California has an amazing selection of State Parks, and with temperate weather year round, you can experience them just about any time of the year.
If you don’t want to drive too far, here are our top choices for magical day trips or weekend getaways to state parks close to East Bay.
Big Basin Redwoods
Image: Yelp/Rohit S.
Big Basin Redwoods is California’s oldest state park, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz mountains. Some of tThe majestic Redwood trees are more than 50 feet around and pre-date the Roman Empire! It truly feels like a feels like a magical forest with its towering trees, winding trails, fern gullies and spectacular waterfalls.
There’s no way you can be bored here, with over 18,000 acres and 80 miles of hiking, biking, and camping opportunities.
Portola Redwoods State Park
If you’re checking out Big Basin Redwoods, you can swing over and see Portola Redwoods State Park as well, since it’s only a few miles away. It’s a little more relaxed, and a lot less crowded. In this park, you’ll find 18 miles of trails, a campground, and two beautiful creeks, the Pescadero and Peter’s Creek.
Hike the Peters Creek Loop to see the massive, ancient redwood groves. Also in this park, look out for a waterfall and banana slugs! The ranger station houses a gift shop, and they sell ice cream bars, just in case you need a sweet snack after your hike.
Tomales Bay State Park
Located in Marin County, Tomales Bay State Park has multiple gently sloping, surf-free beaches, protected from winds by Inverness Ridge, the backbone of the Point Reyes Peninsula.The park includes forests, beaches, field, hills, meadows and marshes and is popular for hiking, picnicking, swimming, clamming and boating.
Heart’s Desire Beach is a spectacular place for families; the water is calm, shallow and perfect for swimming, paddle boarding, or kayaking. On your way there, pick up a bag of oysters at the Inverness store and have yourself a delicious BBQ. If the kids get restless, take a short 1 mile hike to Indian beach and enjoy the teepees that represent how the Miwok Indians used to live.
Año Nuevo State Park
One of the largest mainland breeding colonies in the world for the northern elephant seal is at Año Nuevo State Park. It’s an extraordinary sight to experience; every year up to 10,000 elephant seals return to breed, give birth, and molt their skin amongst the scenic dunes and beaches.
Be prepared, though, elephant seal viewing requires a 3-4 mile moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes and driving to see them is not an option. During the breeding season, from Dec 15 through March 31, you can experience the seals within the preserve with a docent-guided walk.
The molting season is April 1 through August 31, when seals will come to shore and shed their outer layer of skin and fur. During the molting season, the Natural Preserve is open for self-guided hiking by Visitor Permit only. Obtain your free Visitor Permit daily from the entrance station, between 8:30 am and 3:30 p.m.
Angel Island State Park. This hidden gem is a wonderful destination for fun and adventure; the island’s hiking trails offers some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area. There’s much more to do here than hiking, though.
The biking here is fantastic; peddle roads bordered by tall trees and get glimpses of blue water and the coastlines of Tiburon, SF and the East Bay, or ride to Quarry Beach—a beautiful expanse of sunny calm white sand.
If cycling is not your thing, you can take a Segway or Tram tour to experience the highlights of the park. To get to Angel Island State Park, ride the ferry from Tiburon or San Francisco, which is a fun activity in itself!