Southern California might be known primarily for its beaches, but there is so much more to see in the Golden State than sand. From incredible national parks to sweeping wildflower fields, we’ve put together a collection of the most gorgeous spots around, and what you can expect if you visit them.
Sequoia National Park
A huge park located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Sequoia National Park stretches across 400,000 acres (162,000ha). Established in 1890, the park is renowned for its giant forest, filled with some of the oldest and largest ancient coastal redwood trees in the world. It’s also home to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. There’s a variety of activities to enjoy here, including camping, hiking, backpacking and fishing.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, on the northern side of Los Angeles county, is protected under the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The reserve is home to the best California poppy blooms in the state, filling the space with bright, vibrant flowers. In addition to poppies, it is known for its wildflowers such as owl’s clover, lupine, goldfields, cream cups and coreopsis. To catch the best colors of the year, time your visit between mid-February and late May.
Draping across the border of southern California and Nevada lies Death Valley National Park, east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, containing a portion of the Mojave desert as well as salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons and mountains. The majority of the park is a designated wilderness area, housing an array of desert-adapted plant and animal species. When visiting, you can camp, hike, drive, bike, backpack and more.
Also in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park brings together the distinct ecosystems from the Mojave and Colorado deserts to provide a home for an incredible range of plants and animals. The land has been shaped by strong weather over the years to create a fascinating landscape where you can enjoy hiking, camping, climbing, bird watching and stargazing.
Stretching along the coast and slightly inland between Ventura and Monterey sits Los Padres National Forest, with about 875,000 acres (354,000ha) of forestry. Included within the park’s boundaries are the Ventana, Silver Peak, Santa Lucia, Machesna, Garcia, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Sespe, Matilija and Chumash wilderness areas. This a great spot for hiking and backpacking, with over 1,200mi (1,931km) of trails.
In the San Diego area is Coronado beach, a gorgeous stretch of shore spreading out in front of the Hotel del Coronado. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to enjoy the 1.5mi (2.4km) beach and admire some of the beautiful Ocean Boulevard houses. There’s swimming, boogie boarding, body surfing and visiting the tide pools here, although for ideal surfing conditions, head to North Beach, or opt for a doggie day even further north at Dog Beach.
Located in Monterey County on the central coast of California, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park spans more than 1,000 acres (405ha), stretching across the Big Sur River and sloping down the west side of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Filled with redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows, the Pfeiffer is a beautiful spot for visitors to explore. Be on the lookout for animals such as bobcats, deer, squirrels and colorful birds. Today, the park is best known for its camping facilities and hiking trails.