Follow the coastline from the Mexican border to the Oregon state line and you’ll find some of the best beaches in the Golden State. Some of the beaches are more commonly known (like the one in Santa Monica) and others are hidden treasures. All these beaches are owned by the state (and a few local jurisdictions) and are open to the public. You’ll find the name of the beach, the address, and a link to the state site with details on admission, camping, and any potential closures. The great thing about California? The majority of beaches are open year-round, so even on a gloomy December day, you can still stand on the beach and watch the shoreline and wildlife.
Sometimes you’ll see a state park near a shoreline, but it is not listed as a beach. This is because either it is a protected area, or the beaches are in extremely hazardous areas. For example, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has a beach, but it is off limit. The park is mainly for hiking and viewing the Big Sur coastline and the trees, waterfall, etc.
California needs no introduction. The most populous state stretches from the Mexican Border to Oregon with 900 miles of coastline. Twenty-eight national parks can be explored cheaply or for free. There are over 1.6 million acres of beaches and parks in California. From beaches to redwood forests and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Mojave Desert, the state has a variety of landscapes for outdoor adventurers. Plan your travel accordingly. Also, watch for fire season and landslide warnings.
Here’s a list of beaches, attractions, and parks in California.
Sometimes you’ll see a state park near a shoreline, but it is not listed as a beach. This is because either it is a protected area, or the beaches are in extremely hazardous areas. For example, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has a beach, but it is off limits. The park is mainly for hiking and viewing the Big Sur coastline and the trees, waterfall, etc.
Get a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast, the infamous federal penitentiary long off-limits to the public, and the history-making 18-month occupation by Indians of All Tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock—gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare. Read more
Climbing out of his boat and onto shore in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. In addition to telling the story of 16th-century exploration, the park is home to a wealth of cultural and natural resources. Join us and embark on your own Voyage of Discovery. Read more
Follow in the footsteps of over 250,000 emigrants who traveled to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California during the 1840s and 1850s: the greatest mass migration in American history. The California National Historic Trail is over 5,000 miles long and covers portions of 10 states. Step into history along more than 1,000 miles of ruts and traces from travelers and their overland wagons. Read More
Castle Mountains National Monument, Barstow, CA 92311
Nestled between the Nevada state line and Mojave National Preserve, the nearly 21,000 acres of Castle Mountains boasts Joshua tree forests, unbroken natural landscapes, rare desert grasslands, and rich human history. This intriguing area provides serenity and solitude from nearby metropolitan areas. Read more
Widely recognized as the most important Latino leader in the United States during the twentieth century, César E. Chávez led farm workers and supporters in the establishment of the country’s first permanent agricultural union. His leadership brought sustained international attention to the plight of U.S. farm workers, and secured for them higher wages and safer working conditions Read More
Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was. Read More
In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley. Read more
Devils Postpile Access Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Established in 1911 by presidential proclamation, Devils Postpile National Monument protects and preserves the Devils Postpile formation, the 101-foot high Rainbow Falls, and pristine mountain scenery. The formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Its columns tower 60 feet high and display an unusual symmetry. Read More
America’s only Nobel Prize winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill, chose to live in Northern California at the height of his writing career. Isolated from the world and within the walls of his home, O’Neill wrote his final and most memorable plays; The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Read more
From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point defended the San Francisco Bay following California’s Gold Rush through World War II. Its beautifully arched casemates display the art of 3rd system brick masonry and interact gracefully with the Golden Gate Bridge. Read More
Experience a park so rich it supports 19 distinct ecosystems with over 2,000 plant and animal species. Go for a hike, enjoy a vista, have a picnic or learn about the centuries of overlapping history from California’s indigenous cultures, Spanish colonialism, the Mexican Republic, US military expansion and the growth of San Francisco. All of this and more awaits you, so get out and find your park. Read more
John Muir played many roles in his life, all of which helped him succeed in his role as an advocate for Nature. As America’s most famous naturalist and conservationist, Muir fought to protect the wild places he loved, places we can still visit today. Muir’s writings convinced the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks. Read more
Southern California between I-10 and Hwy 62; headquarters in Twentynine Palms, CA
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California. Come explore for yourself. Read more
“¡Vayan Subiendo!”(“Everyone mount up!”) was the rousing call from Juan Bautista de Anza. In 1775-76, he led some 240 men, women, and children on an epic journey to establish the first non-Native settlement at San Francisco Bay. Today, the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail connects history, culture, and outdoor recreation from Nogales, Arizona, to the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. Jagged peaks tell the story of its eruptive past while hot water continues to shape the land. Lassen Volcanic offers opportunities to discover the wonder and mysteries of volcanoes and hot water for visitors willing to explore the undiscovered. Read More
