In many parts of the U.S., winter is still hanging on by its icy fingertips, causing us all to do a lot of California dreaming. We can do more than dream, though – we can actually go to California and enjoy some warm, sunny weather! If you are heading that way, be sure to check out these seven scenic coastal California parks, each with its own unique type of beauty that you won’t want to miss.
Año Nuevo State Park
The first park on our list offers something truly incredible. Between December and April every year, Año Nuevo State Park welcomes home nearly 10,000 elephant seals, who return to the beach to breed, have babies and molt. Long-term visitors can watch an entire lifetime play out before their eyes, something that you just can’t get anywhere else. The park’s “coastal terrace prairie landscape,” dune fields and wetland marshes are also home to endangered animals like the San Francisco Garter Snake and the California Red-legged Frog.
Limekiln State Park
California is famous for its enormous redwood trees. If they’re the reason you are headed to California, make sure to check out Limekiln State Park, where there is an entire forest full of them. With 24 campsites, this park is a perfect place to spend a few days enjoying nature and taking in the beauty of the Big Sur Coast, where you might even be lucky enough to spot an otter, or even a few migrating whales.
Angel Island State Park
If you are looking for a little history in addition to spectacular ocean views, then Angel Island State Park is right up your alley. Referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West,” this park in San Francisco Bay saw the arrival of 175,000 Chinese and 60,000 Japanese immigrants between 1910 and 1940. Long before that, though, it was a hunting ground for Native Americans. During the Cold War, it was home to a missile base and radar control station. Now, the park holds overnight educational programs so children can learn about all of this history and more.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers some truly amazing views. The high cliffs of the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the sea here at this park, where you can walk amongst the giant redwoods, oak trees, sycamores, cottonwoods, alders, willows, conifers and maple trees as you follow the winding Big Sur River. Campers who spend the night here often see bobcats, raccoons and several species of rare birds.
Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay State Park is an interesting place to spend an afternoon. It has a preserve featuring a large lagoon and the impressive Morro Rock, a volcanic plug formed 23 million years ago by volcanoes that have long since gone extinct. It also has a golf course, a museum and a marina, and is home to hundreds of species of birds you could spend all day watching. From November to February, visitors can also visit the butterfly grove to see a flock of monarchs in their roost.
Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park has a little something for everyone. For aspiring cowboys and cowgirls, there are high, rugged cliffs, canyons, streams and hills, all of which you can explore on horseback as you follow the park’s winding trails. For those who prefer the beach, there are large coastal plains, secluded beaches and tide pools. And for everyone else, there are huge, rolling fields of wildflowers to gaze at as you marvel at nature’s beauty.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
The last entry on our list may just be the best of all. The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is not only stunning to look at it with its ocean views and scenic backdrops, but it’s also of great scientific importance. It is home to several rare plant communities, as well as to communities of otters, seals, sea lions and migrating whales. It is also home to a few endangered archaeological sites that can enlighten future generations about how our ancestors lived. This park, dubbed “the crown jewel of the State Park System,” combines beach coves with rolling meadows and plant life from both the ocean and the land surrounding it, making it a great place to explore.