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The Best State Parks to Visit in California

The Best State Parks to Visit in California

Wondering where you should go to spend your upcoming holiday? It's time you checked out the best state parks to visit in California now.

Roubina Al Abashian


6 min read

August 31, 2021

pThe Golden State houses around 300 state parks, each with its distinctive characteristics. Thinking of the state parks’ majesticity only brings fond memories of cool sea breezes, fairy waterfalls, and gigantic trees. No matter how much you see, you’ll never feel like you’ve seen enough.

Adventurers and road trip junkies know best that nothing beats a trip to California’s state parks. All the sightseeing, hiking, camping, and fishing to be experienced gets you hooked. But where should you start? If you’re up for an adventure but are confused as to where to head first, we’re here to help narrow down the list of best state parks to visit in California.

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The Best State Parks in California To Check Out Now

The Best State Parks in SoCal

Wander away in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and admire the gorgeous desert flowers.

1. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Location: 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Situated only two hours east of San Diego’s famous beaches, adventure lovers seek out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The largest state park in the Golden States sits on 600,000 acres of desert terrain. The massive badlands, cool palm oases, twisted slot canyons, and slopes filled with cacti will leave you wanting to explore more. There are 110 miles of hiking trails and 500 miles of dirt roads just awaiting your exploration. During nighttime, the park is a premier site for stargazing—it’s the first International Dark Community in the State.

 2. Crystal Cove State Park

Location: 8471 N Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Situated off the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, campers with a taste for everything outdoorsy can find Crystal Cove State Park. Sandy beaches, tidepools, rocky riffs, ridges, hills, and wooded canyons allow for visitors to engage in a set of activities that range from swimming and scuba diving to mountain biking and hiking. With its 3.2-miles of beach and 2,400-acres of backcountry wilderness, Crystal Cove State Park is known as one of California’s best parks for camping.

When hiking in Malibu Creek State Park, make sure to check out the MASH site. It's quite the scene.

3. Malibu Creek State Park

Location: 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, CA 91302

Malibu Creek State Park is 8,000-acres of awe-inspiring serenity. The best part? It’s just 25 miles away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles. What makes the park unique is its stunning canyon vistas, ragged peaks, and especially the breathtaking volcanic rock pool swimming hole. This must-see state park invites its visitors on a journey of wildlife watching, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. After a day spent expending energy, bring a blanket, pack a picnic, and enjoy a romantic rendezvous with your beaux.

4. Red Rock Canyon State Park

Location: 37749 Abbott Drive, Cantil, CA 93519

Located where the tip of the Sierra Nevada crosses paths with the El Paso Range, Red Rock Canyon State Park is a haven for those who love the desert. Admire striking desert cliffs, buttes, and glorious rock formations which seem to be melting under the heat of the sun. Canyons are unique given the dramatic shapes and covered in dozens of shades of red. While visiting Red Rock Canyon State Park, check out the Ricardo Campground, which welcomes visitors in small groups—it gets fully packed during the weekend.

Free your soul and feel the earth beneath your feet while strolling the gorgeous Hearst San Simeon State Park.

5. Hearst San Simeon State Park

Location: 500 San Simeon-Monterey Creek Road, Cambria, CA 93428

One of the best state parks in California, Hearst San Simeon State Park has something for everyone. Discover Hearst Castle and admire spectacular views of the coast. The gorgeous park welcomes campers to spend the night in one of its 202 campsites year round. Beach combing, hiking, biking, bird watching, snorkeling, and kayaking are just a few of the exciting things to do in this must-see state park.

The Best State Parks in NorCal

6. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Location: 52801 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Welcome to Big Sur’s coastal paradise—better known as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this is one of NorCal’s best state parks. Lose yourself in the picturesque views of turquoise waters caressing the sandy shores. Seven trails lead visitors to hidden coves, waterfalls, mile-long creeks, and, of course, the gorgeous McWay Falls which drops straight into the Pacific Ocean from a height of 80-feet. A feast for the eyes, this underrated state park is definitely worth visiting.

Make it a date with your beaux and head to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where frolicking in the waters sounds plenty divine.

7. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Location: 62 Highway 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Labeled “the crown jewel of the California state park system”, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is as picture perfect as a park can get. Hiking, sightseeing, scuba diving, and painting are just a few of the activities you can do at one of California’s most visited state parks. Regular visitors of the park are well acquainted with the sea lions, sea otters, and seals scattered across its shoreline. But, nothing is as breathtaking as the emerald waters of the well sheltered China Cove; trust us, you won’t want to forget your camera.

8. Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Location: 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA 95006

Our next stop is at California’s oldest state park, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Established in 1902, the park, today, is a Golden State historical landmark. The most famous attractions in the park are the gigantic ancient coast redwoods. With ages ranging from 1,000 to 1,800 years old, you’ll find trees standing taller than the Statue of Liberty. Nature lovers rejoice, because this park is so much more than just trees. When you’re visiting Big Basin Redwood State Park, trek 81 miles of hiking trails, pitch a tent at one of the campsites, and drench yourself under one of the park’s magnificent waterfalls.

In the mood to connect with earth's divinity? Head to Calaveras Big Trees State Park and hug giant sequoias.

9. Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Location: 1170 Highway 4, Arnold, CA 95223

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is home to two groves of giant sequoias—the largest trees on earth. The area has attracted visitors since the mid-1800s and was only established as a park in 1931. The giant trees aren’t the only visit-worthy attractions in the park though. Hike one of seven well-maintained trails, motorbike the dirt roads, and fish along Beaver Creek and Stanislaus River When exploring NorCal’s must visit state park, just beware of bears.

10. Emerald Bay State Park

Location: 138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

What good is a trip to Lake Tahoe if you don’t get to experience it to the max? By that we mean a trip to Emerald Bay State Park, where you can experience Lake Tahoe in all of its glory—and beauty of course. The crown jewel of the park is the Emerald Bay Lookout where people can witness the glittering turquoise waters of the bay against a green mountain backdrop. Admiring the beauty of the area isn’t all that can be done in the park though. A boat trip to the only island on Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island, is highly recommended and so is a visit to Vikingsholm, the perfect example of Scandinavian architecture.

Become mesmerized by the stunning falls located in the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.

11. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Location: 24898 Highway 89, Burney, CA 96013

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is one of the Shasta County treasures. The most striking attraction in the park is of course the 129-foot Burney Falls, arguably the most beautiful in the state. Hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through the park, is yet another feature that attracts visitors. The park has 102 campsites dedicated to those who would love to spend the night and swim or boat on Lake Britton. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is for sure a can’t-miss California State Park.

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