State Parks in Our Backyard | Central Coast, CA
California is known for its beautiful landscapes. From picturesque mountains to cliff-lined shores, there is no shortage of outdoor experiences to be had in this slice of paradise we call home. But in such a large state, with so many gorgeous landscapes, it can be easy to focus on the popular spots—Big Sur, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, etc—and those are all worth a visit! But it’s easy to forget about these local gems. So today, we’re going to explore some of our favorite local state parks!
Pismo State Beach/Oceano Dunes
Famous for being able to drive your car on the sand, Pismo is one of California’s more popular state beaches. With beautiful and wide shores, Pismo State Beach is the perfect place to bring the family. The best part, you can park the SUV right on the sand! No more long walks back to the car for snacks. Connected to the state beach is Oceano Dunes, where you can feed your wild side! Rent an ATV and ride the dunes to your heart’s content. When the sun starts to set, get some rest at one of our Pismo area resorts: Pismo Lighthouse Suites, Shore Cliff Hotel, or Inn at the Cove.
(c) Luke Bender via Unsplash
Montaña De Oro State Park
Just outside of Los Osos, this gem gets its name, “Mountain of Gold,” from the golden wildflowers that bloom there in spring. Montaña De Oro has a little bit of everything; rugged cliffs, secluded beaches, beautiful hiking trails, the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak, and much more. Even if you only have time to drive through the park, you won’t be sorry. The single two-lane road winds it’s way along the coast under arching eucalyptus trees. Don’t miss out on this Central Coast staple!
(c) Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash
Harmony Headlands State Park
Located in the northern portion of SLO County, just outside of Cayucos, this 784-acre coastal park is great for hiking. A 4.5-mile trail winds through the park, crossing a coastal valley to reach the picturesque ocean bluffs. The easy bench-lined hike ascends about 85 feet up a wide dirt road before descending 135 feet to the coast where a footpath can be used to explore the rugged oceanfront.
Fun Fact: The land that is now Harmony Headlands SP was slated for residential development at one point. Luckily unsuccessful, the acreage was bought by the American Land Conservancy and deeded to the State of California to create Harmony Headlands State Park in 2008.
(c) Michael L. Baird via Wikipedia
Hearst San Simeon State Park
Hearst San Simeon State Park is one of the oldest in the California State Park System. Known for its wildlife, San Simeon provides a unique opportunity to see the northern elephant seals. Located around Point Piedras Blancas, the elephant seal rookery extends along 6 miles of the shore. These interesting mammals can be seen throughout the year, although the largest populations and the most activity are during the months of late January, April, and October.
(c) Gustavo Moreno via Unsplash
Point Sal State Beach
Nestled in what is possibly the most rugged and picturesque range of Pacific Ocean coast in Santa Barbara County, Point Sal State Beach is a remote public beach that has become quite difficult to access. To reach this alluring slice of paradise, you’ll need to make a 10+ mile round trip hike—that is not for the faint of heart—with an elevation change of almost 2000 feet. But trust us, the views are well worth the strenuous trek to reach this secluded paradise.
Before you give it a go, check here to make sure the trail is open, as a portion of it passes through Vandenberg Air Force Base. For info on the hike visit CaliforniaBeaches.com or SongsOfTheWilderness.com.