How To Enjoy Our National and State Parks & Beaches
First, Take Your Sweet Time!
This is truly one of the most scenic drives in the world. We encourage you to take your sweet time and really savor the nine National Parks and dozens of amazing State beaches and parks in California’s Central Coast.
Please stay on designated trails, follow posted signs, and respect these delicate, natural areas. Before visiting any national or State park, read the national parks’ guidelines for Recreating Responsibly, and the State Park’s Resource Center.
STATE BEACHES IN VENTURA
Ventura is surf and beach town with miles of sea-whisper beaches. Surfer’s Point Beach is a great place to see some of the best waves and surfers in Southern California. Next door is San Buenaventura State Beach Park with beach access, sprawling picnic areas, lifeguards and ice-fresh oysters and clams served under sunshine beside the beach. Just south of that is Marina Park, a pet-friendly spot with large grassy area bordering the beach. This beach park is nearby the dock at Ventura Harbor where you can launch kayaks or paddle boards into the calm waters. The southernmost is Harbor Cove Beach, also known as Mother’s Beach. This family favorite beach is across the street from the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center where you can enjoy free exhibits.
Situated only nine miles from Camarillo, Point Mugu State Park and Mugu Beach features over 60 miles of hiking trails with breathtaking views of sand dunes, river canyons and rocky bluffs. This scenic spot is ideal for camping, hiking, or spending time at the beach.
It’s well worth the experience to see the natural wonders of Southern California’s last pristine agricultural valley, Heritage Valley with its working ranches, farms, apiaries, fruit stands, and wineries. Explore the Sespe wilderness and Los Padres National Forest while you’re here.
The five islands of Channel Islands National Park have been called the “Galápagos of North America”, and that’s shorting them. Remote camping, hiking, sea kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, birdwatching, they are a wide-sky dream. Note too, they are one of America’s least visited National Parks. Two of the islands are only a 60- and 90-minute boat ride from Ventura Harbor and Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor.
TIP: Get the Channel Island National Park app before you go. Enrich your visit with the official, free app from the National park Service (NPS). Digitally explore the park – by map or by topic of interest. Get information about visitor centers, events, services, and self-guided tours and trails throughout the park. The app is free on the on the App Store and on Google Play.
STATE BEACHES IN OXNARD
Oxnard is the proud home of four State beaches. The northernmost is McGrath State Beach – just to the south is Mandalay State Beach at the end of Fifth Street, where stretches of untouched sand dunes mimic a far off desertscape. A little farther south is 62-acre Oxnard State Beach – a favorite for its accessibility, picnic spots, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. It is also the backyard to luxury hotel property Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort. Silver Strand State Beach is a favorite of locals, beginning in the north at the inlet to Channel Islands Harbor.
The Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers an exciting way to interact with the wildlife of the region up close. The popular sea cave kayaking tours allow guests to float through kelp forests in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
The walls of this small cave carved from towering sandstone boulders contain some of the finest remaining rock art created by Chumash Native Americans. A steep path leads to the cave entrance, which is protected by heavy iron grillwork.
El Capitán State Beach offers visitors a sandy beach, rocky tidepools, and stands of sycamore and oaks along El Capitán Creek. A stairway provides access from the bluffs to the beach area. Beach wheelchairs are available for use by the public at no cost. Contact a ranger or lifeguard for additional information.
Refugio State Beach offers excellent coastal fishing as well as trails and picnic sites. Palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and camping area. Lifeguards patrol the beach year around while lifeguard towers are only staffed roughly from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
This Reserve features ancient sand dunes covered with centuries-old coast live oak trees. According to botanists, five major plant communities thrive within the reserve. The oak communities exist close to each other, but each has its own character.
OCEANO DUNES AND OSO FLACO LAKE
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area offers visitors recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, surf fishing, camping and hiking. While historically the dunes have been accessible to vehicles, there are limitations and may possibly be phased out.
Hearst San Simeon State Park is one of the oldest units of the California State Park System. The coastal bluffs and promontories of the scenic park offer unobstructed views of the ocean and rocky shore. A unique opportunity to view northern elephant seals is available at the Elephant Seal Boardwalk. This vantage point provides an ideal location to view these marine mammals from a safe distance. Located around Point Piedras Blancas, the elephant seal rookery extends along 6 miles of the shoreline. Elephant seals may be seen throughout the year. The largest populations and the most activity are during the months of late January, April and October.
The viewing areas are open to the public year-round and are wheelchair accessible. Docents are on site to answer questions.
Morro Bay State Park features lagoon and natural bay habitat. The bay’s most prominent landmark is Morro Rock. The park has opportunities for sailing, fishing, hiking, and bird watching. The park museum has exhibits that cover natural features and cultural history, Native American life, geology, and oceanography. The park also has a colorful marina and an 18-hole public golf course. On the bay’s northeast edge is a pristine saltwater marsh that supports a thriving bird population.
Visitors at Pismo State Beach enjoy many outdoor activities, including camping, surfing, swimming, fishing and bird watching. Stop by the Oceano Dunes District Visitor Center to learn about free educational programs and don’t miss the special opportunity to observe Western Monarch Butterflies in the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove (November-February).
This park’s name, “Mountain of Gold” comes from the golden wildflowers that bloom in spring. This park features rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, including 1,347-foot Valencia Peak. Enjoy the solitude and freedom found along the park’s trails. The best-known beach is Spooner’s Cove, across from the campground.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has 276 miles of coastline to access for a variety of recreational activities such as kayaking, SCUBA diving, sailing, surfing, and more.
Just an hour’s drive from Gilroy, Pinnacles National Park is a wonderland of massive monoliths, rock spires, sheer-walled canyons, and fascinating talus caves. The park is also home to California condors, 14 species of bats, and a gorgeous display of wildflowers in the spring.
Looking for some space to spread out and enjoy nature? Henry W. Coe State Park offers over 87,000 acres of wild open spaces for backpackers, campers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders to explore. The terrain of the park is rugged, varied, and beautiful – with lofty ridges and steep canyons.
Named after a cattle ranch owner in the Big Sur area, its major attraction is McWay Falls – an incredibly scenic waterfall dropping 80 feet off a cliff onto the beach nestled in a pretty little cove.
Famous for its natural bridge, this beach is an excellent place for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. The park’s Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for up to 100,000 monarchs each winter. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.
Deriving its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland, the Reserve has often been called “the crown of the State Park System.” Hiking trails follow the shoreline and lead to hidden coves. The area used to be the home of a turn-of-the-century whaling and abalone industry. A small cabin still remains at Whalers Cove and is now a cultural history museum.
AND MORE IN MONTEREY COUNTY
Monterey County provides a variety of options for hiking, biking, rock climbing, stargazing and reconnecting with nature. Explore less-populated trails off of iconic Highway 1 including Limekiln State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Palo Corona Regional Park, and historic Fort Ord National Monument bordering Marina, Seaside, and Salinas.
Download or Request a Central Coast Visitors Map here.
Discover all of California’s Central Coast here.