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18 Spectacular State Parks Near San Francisco (+ Map!)

Looking for the best state parks near San Francisco to visit? California has a very robust state parks system, with beautiful parks scattered all over the state, and you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to state parks around San Francisco.

From mountains to coast and redwood forests to wildlife havens, there are many beautiful California state parks near San Francisco for fun nature-focused day trips or weekend trips. There are also historic parks to visit, where you can tour old lighthouses or Colonial-era buildings.

In this article, we’ve rounded up the most spectacular state parks near San Francisco for easy road trips. While we’ve listed driving times based on Google maps, note that driving time can vary wildly based on when you travel and your exact point of departure.

Sunset at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel California

Good to know: Before you head out, be sure to check the official park site for information on closures and current hours of operation. Parks may have special closures in place for various reasons.

With miles of hiking trails, fishing spots, wildflowers in season, stargazing, and lots of bird and wildlife, the outdoor parks on our list are perfect for camping and enjoying California’s stunning scenery. Whether you are looking to have a fun family road trip, an active couples getaway, or a serene solo retreat, you’ll find a park to suit.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
State Parks Near San Francisco (Driving Time of One Hour or Less)
State Parks Around San Francisco (Driving Time of One to Two Hours)
Map of California State Parks Around San Francisco You Must Visit

State Parks near San Francisco (Driving time of one hour or less)

Angel Island State Park

Just a ferry ride away from the mainland, Angel Island is the largest natural island in San Francisco Bay. The island offers gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay Area and is a tranquil getaway from the traffic and stressors of the city.

View from Angel Island State Park San Francisco Bay California

Plus, Angel Island has a rich history, starting from the time it served as a food gathering location for Native Americans to its function as an Immigration Station in more recent times.

In Angel Island State Park, hike to the top of Mount Livermore (or hike other trails), rent a bike and explore the island, take a tram tour, go swimming at sandy Quarry Beach, visit the historical sites, picnic, look for birds or wildlife, or fish. Segway tours of the island and kayaking tours to the island may also be available.

Camping: There are a limited number of tent camp sites and one kayak camping site in Angel Island State Park. Camp sites must be reserved in advance.

Ferry to Angel Island

Ferries to Angel Island run from Pier 41 in San Francisco and from Tiburon. From San Francisco, the ferry ride takes about 25 minutes. From Tiburon, it takes about 10 minutes.

Mount Tamalpais State Park

Located in Marin County, just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais State Park is a super popular getaway from SF. With hillsides covered in redwoods, oak, and chaparral, and areas of open grasslands, the park is extremely scenic.

A trail in Mount Tamalpais State Park in California

Mount Tamalpais is 2,571 feet tall, and you can drive (or hike!) to the top for panoramic views. When the famous fog is not in evidence, you can see as far as the Farallon Islands, the hills of Marin County, San Francisco (Bay and City), East Bay, and Mount Diablo.

Mount Tamalpais State Park offers unparalleled opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, from hiking the many trails to mountain biking, horseback riding, stargazing, fishing, wildlife viewing, picnicking, and even hang gliding. Mountain Theater hosts performances in May and June each year.

Camping: Group campsites, rustic cabins, or seaside campsites can be reserved in advance. In addition, first-come, first-served camp sites are available at specific campgrounds.

Driving distance from San Francisco

14.5 miles, 28 minutes

Half Moon Bay State Beach

A state park made up of four beaches, Half Moon State Beach features four miles of sandy shoreline and is a hugely popular getaway destination for San Francisco city and SF Bay Area residents as well as visitors to the Golden State. Lodging is available nearby if you want to stay overnight but do not wish to camp.

Half Moon Bay State Beach in California

Francis Beach, at the south end of Half Moon Bay State Beach, offers sunbathing, picnicking, and fishing. Go for walks along the beach or picnic on the bluffs above, and look for sea and shore birds. You may even see the threatened Western snowy plover!

Venice Beach has more parking than Francis Beach and you may find it less crowded (but just as beautiful). Creeks on either end of the beach may create lagoons on the beach. You can sunbathe, stroll, picnic, or fish.

