Top 10 State Parks for Day Trips | Cal Parks

Top 10 State Parks for Day Trips

Our 280 California state parks include something for everyone, with over 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of lake and river frontage, and 4,500 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

At California State Parks Foundation, we all love heading off to our favorite state parks as often as we can. When you’re ready for some fun and adventure, check out our top picks for day trips (don’t forget to pack a picnic)!

Northern California


Pacific Paradise: Patrick's Point State Park

This park is just one square mile but packed with adventures, nature, and history. Hunt for agates, explore tidepools, and even see whales. Plus, you won’t want to miss the indoor native plant garden or reconstructed Yurok plank-house village.

Wild Wonder: Van Damme State Park

Just three miles south of Mendocino, you’ll discover a lush forest and scenic beach. Known as a “day hikers paradise,” you can explore tide pools, marvel at a pygmy forest, go for a hike or a jog, or learn about the redwood logging operation that once was here.

Bay Area


Famous Views: Mount Diablo State Park

If the lush greenery, rushing creeks, intricate rock caves, and fluttering blue birds aren’t enough to entice you to visit, views from the summit will be! On a clear day, you’ll enjoy incredible views of up to 200 miles.

Beachcomber's Bliss: Tomales Bay State Park

Enjoy three beaches in one! Tomales Bay State Park features three delightful beach areas, all sheltered from the wind and surf by Inverness Ridge — Heart’s Desire, Shell Beach, and Millerton Point.


Central California


Bring Your Bike: Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

Once the site of a planned community formed with a utopian vision, this historic park is now the ideal place for biking or a self-guided tour, with each stop providing a brief history of the town’s residents. Visit for the day to discover one of the fascinating chapters in California’s unique history.

Coastal Gem: Garrapata State Park

Beautiful Big Sur coastline views aren’t the only sights to see here as you hike along the cliffs or shore. Depending on what time of year you visit, you may see sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and even California gray whales! Pack a picnic lunch and make it a day.

LA Area


Something for Everyone: Crystal Cove State Park

Your day trip here may include oceanside walks on 3.2 miles of beach, exploring history with an intact 1930s seaside colony, or hours of hiking on trails from beginner to expert. Be sure to explore the tide pools at low tide and observe a plethora of sea life.

Art & Architecture: Watts Tower of Simon Rodia State Historic Park

For 33 years, artist Simon Rodia used scraps of sheet metal, rebar, glass shards, and other scrap materials to create his towers — much of it brought to him by neighborhood children. See his work and learn his story when you visit this lesser-known gem of a park.



San Diego Area


Stunning Sunsets: Cardiff State Beach

Some folks say it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire state. Pack your car, a picnic basket — don’t forget your camera to capture the sunset — and find out for yourself. Fido welcome (leashed of course).

Urban Oasis: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

A true wilderness island in an urban area, this park is home to America’s rarest pine tree — its namesake — plus some of the last salt marshes and waterfowl reserves in Southern California. Hike the headlands for stunning beach views!


Remember to tag us in your photos when visiting any of these parks using the hashtag #MyCAStateParks on Instagram or Twitter (@calparks), or posting to our Flickr! You will be automatically entered into our monthly photo contest with the chance to win an annual parks pass!