Holding on to the ridges of the rock’s surface, using every muscle to travel up the vertical face of the cliffs, and being rewarded by panoramic vistas are all to be expected when rock climbing in California. The Golden State is home to some of the best bouldering in the West Coast and offers plenty of granite—climbers’ favorite rock type. But with so much ground to cover in the state, it can be difficult to determine where to go first or which destinations best match your skill level, so we came through with the ultimate rock climbing guide for indoor and outdoor adventures of all kinds.
We’re kicking off this web series with the top rock climbing destinations in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Springs. Stay tuned for our Northern California picks, coming up next week!
Rock Climbing and Bouldering in the Los
vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park
Best known for its appearances in films and television series like The Flintstones and Star Trek, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is home to 30-plus climbs just an hour’s drive north from Los Angeles.
The park covers hundreds of acres and is filled with dozens of jutting rock formations, making for a terrific, otherworldly excursion. While the sandstone routes welcome climbers of all skill levels, park regulations require top-roping for most climbs to help preserve the rock formations.
Nestled along the northern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, about an hour and a half away from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, Devil’s Punchbowl is the desert oasis of your rock-climbing dreams. Surrounded by forested lands and the high desert, this remote location is home to a wide range of trad climbs, beginner and intermediate sport routes, and a few bouldering spots—making it well worth the trip.
The climbs here are unique since the rock slabs are slanted about 45 to 75 degrees, providing a different climbing experience than the more traditional vertical rock surfaces. Bring plenty of water, and plan ahead if you want to camp overnight. There are no camping spots inside the park, but there are sites located on nearby National Forest land that require an Adventure Pass and an additional camping fee.
The stone surface of Point Dume towers above the sands near Malibu, allowing climbers to look out at the local surfers riding the Pacific Ocean waves. While sea lions make regular appearances, film crews are also known to show up on the scene fairly frequently. (You may recognize Point Dume as one of the filming locations for Planet of the Apes.)
The angled surfaces of the two rock faces make it easy for beginners to learn yet still provide enough excitement for intermediate climbers to get a thrill. Come prepared with your gear, mineral sunscreen, water, and surfboards to make the most of the trip. Enjoy the salt spray from the tops of the crags and the refreshing water from beneath the swells to fully understand why Point Dume is such a popular destination.
Stoney Point Park
The sandstone walls of Stoney Point Park are littered with stories of the greats like Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, and Bob Kamps. While the soft stone walls don’t allow for sport climbing, the plethora of boulder problems and opportunities for free climbing make it a serious destination for beginners and experienced climbers alike.
Located about 40 minutes northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, the grounds of Stoney Point Park are filled with approximately 130 boulders and another 60 routes, serving as an ideal spot for both novice and experienced climbers looking to try new techniques. With the soft stone, the boulder problems are continuously changing, so an exciting adventure is guaranteed each time you visit. Make sure to bring crash pads to protect your falls while bouldering, and delight in the fact that little other gear is required.
Rock Climbing in Palm Springs
Joshua Tree National Park
As one of Southern California’s most famous—and most popular—climbing destinations, Joshua Tree National Park boasts 8,000-plus climbs with an additional 2,000 boulder problems. (For those not attuned to the climbing vernacular, “boulder problems” are the specifically designed routes up a boulder that require a particular sequence of holds.) The wide array of climbing opportunities make this destination perfect for all skill levels.
Since the majority of the climbing routes are trads (traditional climbing that requires climbers to find their own route and place protections like chocks and camming devices, rather than hooking into preplaced bolts), they should be saved for very advanced rock climbers. For those who are experienced but not fully comfortable planning their entire route, there are sport routes available, too, though additional protections will be necessary to supplement the existing bolts. If your rock-climbing group is just getting into the swing of things, the boulders provide an ideal playground for you to hone your skills.
While the entry fees can seem quite steep, opt for the park-specific or National Park annual passes to save money in the long run—and as with all public lands, leave no trace you were there.
Tucked amongst the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County, Idyllwild is one of the earliest sites of technical rock climbing in the country, serving as a source of inspiration for many free climbers. As SoCal’s tallest rock formation, the 1,000-foot towering granite crag of Tahquitz Rock features trad and sport routes alike, plus a bit of everything in between. This location is best known for its incredible multi-pitch climbs—climbing routes with one or more stops at belay stations, which are situated about 50 to 60 meters apart—since the surface of the wall is taller than your length of rope.
Take a day trip to Idyllwild from Palm Springs to get away from the harsh desert temperatures and enjoy the shade that the pine forest provides from roughly 7,000 feet above sea level.
Spectacular Bouldering in the San Diego Area
Located close to Highway 52, this incredibly accessible climbing spot is one of San Diego County's most popular bouldering venues. With approximately 100 boulder problems to try—ranging from beginner boulders (V0 and V1) to difficult ones (V10 and V11)—it is easy to see why locals and visitors flock to this locale. The boulders have a variety of mantels, crimpy face problems, and a couple of cracks, making it a great destination for those seeking new challenges.
With such a simple route in and little gear required, locals regularly head here after work and on the weekends. Bring a crash pad, shoes, a bag of chalk, and a friend for some safe bouldering under the San Diego sun.
Black Mountain is among the premier bouldering areas in Southern California, and many climbers even claim that it is home to some of the greatest bouldering projects in the West. Scattered among pine trees, this bouldering playground lies northeast of Encinitas, just off a six-mile dirt road that is best suited for 4x4 vehicles.
The remote climbing destination is growing in popularity, but it still feels exclusive since it is closed during winter and early spring. Since there are plenty of campsites in Boulder Basin, it’s possible to spend the entire weekend conquering tough boulder problems, lounging in hammocks, hiking through the pines, and gazing at the majestic mountains.
Check back next week to see our picks for the top rock climbing destinations in Northern California!