Dunes Beach, north of Venice Beach, is also wide and sandy, perfect for strolling. Roosevelt Beach is the northernmost beach at Half Moon Bay State Beach, and accessed by walking from the parking lot for Dunes Beach. It is generally the least crowded of the four beaches.

The Coastside Trail runs along the land end of the four beaches, and makes for a beautiful long walk or bike ride. There is also a designated equestrian trail. The cold water temperatures and rip currents make it unsafe to swim in the ocean here.

Camping: The campground at Francis Beach offers 52 campsites, tent and RV, some with electrical hookups. Reserve in advance. A campground north of Venice Beach offers tent camping with advance reservations.

Driving distance from San Francisco

29.4 miles, 40 minutes

Mount Diablo State Park

Located in East Bay, Mount Diablo State Park is large — about 20,000 acres — and offers spectacular panoramic views from the summit and higher elevations of Mount Diablo, which is 3,849 feet tall. On clear days, you can see up to 200 miles in each direction!

Mount Diablo State Park East Bay California

You can drive to the summit and enjoy the views from the telescopes mounted on the observation deck around the Visitor Center. There are also exhibits and fossils to view inside the Visitor Center.

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Mount Diablo State Park offers several miles of beautiful trails, flush with wildflowers in the spring, that lead to picturesque rocks, scenic overlooks, or waterfalls. You can also explore the park on a bike or go horseback riding, do some rock climbing, or enjoy wildlife viewing. Picnic areas are available.

Camping: There are two campgrounds at Mount Diablo State Park, with 51 sites in all. Tents, trailers, and RVs are all allowed. Reserve ahead of time.

Driving distance from San Francisco

38.6 miles, 1 hour

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Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

At 115 feet tall, Pigeon Point Light Station is one of the tallest lighthouses in the country, and a fabulous photo spot, especially at sunrise and sunset, when the sky is bathed in rich colors. At the time of writing, you can’t enter the historic lighthouse, first lit in 1872, but you can tour the grounds. The lighthouse is being restored.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Pescadero California

The grounds of the park are a wonderful place from which to view marine mammals, and sea and shore birds. Land birds can also be spotted in the scrub, especially during the fall. You have a good chance of seeing migrating gray whales in season, dolphins, otters, and seals in the water. Bring binoculars, or a bird scope for birdwatching.

You will also find hikes at Pigeon Point, with spectacular ocean views, and the opportunity to see lots of wildflowers in season. Dress warmly, as it can be breezy by the water.

Camping: Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is day use only. But you can stay at the highly-rated HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, located right by the lighthouse!

Driving distance from San Francisco

49.2 miles, 1 hour

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach, and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, on the opposite side of California Highway 1, are must-visit destinations if you enjoy birding and wildlife viewing. Bring your binoculars and zoom lens!

Pescadero State Beach in California

The beach is about one mile long, with picturesque sandy coves and rugged cliffs. You can stroll the beach, go tidepooling or fishing, and picnic. The coastal tidepools here are brimming with tiny creatures. The beach can be accessed easily from any one of three parking areas by the side of Highway 1.

Access to the marsh preserve is via a pedestrian walkway along the bridge on Highway 1. In the preserve, you will see lots of water birds, including blue herons, grebes, coots, and ducks, as well as land birds such as phoebes, wrens, and song sparrows. Look for kites, deer, and maybe even a fox!

Camping: Pescadero State Beach is day use only. The Santa Cruz North/Costanoa KOA campground is about 10 miles to the south and offers both tent and RV sites.

Driving distance from San Francisco

43.6 miles, 54 minutes

Good to know: You can reserve state-run campsites and lodging, plus tours and activities, on ReserveCalifornia. For privately-owned campgrounds, visit the website of the company.

Sonoma State Historic Park

Combine a wine tasting visit to Sonoma with a tour of its historic sites! Sonoma State Historic Park consists of several historical landmarks, scattered about Sonoma Plaza. Walking the heart of the pretty village to tour the sites makes for a great day out from San Francisco!

