In a state famous for beautiful landscapes, these spots still impress.
Angel Island State Park
Known as the "Ellis Island of the West," this San Francisco Bay park served as an immigration station from 1910 to 1940. But that's only part of its story. The island, an ancient hunting site for American Indians, also housed a missile base during the Cold War. Even if you're not a history buff, come for the spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline and Mount Tamalpais. And don't miss the Cove Cafe's barbecued oysters. Visit angelisland.org.
Channel Islands National Park
To see a gorgeous, unspoiled part of California, take a day trip to this park, which encompasses five islands off the Southern California coast. Despite the islands' proximity to the mainland, their wild coastlines, peaceful isolation, and abundant wildlife make them feel far removed. Some visitors come to hike, camp, or kayak. Regularly scheduled boats make the trip to all five islands from Ventura and Santa Barbara. Visit nps.gov/chis.
Crystal Cove State Park
Years ago, Los Angeles area families retreated to this enclave between Newport and Laguna beaches. Now you can, too. Rows of restored seaside cottages available for overnight rental provide perfect launching points for a day of outdoor activities, such as horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking in woodlands, or diving in the underwater park. (For more on the cottages, see the July/August 2007 issue of Coastal Living, page 134.) Visit parks.ca.gov.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Plunging 80 feet over a granite precipice, McWay Falls draws visitors eager to see the only major California waterfall that empties directly into the sea. Except for the well-worn Overlook Trail leading to the falls, the park retains the aura of an undiscovered treasure. This must-see on the Big Sur coastline also showcases redwood groves and trails promising postcard views of the Pacific. Visit parks.ca.gov.
Mendocino Headlands State Park
A medley of natural wonders, from surf-splashed headlands and sea arches to ocean blowholes and hidden grottos, make this park one of the most photographed areas along Northern California's coast. Poke around in the tide pools, explore wildflower-dotted bluffs, and watch gray whales float by during the winter migration. Visit parks.ca.gov.
Point Lobos State Reserve
It's no wonder this seaside gem has been called the crown jewel of the state park system. Visitors come for stunning vistas, secluded coves, and a lush yet rugged coastline sprinkled with hiking trails. But to see the best this park paradise near Carmel has to offer, visitors must venture under the sea into one of the world's richest underwater habitats. A mix of marine life, from sea stars to seals, and 70-foot-high kelp forests make it a diver's delight. Visit pt-lobos.parks.state.ca.us.