By DENNIS WYATT
WATSONVILLLE — The best keep secret when it comes to state beaches in the Monterey-Santa Cruz area is just outside a town that given its heavy concentration of agriculture ranging from artichokes to strawberries is anything but touristy.
Zmudoski State Beach located south of Watsonville by taking Struve Road off Highway 1 is 20 miles north of Monterey.
It is one of six state beach parks aligned along the coast of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They offer a combined 20 plus miles of unbroken beaches.
So what makes Zmudoski State Beach so special?
The first clue is you have to zig-zag down a narrow county road for more than 2 miles after turning off Highway 1 to reach it. The second clue is here’s not a hotel or tourist trap anywhere on the horizon when you turn off the state highway.
We came across Zmudoski State Beach by chance on Sunday during the Fourth of July weekend when half of Northern California appeared to be making their way to Santa Cruz or Monterey turning Highway 17 and Highway 101 into rolling parking lots.
After visiting Point Lobos State Reserve with a couple of thousand other people we wanted to hit a sandy beach.
Heading north along Highway 1 we passed the usual suspects — Monterey State Beach, Fort Dunes State Park, Marina State Park, Salinas River State Beach, and Moss Landing State Beach. All had Fourth of July weekend crowds with not a parking space — legal or otherwise — in sight.
We had decided to head north to Santa Cruz and check out the beaches there as if that would somehow be different.
As we inched along in traffic I noticed the sign. A quick look to the west and all the eye could see were strawberry fields.
The third clue that this could very well be a find was the end of the road where there was a dirt parking lot large enough for perhaps 20 cars with just six parked there plus a pickup truck attached to a horse trailer on the roadside just before the lot.
Actually access to the beach is a short trudge up a relatively steep sand dune that then drops to the sandy beach.
We headed a half mile north to claim our spot.
During our two-hour stay four people passed us including two on horseback. On the mile plus of the beach we covered there were perhaps a dozen people.
As sandy beaches easily accessible going Northern California the lack of a crowd of any sort sets it apart from the pack.
The beach is regarded as a solid place for fishing, horseback riding, and birding. More about those three activities later on. The granddaughters were there to play in the surf and on the sand. I was there to just soak it all in without half the rest of the free world crowded around. It worked for all of us.
Not anything against people, but it’s always nice to enjoy the Pacific Ocean with the cattle call climate of many beaches with dogs (they are not allowed here or on most state beaches save doe service animals), pseudo beach parties, litter, and — how to do I say this politely — screaming kids.
While Katelyn and Ashley ran from waves, frolicked on the sand, and took endless selfies I propped myself up against a sandy ledge indulging in simply scanning the horizon and being serenaded by the waves.
Between the ocean’s lullaby created as waves rolled onto shore and the lack of a crowd, I did something I’ve never done ever on a beach — I fell asleep. It was that relaxing.
Among the people we encountered on Sunday was a fisherman. The surf at Zmudoswski State Beach is considered ideal for catching perch, kingfish, sole, flounder, Halibut, jacksmelt, lingcod, cabezon, salmon, steelhead and rockfish.
Horseback riding is allowed on wet sand. If you’re interested and lack a mount contact the Monterey Bay Equestrian Center.
Just before you reach the parking lot, you pass a freshwater pond. On Sunday we saw a few snowy egrets as we drove by. Birders report bountiful sightings of American bitterns, a repertoire of ducks, night herons, little gulls, and white-faced ibises.
At the northern of Zmudowski State Beach near the mouth of the Pajaro River you’ll find plenty of gulls, pelicans and terns.
Save for Monterey State Beach that features a gentle sloping shelf beneath the waves, swimming and water sports are dangerous at the other five beaches in the 20-plus mile stretch. That’s because of tides, currents, and steep drop offs near shore. There are also no lifeguard services available.
The state parks brochure for more information to download at parks.ca.gov is Ft. Ord Dunes State Park/Monterey Bay Area State Beaches.
Monterey County has more than a 10th of California’s 840 miles of coastline including 99 miles of beach from the Big Sur area north to Seaside.
Monterey is a two hour and 15 minute drive from either Manteca or Turlock.