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma California

Off Sonoma Plaza, you can visit Mission San Francisco Solano, Sonoma’s historic Spanish mission, where you can tour the chapel museum and courtyard and view the exhibits and art. The Sonoma Barracks, just across the street, has several rooms with exhibits to view.

Also near the plaza, you will find the Blue Wing Inn, the Toscano Hotel & Kitchen, and the Servants Quarters (the remains of La Casa Grande). The Blue Wing Inn was one of the earliest hotels built north of San Francisco.

General Vallejo’s Home is located about one mile from the plaza. The wood home was built in the mid-19th century, and has a large Gothic window. It was built on the East Coast, and shipped here and assembled.

With your admission, you can also visit Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, which preserves the main residential structure on the agricultural empire of General Vallejo. The park is about 10 miles from Sonoma. You can tour the home and then have a picnic in one of the shaded picnic spots in the park!

Driving distance from San Francisco

44.8 miles, 58 minutes

State Parks Around San Francisco (Driving time of one to two hours)

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Before intensive logging in the 19th century destroyed them, redwood forests covered much of the Northern California coast. Today, only a few areas remain, and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma County protects one such beautiful area. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees on earth, and it is a moving experience walking through a grove of these magnificent trees.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve Sonoma County California

There are walking trails in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve that let you get up close to the redwoods. The 1.5-mile Pioneer Nature Trail, in particular, is a must-walk. You can also go horse-riding on designated equestrian trails. There are picnic facilities in the park.

Also visit the adjoining Austin Creek State Recreation Area, where you will find rolling hills, open grasslands, and oak woodlands. There are several trails that combine Armstrong Redwoods and Austin Creek for longer, more challenging hikes.

Camping: There are 23 campsites available at Bullfrog Campground in Austin Creek State Recreation Area. A few are first-come, first-served, but most must be reserved in advance. There are several other campgrounds along Russian River.

Driving distance from San Francisco

77.1 miles, 1 hour and 30 minutes

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most beautiful state parks in California. Many of the walking trails at Point Lobos State Park hug the ocean, and offer fabulous views plus the opportunity to spot marine mammals in the water and on the rocks by the shore.

China Cove Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Carmel California

Along the popular Bird Island Trail, you can photograph jade-green China Cove, look down at sandy Gibson Beach (which can be accessed via a set of steep stairs) and enjoy the sea birds on Bird Island. In season, you will see breeding harbor seals at China Cove.

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Other than walking the scenic trails, you can picnic in the park, relax and enjoy the views (plein air painters love Point Lobos!), or go tidepooling, snorkeling or scuba diving. Visit the small Whaler’s Cabin Museum to learn about the park’s history, and enjoy tons of wildflowers in season.

Camping: Point Lobos is day use only, but Saddle Mountain Ranch RV and Campground in Carmel is only 8 miles away. The campground offers cabins, RV hookups, and tent camping. You can reserve online in advance.

Driving distance from San Francisco

124 miles, 1 hour and 57 minutes

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State park is located in the Santa Cruz mountains. The park protects a large stand of old coast redwoods, some over 1,000 years old and more than 300 feet tall.

Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park California

With spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, lush greenery, and waterfalls, Big Basin is one of the most beloved of California’s state parks. There are over 80 miles of hiking trails in the park, to allow you to experience the various bio-environments up close. Look for birds and wildlife (and banana slugs!) as you walk!

Sempervirens Falls and Berry Creek Falls can be accessed via hikes. Berry Creek Falls is a 10.5 mile round trip hike, so arrive early if you wish to tackle it. Backpacking, biking, and horse riding are also popular at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. On summer nights, the park sometimes offer fun campfires as well.

Camping: There are four campgrounds at Big Basin, with a total of 142 campsites. RVs and trailers are allowed at some sites, but there are no electrical hookups. Big Basin also offers group campgrounds, a horse camp, and tent cabins. Some campgrounds are only open seasonally.

Driving distance from San Francisco

58.6 miles, 1 hour and 13 minutes

Sonoma Coast State Park

Sonoma Coast State Park extends for 17 beautiful miles, from Bodega Head to beyond Jenner on the Northern California coast. Its rugged coastal cliffs, sandy beaches and coves, and natural rock formations make for a great getaway from the city.

