Most California state parks charge a day use fee for parking, but if you walk or bicycle in there's no charge. If you plan to visit frequently, you can buy an annual pass, but OHV parks and several other locations will not accept them, so think about where you'll be going before you buy one.
California State Parks: Most Popular
- Old Town San Diego: One of the state's earliest European settlements is popular for dining, shopping and historic tours.
- Hearst Castle: The most popular of all California state parks gives a fascinating look into what happens when one of the world's richest men decides to build "a little something."
- Marshall Gold Discovery Park: The site of the first gold discovery.
- State Railroad Museum: Everyone loves trains, and they've got plenty of 'em.
California State Parks BeachesAccording to the California State Parks department, these beaches are the most-visited in the state.
- Sonoma Coast State Beach: Actually a series of rugged beaches that boast some of the state's most beautiful coastal scenery.
- Huntington Beach, Orange County: One of two locations that vie for honors as the cradle of surfing.
- Bolsa Chica, Orange County: A birdwatchers' paradise.
- Seacliff, Santa Cruz: The sunken cement ship off the end of the fishing pier is fascinating and there's a snack bar in case you get hungry.
- San Onofre, San Diego County: This place is about as isolated as you can get along the coast between LA and San Diego, with lots of wide, sandy stretches.
- Doheny, Orange County: Good for camping as well as beach play, with volleyball courts, surf fishing and picnic facilities.
- Oceano Dunes, Pismo Beach: The only beach in the state parks system that you can drive your car on is also popular for off-roading in the sand dunes.
- Cardiff, San Diego: Some call it the Riviera of the West, with gently sloping sand and warm water.
Fascinating History at California State ParksCalifornia state parks include some of the state's most historic and interesting places.
- Bodie Ghost Town: The "mother lode" of ghost towns.
- Columbia Gold Rush Town: You can pan for gold, get a drink in the saloon or stay in the hotel here.
- Fort Ross: The southernmost Russian settlement in North America.
- La Purisima Mission: One of the best-preserved missions from the Spanish era.
- San Juan Bautista: An intact 19th century town square with a well-preserved mission.
California State Parks CampingSnagging a camping spot in many California state parks requires almost superhuman organization and advance planning. Learn how to make reservations.
These are some of the best places to camp in the country, according to a 2006 visitor survey conducted by Reserve America.
- Angel Island, San Francisco: The few camping spots on Angel Island offer panoramic San Francisco Bay views.
- Humboldt Redwoods: In the old growth redwoods of the north.
- Lake Oroville: On the shores of a large, man-made lake with lots of things to do.
- San Luis Reservoir: A large lake surrounded by grassy hills, good for boating, sailboarding and fishing.