California's State Parks and Reserves
By Candyce H. Stapen
Everybody knows about California’s impressive national parks: Yosemite, with its mountains and valleys; Death Valley, where ridges of sand dunes rise in America’s driest locale, and Sequoia, home to towering, thick trunked trees. But California’s state parks and reserves are the region’s hidden gems, offering spectacular views and wildlife and often, fewer crowds.
Point Lobos State Reserve is one of our favorites. Three miles south of Carmel, Point Lobos offers rocky shores, easy trails and frequent sightings of sea lions, otters and harbor seals. Some trails wind by aromatic stands of California sagebrush and apricot colored monkey flowers while others lead you under canopies of Monterey pines and cypress trees to panoramic views of the sea.
Sea Lion Point trail, a 30-minute roundtrip, gifts you with views of critters and crashing ocean waves especially at Devil’s Cauldron, a spot where the spray shoots up. Look carefully along the path and you might catch sight of sea otters in the kelp.
More obvious are the harbor seals basking in the sun at the edge of the rocks or “hauling out,” warming up on the beach below the trail. Closer to the water and through the roar of the splashing waves, listen to scores of sea lions barking on the rocks offshore. (Binoculars come in handy so kids can view these noisy critters up close.)
Along Cypress Grove Trail between December and May, you can spot migrating gray whales. The trail is known for its stand of naturally growing cypress trees, reputedly one of only two such places on Earth.
Bird Island Trail cuts through woods and above sandy beaches. The sea surges through the crevices in the offshore cliffs, and cormorants, oystercatchers and brown pelicans circle above.
In the 19th century Chinese fishermen built homes on the Point at Whalers Cove. One of these, Whaler’s Cabin, still stands. Constructed of wooden planks, granite and six whale vertebrae, the structure houses a small whaling museum containing scrimshaw, tools and pots.
More State Parks:
The classic California experience includes beaches and time on a longboard. You can enjoy both at state parks. Take wannabe surfers to Doheny State Beach, south of Dana Point in Orange County. The Dana Point Harbor breakwater causes long, gentle waves, good for beginners.
Expert surfers catch the waves at Huntington State Beach. Non-surfers can build sandcastles and sun. Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Beach Park’s natural breakwater creates a long stretch of calm water plus another area for surfing. Young kids can explore the tidepools and at low tide, search for sea stars and crabs lurking in the rocks.
Enjoy one of Malibu’s best beaches at the Lee Carrillo State Park, 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica. In designated areas along the beach, you can swim and surf.