15 Can’t-Miss Gems Hiding in California’s State Parks

Biking. Hiking. Surfing. Off-roading. Let’s review.

August 2, 2017 9:00 am

California’s state parks are amazing — and they just served up a revolutionary new booking site. 

ReserveAmerica is out — at least for us. Enter ReserveCalifornia

Truth: This is not a frictionless booking experience. Only a fraction — about 40 percent — of the parks are available for overnight booking, though adminstrators are working to bring that number up over the next six months. The map search function is slow and weird — Airbnb’s version has never seemed quite so user-friendly. And there’s just some low-level general wonkiness: It can be tricky to find prices or details on individual campsites.

In short: It’s a work in progress. 

That said, it’s a fantastic one, and the best system we’ve seen to unlock all that our state parks have to offer. 

For the brief on that, see below for the top 15 state park picks.

Canyon Campground Leo Carillo State Park
Good for: Surfing
You’re waking up to some stellar surf, and after you’ve completed your sets, you’ll wander through sea caves and tidal pools.
Book it

Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch
Good for: Scenic dirt biking and off-roading
It’s on 26,000 acres, with elevation climbs up to 6,400 feet and plenty of rocks to spit out from beneath your wheels. (Note: No camping, just riding.)
Book it

El Capitán State Park
Good for: Kayaking
There are boat slips and campsites as well as cabins. Try to go during the week, as it can get crowded (and loud) on the weekends.
Book it

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Good for: Family camping under the trees
Just off the Avenue of the Giants, you can reserve a spot in Burlington Camp — all under a truly superlative canopy of redwoods. Easy-peasy set-ups with showers, bathrooms, and other mod cons.
Book it

Malibu Creek State Park
Good for: Mountain biking
The Santa Monica Mountains are home to over 69 miles of mountain biking trails, and folks travel from around the world to ride them. You can make it an overnight trip by staying at this site.
Book it

Crystal Cove State Beach
Good for: A history lesson
Crystal Cove started as a movie set before a community squatted there, turning it into legitimate residences until the state stepped in. Now you can rent the cabins.
Book it

China Camp State Park
Good for: Mountain biking — and history
Don’t let the park’s terrific mountain biking and superlative Marin water views distract from a fascinating backstory, examples of which include a 75-acre settlement once home to immigrant shrimpers from Canton, China.
Book it

Anza-Borrego State Park
Good for: Desert bouldering
Joshua Tree National Park is top dog when it comes to bouldering. But Anza-Borrego, a State Park, is a close second.
Book it

Henry W. Coe State Park
Good for: Wildflowers
Book in October for a mid-spring bloom (April? May?) of pink California asters, purple Coyote Mint, yellow monkeyflowers and more at this 87,000-acre expanse. 
Book it

Calaveras Big Tree State Park
Good for: Winter cabin camping
If you love winter camping but want to come back to a cabin after a day outside, Calaveras offers cabins that sleep up to nine people with heat, hot water, boardgames, a billiards table, and wood stove.
Book it

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Good for: Yurt camping
Sure, you could spend $1K+ on one of the nearby spas. Or you could pay 60 bucks a night to stay in a yurt in heart of wine country. With evening s’mores. Seems like easy math to us.
Book it

Columbia State Historic Park
Good for: Gold rush enthusiasts
There’s more on offer than campsites: Book a room into Columbia’s 19th-century hotels or cottages (with one-, two- or three-bedroom options) and you pan for gold in the afternoon and come home to a backyard barbecue and period antiques.
Book it


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