Wildflowers at Sonoma Coast State Park in California

The drive from one end of the park to the other and back is beautiful. There are turnouts where you can stop to take in the views and snap photos. You can access the beach from one of several access points along the 17-mile stretch.

On the beach, you can walk, sunbathe, go beachcombing or tidepooling, picnic, look for wildlife and birds, or fish. There are trails along the coastal bluffs as well, which offer great water views and wildflowers in season. Bodega Head is a good place from which to try and spot migrating gray whales in season.

Camping: Wright’s Beach campground has 27 campsites adjacent to the beach. Maximum trailer length is 27 feet and hookups are not available. Bodega Dunes Campground, about 5 miles south, has 99 campsites, plus showers, potable water, and a dump station. Reserve in advance.

Driving distance from San Francisco

68.4 miles, 1 hour and 23 minutes

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is located in Saint Helena, in the heart of wine country. The park features miles of hiking trails through stands of coastal redwoods and forests of Douglas fir, madrone, and tanoak. The redwoods in this park are the most inland you will find them growing!

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park Saint Helena California
PC: Jhony

Ritchey Creek flows through the park, and you can walk beside the creek, listening to the sounds of the water as you walk. Birds and wildlife can be spotted in the park. The park also features a swimming pool.

Other than hiking, you can go biking or horse riding, tour the Native American Garden by the Visitor Center, and visit Pioneer Cemetery, the resting place of many early settlers in the area. You can also walk over to Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park next door to view the historic grain mill. The day use area has picnic tables

Camping: The campground at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers 50 wooded campsites, a few of which are walk-in. Campers and trailers are allowed. The park also offers restored historic cabins and yurts. Reserve in advance.

Driving distance from San Francisco

68.4 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Año Nuevo State Park

Located in San Mateo County, a few miles south of Pescadero State Beach, is Año Nuevo State Park. Consisting of Año Nuevo Island and Año Nuevo Point, the park is home to pinniped rookeries, and a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts. Several thousand elephant seals come here to breed and molt each year.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park California

Apart from the opportunity to view the seals, the coastline is pretty as well, with prairie, marshes, and coastal scrub. While you walk, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog. You will see many types of wildflowers in season.

Walk along the coastal bluffs to Año Nuevo Point, from where you can see Año Nuevo Island. You will likely see lots of birds here, as well as harbor seals, sea lions and otters. Elephant seals can be viewed year round at the park, but between December and March, you have to join a guided tour (reserve in advance).

Camping: Año Nuevo State Park is day use only. Costanoa Lodge and Camping, about 4 miles away, offers RV camping, tent camping, tent bungalows, and cabins. Reserve in advance.

Driving distance from San Francisco

56.3 miles, 1 hour and 6 minutes

Castle Rock State Park

Located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Castle Rock State Park contains beautiful sandstone formations. The park offers panoramic vistas over the surrounding countryside. The Skyline to the Sea Trail links Castle Rock State Park with Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Otherworldly landscape in Castle Rock State Park, Santa Cruz, California

With miles of hiking trails, the park is a mecca for hikers and backpackers. Hikes in the park range from easy to strenuous. You can also explore the park on horseback, and biking is permitted on specific trails.

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There are numerous rock formations where rock climbers can try their skills, including Castle Rock. Nature lovers can enjoy the serenity and diverse flora and fauna in the park. Naturalist-led backpacking trips are offered in the summer.

Camping: Castle Rock State park has two campgrounds. Castle Rock Trail Camp offers 20 primitive sites, 5 of which are first-come, first-served. Waterman Gap Trail Camp has six primitive campsites you can reserve ahead of time.

Driving distance from San Francisco

56.2 miles, 1 hour and 5 minutes

Tomales Bay State Park

Located in Marin County, Tomales Bay State Park contains a number of beautiful beaches that are free of surf and sheltered from winds. The park also includes coastal lands, from forests to hills and meadows, with wildflowers in season, and plenty of wildlife and birds. Jepson Memorial Grove contains a virgin grove of Bishop pine.

