The 15 Best State Parks in California

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California, United States

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Encompassing 340 miles of coastline, 15,000 campsites, and 5,200 miles worth of trails, California’s 280 state parks embody all the finest and most diverse sides of the state. You find every environment imaginable, from forests and beaches to mountains and deserts. Escape to nature for adventure, history, or relaxation at one of the 15 best state parks in California.

01 of 15

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California

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Located off the Pacific Coast Highway between Corona Del Mar and Laguna, Crystal Cove State Park combines the best of southern California. Wedged between a wild landscape filled with backcountry hikes and a classic sandy beach, this spot is perfect for diving, surfing, camping, or just enjoying the scenery. Experience over 2,400 acres of coastal landscape including vibrant tide pools and a 3.2-mile beach before grabbing a burger at the park’s very own Oceanfront Beachcomber restaurant and Bootlegger Bar. To stay even longer, book one of the 24 oceanfront cottages (originally built between 1920 and 1940) that have been restored for overnight guests.

8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Phone +1 949-494-3539
02 of 15

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Wildflower superbloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

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Covering a whopping 600,000 acres in Borrego Springs near the Mexican border, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in all of California. Due to its rough desert terrain and scorching summer temperatures, a visit will require plenty of preparation (and water) as well as an all-terrain vehicle to navigate the rugged roads. The park is stunning year-round but its best known for wildflower blooms in the spring and colorful sunsets. There are more than 90 flowering plants to enjoy and the park contains an exciting section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, USA
Phone +1 760-767-4205
03 of 15

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County

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This state park located just a few miles from the city of Santa Cruz is a favorite for hikers and backpackers thanks to the more than 4,650 acres of forest and open land. Perhaps the most popular spot within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is the 40-acre grove of old-growth redwood trees, the largest of which is 277 feet tall, 16 feet wide, and 1,500 years old.

Felton, CA 95018, USA
Phone +1 831-335-4598
04 of 15

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park near Big Sur, California

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It’s almost impossible to visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and not recognize its most famous landmark—the 80-foot McWay Falls that plummets from a rocky cliff straight onto the beach. The surrounding area is home to several other state parks that are also worth a visit (especially for camping), including Limekiln and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, as well as incredible vista points like Bixby Bridge. Although access to the beach below is strictly off-limits as it’s part of ​​the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the park features a short, half-mile trail that provides a great view of the famous waterfall. Likewise, the 1-mile, round-trip Partington Cove Trail includes steeper portions that take hikers to another rocky beach nearby.

52801 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920-9528, USA
Phone +1 831-667-1112
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05 of 15

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Cottage at Empire Mine State Historic Park

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Located in Grass Valley in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Foothills (about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento), Empire Mine State Historic Park safeguards an important piece of California’s history: the Gold Rush. Learn about the park’s retired gold mine and historic buildings at the visitor’s center before setting out to explore 14 miles worth of interpretive hiking trails. For true history buffs, head to the park between May and September to experience guided tours of the mine yard and cottage grounds where William Bowers Bourn Jr. built a stunning country estate in the 19th century.

10791 E Empire St, Grass Valley, CA 95945-8801, USA
Phone +1 530-273-8522
06 of 15

Columbia State Historic Park

Gold mining architecture at Columbia State Historic Park

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Located a couple of hours south of Empire Mine, Columbia State Historic Park offers a more inclusive glimpse into the same Gold Rush era and the people who lived through it. Visitors can stroll through the expertly-preserved town that served as the second-largest city during the peak of the Gold Rush, complete with stagecoach rides, a Western-style saloon, and a blacksmith’s shop. Families with kids will definitely enjoy the park on “Gold Rush Days” on the second Saturday of each month, where visitors can participate in craft making, gold panning, and interactive tours led by costumed guides.

11259 Jackson St, Columbia, CA 95310, USA
Phone +1 209-588-9128
07 of 15

Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay surrounded with green trees under clear sky, Lake Tahoe

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Take a look at the blue-green waters of Lake Tahoe’s southwest corner (a breathtaking contrast to the main lake’s deep blue tones) and it’s not hard to guess how Emerald Bay State Park got its name. Tahoe’s only island sits right in the center of the bay, topped with the ruins of an old teahouse and surrounded by an underwater maritime heritage trail, the state’s first, where scuba divers can swim past sunken boats and barges from the early 20th century. Even more unexpected is the Scandinavian-style stone castle known as Vikingsholm Castle found on a nearby shore. Visitors can also go camping at Eagle Point Campground, hiking on the Rubicon Trail, or simply take a cruise around the lake.

