SAN DIEGO — With warmer weather finally here, it’s time to get outside and there’s no better place to do that than in California.
The Golden State has the most parkland between national and state lands in the country, with 279 individual parks spanning hundreds of thousands of acres.
From desert badlands and mountain peaks to coastal bluffs and lush forests, there are so many natural wonders to see.
For anyone looking to narrow the options of places to visit this spring, Yelp has compiled a list of state parks that everyone should visit in their lifetime and five are right here in California: Anza-Borrego, Wilder Ranch, Montaña de Oro, Henry Cowell Redwoods and Pfeiffer Big Sur.
The full list from Yelp, including parks from almost all the 50 states, can be found here.
Anza-Borrego State Park in San Diego
Anza-Borrego State Park, right on the edge of eastern San Diego County, showcases the wonders of the California desert. Named after Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, the park is the largest in the state, made up of 585,930 acres of diverse wilderness areas.
Anza-Borrego is known for its sweeping vistas and rocky terrain full of slot canyons, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti and arguably some of the best stargazing. Anza-Borrego is a popular spot for campers and hikers, with a variety of trails for all kinds of experience levels.
The best time to visit Anza-Borrego is during the spring, with more moderate desert temperatures. Some of the best things to check out are the Slot Canyon Trail, the Wind Caves and the wildflowers — currently in a super bloom.
Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz
Discover some of California’s early ranch history at Wilder Ranch State Park. Known for the land’s home to Deloss D. Wilder’s Creamery, this 7,000-acre park offers visitors the chance to experience a preserved dairy farm, an 1840s abode and a Victorian farmhouse right along the Santa Cruz coast.
Wilder Ranch State Park has 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails that wind through coastal terraces and valleys, showcasing the area’s rolling landscape and marsh land that stretches all the way down to the sea shore.
Exploring one of the many trails in Wilder Ranch is one of the best things to do, according to Yelp reviewers — whether it’s on foot, a bike or a horse. There are a wide array of trail routes that can take visitors to experience spectacular views of the ocean bluffs and the coast’s hidden redwoods.
Montaña de Oro State Park in Los Osos
Montaña de Oro State Park is tucked along the Central California shoreline, spanning 8,000 acres of diverse coastal landscapes. The park’s name, which translates to “Mountain of Gold,” comes from the spectacular carpets of golden poppies that bloom in the spring.
With seven miles of coastline to explore, visitors can experience everything from eucalyptus groves and wildflowers, to tidepools and dune mountains. Spooner’s Cove, the park’s main beach, draws hundreds of beachgoers to relax, kayak or camp at the nearby Islay Creek.
Some of the other popular attractions at Montaña de Oro State Park include: watching for Humpback whales, peering into the tidepools in Corralina Cove and hiking up the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, nearby to San Jose, is one of several parks in California home to towering redwood trees. The park offers visitors a peaceful retreat in the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains, famous for the 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwoods said to have inspired some of the state’s earliest preservation efforts for the trees.
One of the most popular attractions is the famous Fremont Tree, where visitors can step inside the trunk of the massive redwood. Beyond the redwood forests, grasslands, rivers and sandhills can also be found across the 4,650 acres of forested and open land at Henry Cowell Redwoods.
There are great camping and hiking options for those of all experience levels. And be sure to look out for banana slugs!
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Big Sur
One of the handful of state parks in the Big Sur area, Pfeiffer Big Sur in Central California offers visitors serene forests and pristine rivers to experience along the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Pfeiffer Big Sur covers a little over a thousand acres of terrain, covering the banks of the Big Sur River and surrounding forests.
Considered one of the best places to camp in Big Sur, there are more than 150 recreational vehicle and tent sites to stay along the Big Sur River. Reservations for camping can be made here, up to seven months in advance.
Short hiking trails are also a popular excursion in this state park, however, Pfeiffer Big Sur’s crown jewel is the eight-mile Mount Manuel Trail that takes visitors to the top of a ridge, offering gorgeous views of the neighboring mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The Mount Manuel trail is quite strenuous, so it’s a perfect pick for experienced hikers.
Yelp compiled the list as a ranking of Top State Parks in the U.S. for the last year using business listings on the website in the parks category with a large concentration of reviews mentioning “state park.” Yelp then ranked those parks using a number of factors, including the total volume and ratings of reviews mentioning “state park” between Jan. 1st, 2022 and Jan. 1st, 2023. Each state was limited a maximum of five spots on the list and state natural preserves were excluded.