Beach in Tomales Bay State Park in California

The waters in the bay are calm, perfect for water-based activities like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, and even swimming, and clamming. Heart’s Desire Beach is the most popular beach, with a picnic area and hiking trails to the other beaches. Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach.

Longer hiking trails run through the coastal forests, allowing for up-close observation of the variety of trees and shrubs, including the Bishop pine grove. Millerton Point, on the inland side of the bay, features a beautiful loop trail and the Alan Sieroty Beach.

Camping: Tomales Bay State Park is day use only. Olema Campground is about nine miles away, and offers both tent and RV campsites. Advance reservations are recommended.

Driving distance from San Francisco

46 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park has a 40-acre grove of old-growth redwoods. The tallest tree in the grive is 277 feet tall and 1,500 years old! Walking among these giants is a profound experience, and if you bring a flashlight, you can step inside the Fremont Tree!

Trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz, California

Henry Cowell Redwoods State park offers miles of hiking trails, plus biking and horseback riding trails. Hiking trails take you through the various ecosystems in the park, which include redwoods, grasslands, riparian, and sandhills. Look for birds, wildlife, bright yellow banana slugs, and trout in the river.

You can swim at The Garden of Eden, a swimming hole on the San Lorenzo River. There are picnic sites in the park. Next door is the Roaring Camp Railroad, with vintage locomotives that can take you through the redwood forests or to the beach in Santa Cruz and back.

Camping: The park’s forested campground has 107 shaded sites. Campers and trailers are permitted, but there are no water or sewer hookups. Advance reservations are recommended, especially in season.

Driving distance from San Francisco

71 miles, 1 hour and 11 minutes

Good to know: All of these state parks individually make for wonderful day trips from San Francisco, or great San Francisco weekend trips. But for an even longer getaway, you can combine three or four state parks that are located close together. Or do a road trip that strings together a number of state parks near San Francisco.

Natural Bridges State Beach

There were three bridges at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz County, but only one remains. The natural bridge makes for a superb photo spot, and the beach is beautiful for walking and to see the sun set.

Natural Bridges State Beach Santa Cruz California

The park includes the beach, intertidal areas, and grasslands and coastal scrub. Moore Creek flows through the park and may create lagoons before emptying into the sea. The park is a hotspot for birdwatching, with many species of shore birds to spot. You can also go tidepooling at low tide, and observe the myriad little creatures that call the pools home.

Enjoy colorful wildflowers in the spring and early summer. In the fall, be sure to walk through the park’s Monarch Grove, where you will see lots of monarchs clinging to eucalyptus trees. The grove is a State Monarch Preserve. There are picnic areas in the park.

Camping: Natural Bridges State Beach is day use only. Smithwoods RV Park is about 8 miles away. New Brighton State Beach, about 9 miles away, has 109 campsites, and offers both tent and RV camping. Reserve in advance.

Driving distance from San Francisco

75 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz County offers nature plus history. Thee park covers several thousand acres, with costal terraces and valleys to explore. The site was once a ranch supplying the Santa Cruz Mission, and then a dairy ranch, and many original buildings have been preserved.

Wilder Ranch State Park Santa Cruz California

Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are the main ways to explore the coastal trails. Trails run along the bluffs and beaches and also go up the hillside terraces of the backcountry. View redwoods and other flora and look for birds and wildlife. There are picnic areas in the park.

Take a tour of the ranch buildings: the late 19th century Victorian home, the mid-19th century farmhouse, and other buildings like the machine shop and barns. Tours are generally offered on weekends, but call ahead to confirm.

Camping: Wilder Ranch Campground only has a horse camp, with six first-come, first-served sites. Smithwoods RV Park is about 10 miles away. New Brighton State Beach, about 11 miles away, has 109 campsites, and offers both tent and RV camping. Reserve in advance.

76.5 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Map of State Parks Near San Francisco You Must Visit


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Discover the best California State Parks near San Francisco to visit, from coastal parks to redwood forests and mountain summits.

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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