacular.

Iconic Landmarks

Along the route, one can find a host of fascinating landmarks, including the iconic surfer statue (pictured below) – a popular spot for selfies. The route also takes you past a number of famous sites such as the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, West Cliff Inn, Sea & Sand, and the Seaway Inn.

Engaging Activities

West Cliff Drive is more than a road; it’s an adventure. The route offers access to a variety of outdoor activities. From strolling and biking to surfing and wildlife watching, there are countless ways to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area.

Santa Cruz Surf Culture

Santa Cruz is a world-renowned surfing destination, and West Cliff Drive is at the heart of this surf culture. The road overlooks Steamer Lane, a legendary surf break and one of the best places in the United States to surf. Check out my guide to the best surf spots in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, housed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, is a must-visit spot on West Cliff Drive. It provides a fascinating insight into the sport of surfing, explaining how it was brought to Santa Cruz by Hawaiian royalty, thus making Santa Cruz the mainland birthplace of California’s official sport.

Beaches and Parks

In addition to its surf culture, West Cliff Drive is known for its stunning beaches and parks. From the bustling Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to Lighthouse Field State Beach and the tranquil Natural Bridges State Beach and Park, there is a beach or park to suit every taste.

West Cliff Drive is also home to several dog-friendly areas. Its Beach and Mitchell’s Cove, for instance, are popular spots where dogs can play freely.

West Cliff Drive offers excellent opportunities for wildlife watching. From whales and dolphins swimming parallel to shore to clusters of hibernating monarch butterflies in the park’s eucalyptus grove, the area is a paradise for nature lovers.

The Threat of Climate Change and Erosion

Despite its beauty, West Cliff Drive has been grappling with the threat of coastal erosion. Recent storms have caused parts of the road to crumble into the sea, sparking discussions about how to adapt to an increasingly eroding coastline. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this erosion problem. Rising sea levels and more violent storms will speed up the rate of erosion, potentially causing significant damage to the coastline.

The cost of repairing the damage to West Cliff Drive is estimated to be quite substantial. Without additional intervention measures, the coastline could sustain billions of dollars in erosion and other climate-related damage.

The future of West Cliff Drive is uncertain. A range of options are being considered, from building seawalls and narrowing the road to closing it to cars altogether. Whatever the decision, it will have significant implications for the future of Santa Cruz and its beloved coastal route.

The community has been actively involved in discussions about the future of West Cliff Drive. Many residents have expressed a preference for maintaining the road’s existing charm while adapting to the realities of climate change. The city’s stance has been to explore all possible options and make a decision that best balances the need to preserve the road’s character with the realities of climate change.


West Cliff Drive is an integral part of Santa Cruz’s identity. It represents the city’s vibrant surf culture, its love for the outdoors, and its commitment to preserving its natural beauty. While the threat of erosion poses a significant challenge, the community’s resolve to protect and preserve West Cliff Drive is stronger than ever. The road’s future may be uncertain, but its spirit remains unbroken.

As climate change continues to reshape our coastlines, the story of West Cliff Drive serves as a reminder of the importance of adapting to our changing environment, while also preserving the things that make our communities unique.

West Cliff Drive Photo Gallery

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