Last weekend, Americans celebrated Memorial Day, honoring our country’s soldiers and celebrating the unofficial start to summer. California’s 278 state parks are the perfect place to spend those gorgeous summer days. These priceless public assets offer spectacular and accessible natural wonders. The Nature Conservancy has been working with diverse partners for over 50 years to preserve California’s iconic state parks. Check out their Top 10 Most Memorable State Parks:
Most Memorable Trees :Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Humboldt County
A trip down the world famous Avenue of the Giants is a sight you’ll never forget. This memorial grove nestled in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to some of the most ancient and tallest trees on the planet. The park is over 53,000 acres, including 17,000 acres of old-growth redwoods, and offers prime camping and outdoor activities.
This was one of California’s ﬁrst parks to be preserved when the state park system was established in 1928, and it protects about one-eighth of all remaining old-growth redwoods, the largest continuous stretch in the world.
Most Memorable Bridge: Natural Bridges State Beach , Santa Cruz County
Named after three arches carved out of a mudstone cliff, Natural Bridges State Beach offers traditional summer activities in a dramatic and diverse setting. Although the namesake bridges have been lost to the sea, their rocky remains provide a gathering spot for pelicans, cormorants and other sea birds. Catch a glimpse of otters and sea lions off shore and explore tide pools filled with colorful creatures. Learn about the area’s natural history at the visitor center, walk the nature trail through the wetland, play in the surf or just relax on the beach.
Afterwards, visitors can visit the nearby Seymore Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab to stand in awe by the assembled skeleton of a blue whale, the Earth’s largest animal. This 87 foot skeleton, from a whale that washed ashore nearby in 1979, is one of only four displayed in North America and is believed to be the largest displayed worldwide.
Most Memorable Soak : Grover Hot Springs State Park, Alpine County
A soothing soak in the therapeutic, green waters of Grover Hot Springs State Park surrounded by majestic Sierra Nevada granite peaks is as relaxing as it gets. There is a hot pool (102 - 105 degrees) fed by six mineral springs and a refreshing cool pool. Unlike most hot springs, there is almost no pungent scent of sulfur.
Visitors have been coming to this natural spa since the 1850s to “take the cure”. You can also camp overnight or hike to the Hot Springs Creek waterfall.
Most Memorable Hike : Mt. San Jacinto State Park, Riverside County
The weathered summit of Mt. San Jacinto is the highest point in the California State Park System at 10,834 feet in elevation. Visitors to Mt. San Jacinto State Park can take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to 8,500 feet and enjoy panoramic views of the high country, and then hike through beautiful granite mountains covered with pines, mountain meadows, and streams. The park also offers camping, horseback trails, picnic areas and food service and spectacular wildlife viewing.
Most Memorable Clams: Pismo Beach State Beach, San Luis Obispo County
Pismo Beach is home to the famous Pismo clam, which is the largest clam in California. This self-proclaimed “Clam Capital of the World” even has a clam festival every October. Visitors can try their luck at clamming (salt-water fishing license required) or enjoy the seaside activities this top California beach has to offer. With over 23 miles of soft sand, there’s something for everyone including camping, golfing, picnicking, fishing, swimming, walking the nature trails or soaking in the sun on the beach.
Visitors can also explore the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge - 18 miles of 500 foot towering peaks stretching from Pismo State Beach to Point Sal. In the 1980s, The Nature Conservancy acquired more than 3,000 acres of dunes to protect them from development and has since transferred them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage as part of the Refuge.
Most Memorable Wildlife: Tule Elk State Natural Reserve, Kern County
The lush open country of the Central Valley is ideal for the once endangered Tule Elk, found nowhere else in the world except their native California. Tule elk are smaller than their cousins the Roosevelt elk, and are sometimes called dwarf elk despite their respectable heft, power and massive antlers. They are breathtaking to watch and are truly are a unique state treasure.
Famed cattleman Henry Miller embarked on a 50 year effort to save Tule elk in 1874 after once vast herds were on the brink of extinction. In 1932, the herd at what is now Tule Elk State Natural Reserve was given permanent protection. Visitors can take a guided tour, view exhibits at the visitor center or enjoy a picnic and watch elk roam past.
Most Memorable Pier: Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Los Angeles County
You don’t have to be a movie star to enjoy Malibu’s famous beaches – once referred to as the American Riviera. A stroll down iconic Malibu Pier at Malibu Lagoon State Beach is better than any red carpet. Visitors can fish off the pier, or if they don’t want to catch their lunch can relax at one of the local restaurants, grab an old fashioned shake or enjoy a picnic on Surfrider beach where Gidget and other beach-blanket movies were filmed. The pier also has facilities to rent beach equipment, book a harbor tour or go deep-sea fishing.
This is also a world-class surfing spot and located in the epicenter of California’s beach culture. Visitors can also explore the Spanish-style Adamson House, a National Historic Site, or the adjacent Malibu Lagoon Museum which features pictures of various Malibu eras from the native Chumash to the birth of the surf craze.
Most Memorable Fruit: California Citrus State Historic Park, Riverside County
As you enter California Citrus State Historic Park, visitors are greeted by a replica of an orange stand – a reminder of a bygone era of when “Citrus was King” and a second Gold Rush ensued as citrus barons flocked to Southern California to make their fortunes. This 377 acre park nestled in majestic palm trees and fragrant fruit groves captures and preserves the importance of the citrus industry to the state’s history and economy – which helped define California as the “Golden State”.
Visitors can learn more from the interpretive displays in the visitor center which is a model of a packinghouse, enjoy summer concerts in the amphitheater, picnic or explore the demonstration groves where navel and Valencia oranges, grapefruit and lemons are still grown.
Most Memorable Float: Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park, Butte County
Whether your vessel of choice is a drift boat, raft or a good, old-fashioned inner tube, it doesn’t get more relaxing than a refreshing float down the Sacramento River, California’s longest. As you drift, you’ll see scenic countryside filled with elderberries, wild grapes, sycamores, and wild roses which are home to diverse wildlife like river otters, herons, song birds and turtles. At the end of your trip, you can grab a picnic lunch under a massive oak or cottonwood tree or take a nature walk in Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park.
This is also a popular spot with anglers who can catch salmon, steelhead and shad, and The Nature Conservancy and its partners are working to restore the habitat necessary for fish and fresh water which is so important to the community, recreationists and local economy. They have undertaken one of the largest riparian restoration projects in the United States.
Most Memorable Birds : Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, San Diego County
Located on the international border between Mexico and California, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of last salt marshes remaining in Southern California and is home to over 370 species of migratory and native birds – including six endangered species. This is a key stopover point of the Pacific Flyway. Whether you’re into photography or you just like to look at them, visitors can explore four miles of walking trails for prime bird watching.
A stop at nearby Border Field State Park to view the sand dunes and salt marshes that give refuge to critically threatened and endangered birds such as the Western Snowy Plover, the California Least Tern, and the Light-footed Clapper Rail or is also a must.
Once you’ve visited one of these most memorable parks, capture that memory with a picture and submit it to The Nature Conservancy.
Are you looking for more great family friendly activities? Check out Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday.