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Best State Parks In California

California has so many beautiful destinations to visit, and our State Park System helps preserve and protect our state’s extraordinary biological diversity and natural resources to ensure they last for generations to come. There is so much to explore here in the Golden State, from Redwood Forests and Historic Sites to pristine coastal regions and vast deserts. Whether you’re looking to escape the bustle of the city, or a destination for off-highway vehicle recreation, California State Parks have something for you. Here are some of the best State Parks in California.

Best State Parks In California

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Address: 15101 Lancaster Rd., Lancaster, CA 93536
Phone: 661-724-1180

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is open sunrise to sunset every day, year round. But the best time to visit is during late winter and early spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom! During superblooms the park can get very crowded, and it is often windy, but seeing our state flower blanketing the hillsides is a pretty amazing sight to see.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Address: 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Park Headquarters: 760-767-5311
Visitor Center: 760-767-4205

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is the largest State Park in California coming in at over 600,000 acres. The park spans San Diego County to Imperial County and stretches from Riverside County to the Mexican Border. Anza Borrego Desert State Park is best for hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, seasonal wildflower viewing, wildlife viewing.

Chino Hills State Park

Discovery Center Parking Area: 4500 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea, CA 92823
Bane Canyon Road Entrance: 4721 Sapphire Road, Chino Hills, CA 91709
Phone: 714-524-2471

Chino Hills State Park is a natural, open space area that provides access corridors for wildlife to migrate between wilderness areas. There are beautiful trails to explore, the Historic Rolling M Ranch, and camping opportunities. Chino Hills State Park is also a popular spot for viewing wildflowers. The park is best for camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Crystal Cove State Park

Address: 8471 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Phone: 949-494-3539

Crystal Cove State Park is one of the largest remaining examples of natural seashore and open space in Orange County. It features historic beach cottages that date back to the early 1900s, 3.2 miles of beach, an offshore State Marine Conservation Protected Area, campgrounds, and 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness. Crystal Cove State Park is best for beach activities, snorkeling and diving, tidepooling, hiking, and camping.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Address: 13652 Highway 79, Julian, CA
Phone: 760-765-3020

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park sits about 40 miles east of San Diego. While many state parks have designated park entrances, Cuyamaca is laid out a bit differently, with many trailheads situated along Highway 79, some with large parking lots, and some with minimal roadside parking. The park itself is comprised of oak and conifer forests and expansive meadows. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is best for hiking, horseback riding, and camping.

Doheny State Beach

Address: 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629
Phone: 949-496-6171

Doheny State Beach is California’s first State Beach. It is one of the state’s most popular state beaches, attracting around one million visitors annually. Located in Dana Point, this is a popular spot for surfing and camping. There is an aquarium at the visitor center, tide pools to explore, and hiking and biking trails.

Hearst San Simeon State Park

Address: 500 San Simeon Creek Road, Cambria, CA 93428
Phone: 805-772-6101

One of the oldest parks in the California State Park System, Hearst San Simeon State Park is comprised of pristine coastal bluffs and rocky seashore. It includes the Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, the San Simeon Natural Preserve, and the Pa-nu Cultural Preserve. Notably, Hearst San Simeon is the unique home to an elephant seal rookery. It is just a few miles from Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument Visitor Center, and Hearst Castle. Hearst San Simeon State Park is best for boating, wildlife viewing, camping, and hiking and biking.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego, CA 92110
Phone: 619-220-5422

At Old Town San Diego State Historic Park you’ll step into California’s past with restored and reconstructed buildings converted into shops, museums, and restaurants that pay homage to life in the community between 1821 and 1872. Old Town San Diego Historic Park is best for learning about the community through living history, hiking, picnicking, and shopping.

Palomar Mountain State Park

Address: 19952 State Park Road., Palomar, CA 92060
Phone: 760-742-3462

Palomar Mountain State Park is located east of San Diego at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Visitors are immersed in a Sierra-Nevada-like atmosphere with beautiful forests and meadows with pine trees, firs, and cedars. The majority of the 1800+ acres of this park is covered with coniferous forest. Highlights here include the magnificent hiking trails, campgrounds, the historic weir, Doane Pond, Boucher Hill Summit and the Boucher Hill Fire Lookout. Palomar Mountain State Park is best for hiking and camping (mountain bikes are not allowed on trails here).

Redwood State Parks

There are a whopping 49 state parks dedicated to preserving the coastal redwood forests and giant sequoias. Locations for these parks span from Humboldt County near the northern California border to Big Sur on the central coast. These state parks protect about 140,000 acres of forest. Learn more about the Redwood State Parks locations and details.

San Onofre State Beach

Phone: 949-492-4872

With over 2 million visitors annually, San Onofre State Beach is one of Southern California’s most popular coastal destinations. The rocky bluffs and sandy beaches are perfect for a day out, and the swells here are a favorite for surfers. This is a prime destination for camping with its bluff top campgrounds, so you’ll have to be sure to make reservations well in advance. San Onofre State Beach is best for camping, beach activities, and surfing.

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

Address: 2701 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95816
Phone: 916-445-4422

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is located in Sacramento and marks the first permanent European Colonial Settlement in the Central Valley. Visitors can explore the adobe fort built in 1840, and the sawmill where gold was discovered in 1848. There are regular living history events here. Sutter’s Fort is best for education and learning about California’s history.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & State Beach

Address: 12600 North Torrey Pines Road, San Diego, CA 92037
Phone: 858-755-2063

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & State Beach are some of San Diego’s most visited destinations. It is the site of the nation’s rarest pine tree – it now only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island. The reserve has trails for exploring, or you can head to the beach and enjoy a day there. Torrey Pines is best for hiking, nature and wildlife viewing, and beach activities.

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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.