At the south end of Santa Cruz , down by the harbor, beachgoers flock to Seabright Beach (East Cliff Dr. at Seabright Ave., 831/685-6500, www.santacruzstateparks.org , daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m., free) all summer long. This miles-long stretch of sand, protected by the cliffs from the worst of the winds, is a favorite retreat for sunbathers and loungers. While there’s little in the way of snack bars, permanent volleyball courts, or facilities, you can still have a great time at Seabright.
There’s lots of soft sand to lie in, plenty of room to play football or set up your own volleyball net, and, of course, easy access to the chilly Pacific Ocean. There’s no surfing here—Seabright has a shore break that delights skim-boarders, but makes wave riding impossible.
Each Fourth of July, the Santa Cruz  police force cordons off the area surrounding Seabright Beach. No one can park nearby or even walk in after a certain point in the afternoon (which seems to change annually). But if you show up early to cart in yourself and all your stuff down onto the sand, you can participate in the unbelievable fireworks extravaganza that starts almost as soon as the sun goes down.
Though it’s technically illegal, people still create professional-grade pyrotechnical productions and launch them from Seabright. The effect quickly becomes overwhelming, but for those who can handle it, the night is truly magical.