138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
Phone +1 530-541-3030
08 of 15

Salt Point State Park

Tafoni rock and the Pacific Ocean shoreline at Salt Point State Park

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Off of Highway 1 just north of Sonoma Coast State Park, Salt Point boasts some of the best coastal views in Northern California. Campers can choose from two separate campgrounds within the park’s 6,000 acres as well as 20 miles of hiking trails leading to breathtaking sights of the foggy offshore waters below. At Gerstle Cove, one can still see sandstone rocks scattered along the beach (remnants of a former rock quarry) and honeycomb-like tafoni caverns carved into the rocks by nature.

25050 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450-9738, USA
Phone +1 707-847-3221
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09 of 15

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

China Cove in Point Lobos State Park and Natural Reserve

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Popular with scuba divers and wildlife enthusiasts who come to discover the dynamic waters of Monterey Bay, Point Lobos State Park covers 550 acres of coastal land and another 775 acres offshore. Doubling as a nature reserve, the park hosts a large colony of seals along with sea lions and otters. Be prepared to share the space with a variety of photographers, bloggers, and even painters who come to experience the stunning scenery—there’s a reason why it’s known as "the crown jewel of the State Park System.”

62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923-9725, USA
Phone +1 831-624-4909
10 of 15

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Towering redwood trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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Big Basin Redwood State Park helps protect some of the world’s oldest and largest trees, which makes sense considering it is the oldest state park in California. First established in 1902, the 18,000-acre park hosts the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco. Big Basin also contains many of Santa Cruz’s favorite campgrounds and hiking trails as well as opportunities for mountain biking and horseback riding. Don’t miss the Redwood Loop Trail to explore the park’s tallest and most ancient trees, some are between 1,000 and 1,800 years old.

Boulder Creek, CA 95006, USA
11 of 15

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Sutter's Mill at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

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Located just about an hour east of Sacramento, Marshall Gold State Park has a pretty special claim to fame: it’s the place where gold was first discovered in California. It’s named for James W. Marshall, who’s credited for discovering the state’s first speck of gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River. Visitors can learn about this local history at the on-site Gold Discovery Museum, try their hand at panning for gold, or take a walk through the park’s oak woodlands.

310 Back St, Coloma, CA 95613, USA
Phone +1 530-622-3470
12 of 15

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Footbridge in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

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Draped in lush foliage and green ferns about 50 miles north of Eureka, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is one of four parks (known collectively as the Redwood National and State Parks) that protect 45 percent of California's remaining old-growth redwoods. Among this verdant, jungle-like scenery (pristine enough to have earned the park designation as both a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve) is a great span of meadows known as Elk Prairie, regularly grazed by large herds of massive Roosevelt elk. Apart from camping and hiking, visitors are also encouraged to experience the park via its three scenic drives.

127011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick, CA 95555, USA
Phone +1 707-465-7354
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13 of 15

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, California

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Find McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park tucked into the Cascade Mountains and centered around Lake Briton in Shasta County. The second-oldest state park in the California State Park system, many visitors come here for views of 129-foot Burney Falls fed by Burney Creek and several underground springs. For hikers, the park spans over 5 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail.

24898 CA-89, Burney, CA 96013, USA
Phone +1 530-335-2777
14 of 15

Año Nuevo State Park

Elephant seals lying on rocks sand at Ano Nuevo State Park

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Año Nuevo State Park and Nature Reserve provides a habitat for several endangered species and is an important breeding site for the thousands of elephant seals who migrate there each year. While most visitors come to Año Nuevo to spot the colossal seals and their pups who are typically born between December and February, the park has plenty of other features to choose from, such as sand dunes and a Marine Education Center.

1 New Years Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060, USA
Phone +1 650-879-2025
15 of 15

Limekiln State Park

Creek at Limekiln State Park

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Named for the historic limestone kilns used to extract pure lime from the coastal slopes, and another stop along Highway 1, Limekiln State Park offers history and scenery in just over 700 acres. Back in the 1880s, lime was a hot commodity used for buildings in nearby San Francisco and Monterey. When the limestone reserves were depleted and the kilns closed, the landscape could recover as the kilns slowly crumbled into stone and metal ruins. While the kilns remain the park’s signature attraction, there’s also beach access and 29 dedicated campsites set among redwood groves.

63025 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
Phone +1 805-434-1996
Article Sources
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  1. California Department of Parks and Recreation. "About Us." Accessed March 17, 2022.

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The 15 Best State Parks in California