California has the nation’s largest state park system, with 280 parks that together encompass more than a million acres of wildlife reserves, stunning waterfalls, sprawling forests and more.
Today, I have some recommendations for the best parks to visit this summer, no matter what sort of vacation you’re craving. The park system recently started a digital passport program to encourage people to try to visit every single one. (You can use a mobile app to track your visits and earn badges.) You can also check out vehicle passes for most California state parks from your local public library.
Jorge Moreno, a spokesman for the state parks department, advised travelers to check the weather before heading out, and to bring plenty of drinking water. And keep in mind that California’s rivers are running faster and colder than normal because of snowmelt.
Stay safe, and happy traveling.
Take a dip in an ancient inland sea.
Majestic Mono Lake, about 60 miles east of Yosemite National Park, is one of the oldest lakes in North America, and is estimated to have been around for more than a million years. The lake and its surroundings were protected as parkland in large part to preserve the lake’s tufa towers — knobby limestone spires that rise high above the water’s surface and make for a wonderfully Seussian sight.
Mono Lake is so laden with minerals that it’s more than twice as salty as the ocean, and “provides a delightfully buoyant swim,” according to the state parks department. The department adds, “Old-timers claim that a soak in the lake will cure almost anything.”
Tour a 19th-century state capitol.
The oldest former California State House still standing is in Benicia, a waterside Bay Area city that served as the seat of the state government in 1853 and 1854. You can tour the original Benicia Capitol building, which has been restored to look as it would have 170 years ago, and learn more about the legislation passed there, including the law that created the state’s Department of Education and another that allowed married women to own property independently of their husbands.
Stay in a historic beachfront cottage.
Along the Orange County coast, Crystal Cove State Park offers long stretches of sandy beaches, tide pools for exploring, and miles of backcountry hiking and biking trails. The park includes a charming historic district, originally a seaside colony built in the 1930s and ’40s for vacationers visiting what was then a private beach. In addition to a few restaurants, the district has 21 quaint beachfront cottages that the public can rent.
Fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Northeast of San Francisco Bay, Brannan Island State Recreation Area is known for year-round water recreation, including fishing, swimming and boating. The park includes a collection of waterways that wend through marshes and islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Even on hot summer days, there’s usually a cool breeze to keep you comfortable.
Camp in a SoCal conifer forest.
Though only a 90-minute drive from downtown San Diego, Palomar Mountain State Park feels much more remote, with pristine forests and placid meadows. At an elevation of 5,000 feet, its dense conifer forests, where you can camp, picnic and hike, are rare in Southern California.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Lisa Riddell, who recommends a spot in Cambria, on the Central Coast: “The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Trail is stunningly beautiful and dog friendly! It is one of our family’s favorite road trip destinations.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
We’re almost halfway through 2023! What are the best things that have happened to you so far this year? What have been your wins? Or your unexpected joys, big or small?
And before you go, some good news
This week, the wild parrot became the official animal of San Francisco.
Parrots arrived in San Francisco in the late 1980s — most likely escaping from a pet store — and two species have since mated to create a hybrid parrot that’s unique to the city, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Mark Bittner, who starred in Judy Irving’s 2003 documentary, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” told The Chronicle that parrots made perfect ambassadors for San Francisco: “They’re colorful, they’re loud, they’re from somewhere else and they have really quirky personalities.”