Southern California is home to many glorious state parks just waiting to be explored. Since it’s the time of year to get outside and do some wandering, we’ve put together a list of state parks in Southern California that are worthy of a full day, or even a whole weekend, of exploration. Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, water sports, horseback riding, or pretty much anything outdoors, these state parks offer a wonderful playground where you can embrace nature and experience all the beauty that SoCal has to offer.
1. Cuyamaca State Park
26,000 acres of exploration await you at Cuyamaca State Park. Located only 40 miles away from San Diego, it's an easy day trip or weekend away for outdoor recreating. The lovely Lake Cuyamaca is pictured here.
2. Malibu Creek State Park
This state park was formerly a movie ranch back when it was owned by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Popular films and TV shows such as M*A*S*H were filmed in this state park. Today it is mostly known for the 8,215 acres of land that is prime for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Although it's no longer a dedicated movie ranch, you can still see some of the locations that were used in movies and TV shows on a guided tour of the area.
3. El Capitan Beach State Park
This protected beach that is part of the California State Park system is a short 20-mile drive from Santa Barbara. Enjoy the beach for a day trip or spend a little more time and stay overnight at one of the many campsites. If you go in the fall, you will be dazzled by the Monarch butterflies.
4. Bolsa Chica Beach State Park
A beachfront state park in Orange County that is a popular spot for surf fishing. While you're there make sure to check out the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve that is across the way from the park.
5. Gaviota State Park
Enjoy 34-miles of trails at this state park located in Santa Barbara County. An interesting landmark located within the park is the Southern Pacific railroad trestle that towers above Gaviota creek.
6. Chino Hills State Park
With over 60 miles of trails to explore, Chino Hills State Park is a lovely sanctuary to experience nature.
7. Border Field State Park
This state park is unusual in that it is located on the US/Mexico border. If you look closely at the picture you can see Tijuana off in the distance.
An interesting sight to see at this state park is the border fence along the beach.
8. Saddleback Butte State Park
A great destination for hiking and camping in Antelope Valley. The best time of year to explore is springtime through May when the wildflowers are bursting with color.
9. Crystal Cove State Park
This state park located in Orange County is truly a hidden gem filled with stunning cliffs and bluffs and over 3-miles of beachfront to explore. If you love to hike and bike you will have 2,400 acres of land to explore.
10. Mount San Jacinto State Park
Located in Riverside County, most of this state park is a dedicated wilderness area perfect for hiking and backpacking. It's accessible by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway starting in Chino Canyon. For hiking enthusiasts, the summit of Mount San Jacinto is the second highest peak in Southern California, so it's a great spot to give those hiking boots a bit of a stretch.
11. Palomar Mountain State Park
This state park is a wonderful respite in the heat of summer; it's a densely wooded area with plenty of oak and conifer trees to provide a nice blanket of shade.
Doane Pond, pictured here, is a popular destination within the park.
12. Placerita Canyon State Park
This spot has been preserved because it was one of the first documented locations where gold was discovered in California in 1842. Located in the San Gabriel mountains, it's a wonderful destination for hiking and exploring nature trails.
13. Will Rogers State Park
This stunning 186-acre state park located in Pacific Palisades is the former site of the Will Rogers estate. It was designated a state park in 1944 after his death. Hiking and horseback riding trails abound and provide an incredible view of the sea and the mountains.
It’s pretty amazing to think that all of these spots belong to us in Southern California. And it’s hard to believe that many of these locations were once at risk of closure due to state budget cuts. Let’s protect these beautiful spaces and take time to enjoy the land.