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Written By: Brianna Porter Best California State Parks to Visit

While known for its Hollywood attractions and celebrities, California’s natural beauty is what really deserves our attention. You don’t have to travel abroad to hike underneath towering 300 foot trees, roam through endless fields of rainbow-colored wildflowers or view a sunset on the world’s largest body of water while dangling your feet off the tip of a rock. Check out these nine adventure packed California State Parks and Reserves.

Best California State Parks to Visit

  1. Malibu Creek State Park

With over 8,000 acres of land in the Santa Monica mountains and 15 miles of trails, this park is sometimes referred to as the “Yosemite of Southern California” with activities like camping, hiking, solo or free docent guided hikes, rock climbing, kayaking, biking and even running barefoot through wildflowers (when in season). Pack water, sunscreen and a hat, and bring a camera because you may see mountain lions, turtles, many different species of birds, deer and possibly bobcats.

Native Knowledge:

-Most famously known for the outdoor set for the TV series M*A*S*H.
-Parking is $12.

Malibu Creek State Park
1925 Las Virgenes Rd
Calabasas, CA 91302   


  1. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Within its 600,000 acres, the park contains a fifth of San Diego County and is the largest state park in California. There are bike trails, hiking/backpacking trails, horseback riding, 500 miles of dirt roads made for the 4×4 off road enthusiast, 12 wilderness areas, more than 22 Instagram-worthy caves to explore and the park is perfect for nighttime star gazing. Located on the eastern side of San Diego County, it’s a two hour drive from San Diego. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and anything that will protect you from the elements.

Native Knowledge:

-The park has over 550 types of fossils of plants and animals, including mammoth skeletons.
-Parking is limited for $10 for day use.
-For the best views upon entering the park, approach the from the east or west on highways S22 and 78.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
300 Palm Canyon Dr
Borrego Springs, CA 92004


  1. Crystal Cove State Park

Amidst the 2,400 acres of beach and wilderness, you will be able to explore over three miles of beautiful beaches, tide pools, hiking in undeveloped backcountry, diving and snorkeling.

In the tide pools you may find California mussels, abalone, ochre stars and a bunch of sea urchins and barnacles.

Native Knowledge:

-You may be able to spot a 150-year-old historic anchor resting west of the Muddy Creek, approximately 150 yards offshore at a depth of about 20 feet.
-It’s open between 6 a.m. and sunset, with day parking being $15.
-Dogs are only allowed on the two and a half mile paved trail on the bluff.

Crystal Cove State Park
8471 N Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651


  1. Antelope Valley California Poppy State Natural Reserve

This state reserve has 1,781 acres of blooms and eight miles of hilly trails covered in poppies spanning February to May. If you are quiet enough you may spot wildlife lurking in the fields like lizards, gopher snakes, bobcats, coyote and meadow larks.

Native Knowledge:

-You must stay on designated ‘official’ trails.
-Picking flowers is against the law.
-Photos can be taken right next to the flowers just beware of the snakes; they like to hide in the Poppies.
-Recent visitors say you can park on the road and walk to save some money on parking fees.
-Try to avoid visiting on weekends because even though it’s in the desert, traffic can still get jammed.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
15101 Lancaster Rd
Lancaster, CA 93536

  1. Emerald Bay State Park

Located 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, the park is 1,533 acres of beauty and is a great spot for a weekend getaway or a family camping trip. Emerald Bay was designated as an underwater state park in 1994. It includes fishing, camping with RV access and bear-resistant food lockers, a beach area, snorkeling and scuba diving (where you will find old ships, a dock and maybe even a old car), elevation gains of 400 feet and beautiful forest scenery.

Native Knowledge:

-No vehicle access to the lakefront, so you will have to walk a mile, but it’s worth it!
-You can tour the “Tea House,” located on Fannette Island.
-Don’t miss the 38-room mansion built in the Scandinavian architecture style called the Vikingsholm.
-Day parking is $10, but arrive early due to limited space.

Emerald Bay State Park
138 Emerald Bay Rd
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150


  1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Navigate 2,000 acres of coastal land just the way it was before San Diego was developed.

Experience miles of beaches, eight walking trails and hikes to choose from a lagoon with migrating seabirds, and the opportunity to paraglide over the ocean. Bring sunblock and your adventurous spirit!

Native Knowledge:

-During whale migration season, you may see them from the cliffs!
-Flat Rock is also a very popular spot that is at the southern end of the beach.
-Black’s beach is SD’s unofficial nude beach, just to warn you.
-After paragliding, you can check out the Cliffhanger Cafe and watch others flying over the water while enjoying the view and some grub.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd
La Jolla, CA 92037


  1. Red Rock Canyon State Park

To reach the expansive 27,000 acre park located in the Mojave Desert, take the 5 freeway 120 miles north of Los Angeles and you’ll get to the southernmost area of where the Sierra Nevadas and the El Paso Range meet. Once you have arrived, dive into hiking trails with wildlife like hawks, lizards and squirrels, picnic areas, camping, horseback riding, off-roading at Black Rock Canyon, guided tours of the colorful rock formations and an environmental learning and visitors center.

Native Knowledge:

The Mummy and Jurassic Park were filmed here.
-Not a lot of planning is needed to view this park if you’re going just to see the rock formations. You can walk right up to them and snap your photos!
-$25 a night for overnight campers. Bring your own firewood!

Red Rock Canyon State Park
Abbott Dr
Cantil, CA 93519


  1. Humboldt Redwoods State Park

This park is about twice the size of San Francisco and as California’s third largest state park, it includes over 53,000 acres of Redwood giants. Trek through 100 miles of hiking/biking areas, go fishing, camping (aka more than 250 sites to choose from), swimming and check out the drive-through trees! While exploring, there is a chance you may see black bears, deer and banana slugs.

Native Knowledge:

-There are many options when it comes to camp sites, one being Cuneo Creek Horse Camp, where you can bring your horse to ride through the park.
-17,000 acres of the park is comprised of old growth Redwoods and is the largest span of ancient redwoods left on the entire planet.
-In the fall, you can participate in the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
17119 Ave of the Giants
Weott, CA 95571
8 California State Parks Just Waiting to Be Explored

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