Lava Beds National Monument is a land of turmoil, both geological and historical. Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created a rugged landscape dotted with diverse volcanic features. More than 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields and campsites, and a high desert wilderness experience await you! Read more
In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II. Read more
Singing sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, Joshua tree forest, and carpets of wildflowers are all found at this 1.6-million-acre park. A visit to its canyons, mountains, and mesas will reveal long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts. Located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mojave provides serenity and solitude from major metropolitan areas. Read more
Walk among old growth coast redwoods, cooling their roots in the fresh water of Redwood Creek and lifting their crowns to reach the sun and fog. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this primeval forest is both refuge and laboratory, revealing our relationship with the living landscape. What will you discover in Muir Woods? Read more
Follow the routes of mule pack trains across the Southwest on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California. New Mexican traders moved locally produced merchandise across what are now six states to exchange for mules and horses. Read More
Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor. Read More
From its thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches to its open grasslands, brushy hillsides, and forested ridges, Point Reyes offers visitors over 1500 species of plants and animals to discover. Home to several cultures over thousands of years, the Seashore preserves a tapestry of stories and interactions of people. Point Reyes awaits your exploration. Read more
It is hard to believe that young men once rode horses to carry mail from Missouri to California in the unprecedented time of only 10 days. This relay system along the Pony Express National Historic Trail in eight states was the most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph. Read More
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, Concord, CA 94520
On the evening of July 17, 1944, residents in the San Francisco east bay area were jolted awake by a massive explosion that cracked windows and lit up the night sky. At Port Chicago Naval Magazine, 320 men were instantly killed when two ships being loaded with ammunition for the Pacific theater troops blew up. It was WWII’s worst home front disaster. Read more
West Bluff Picnic Area, Long Ave, San Francisco, CA 94129
For 218 years, the Presidio served as an army post for three nations. World and local events, from military campaigns to World Fairs and earthquakes, left their mark. Come enjoy the history and the natural beauty of the Presidio. Explore centuries of architecture. Reflect in a national cemetery. Walk along an historic airfield, through forests or to beaches, and admire spectacular vistas. Read More
Most people know Redwood as home to the tallest trees on Earth. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild river-ways, and nearly 40-miles of rugged coastline. For thousands of years people have lived in this verdant landscape. Together, the National Park Service and California State Parks are managing and restoring these lands for the inspiration, enjoyment, and education of all. Read more
Explore and honor the efforts and sacrifices of American civilians on the World War II home front. Find out how they lived, worked and got along. Many faces, many stories, many truths weave a complex tapestry of myths and realities from this time of opportunity and loss. Read more
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, San Francisco, CA 94109
Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Pacific Coast maritime history. The Park includes a magnificent fleet of historic ships, a Visitor Center, Maritime Museum, Maritime Research Center, and Aquatic Park Historic District. Read more
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Newton Canyon, California
Hidden in plain sight from Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains offer easy access to surprisingly wild places. Experience the famous beaches of Malibu or explore more than 500 miles of trails. The park abounds with historical and cultural sites, from old movie ranches to Native American centers. What will you and your family discover? Read More
This dramatic landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity–huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees. These two parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley. Weather varies a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370′ to 14,494′. Read more
The Tule Lake National Monument includes both the Tule Lake Segregation Center, the largest and most controversial of the sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, and Camp Tulelake, which was first a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, then an additional facility to detain Japanese Americans, and finally a prisoner of war camp. Read more
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Whiskeytown, CA 96095
Beautiful crystal-clear waters, surrounded by mountain peaks, are perhaps the most prominent feature of Whiskeytown Lake. However, water-based recreation is only a small part of what the park has to offer. The 39,000 acres surrounding the lake hold four waterfalls, pristine mountain creeks, 70 miles of trails, and opportunities to explore the history of the California Gold Rush.Read more
At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, learn about one of the most pivotal moments in US history: the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. The monument preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific War, from the internment of Japanese Americans to the battles in the Aleutians. Read more
First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. Read more
The map would be unreadable if we listed every historical site in California. To find all of them, plus other sites of interest, go to Visit California.
California Road Trip Ideas
Planning a California road trip this summer? Here are itineraries that will take you down the Pacific Coast Highway.