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23 Places in California Worth Visiting #OptOutside

Last year, REI started the #OptOutside campaign where instead of spending your money on Black Friday, you spend your day outdoors. They closed all stores nationwide and encouraged their employees as well as the public to head outside. We loved the concept behind it and hope to make the same effort each year by connecting with nature.

Here in California, we’re lucky to have the coast, the mountains, the forests, and the deserts all within a couple minutes or hours drive. Add in the beautiful sunshine along with the cool weather and you have the perfect outdoor adventure anytime of the year.

This Black Friday we challenge you to connect with Mother Nature and get outside too. Strap on your hiking boots, fill up your water bottle, and head out to one of these places in California worth visiting.

National Parks

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We couldn’t pick just one, so here is a list of all the National Parks in California.

Redwood National and State Parks. “I watched a documentary about the redwood trees in my third grade science class and never forgot about its significance in nature. I’m so in awe of how tiny humans are compared to these giants! It offers a great perspective for disconnection and the questioning of one’s importance. Redwood National & State Parks are one of the few places in California you can actually see them.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N and US-101 N)  – 803 miles, 12 hours 7 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N and US-101 N) – 684 miles, 10 hours 30 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 N) – 310 miles, 5 hours 24 minutes

Lassen Volcanic National Park. “I’ve always had a fascination for little known National Parks. I’ve been dying to come here ever since I heard about the remarkable hydrothermal areas found throughout the park. Come here to escape the crowds of Yellowstone and uncover the mysteries of Lassen’s volcanoes and steaming water.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 695 miles, 10 hours 51 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 575 miles, 8 hours 49 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 N) – 248 miles, 4 hours 1 minutes

Yosemite National Park. “No matter when you go, Yosemite National Park will always be breathtaking. It may be daunting to visit so late in the year, but the off season offers the solitude and peace you don’t get during the busier months. A stroll through Yosemite Valley with the quietness and stillness immersion of fog — ah, a somber junky like me wouldn’t want to ask for much else.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N and CA-99 N) – 399 miles, 6 hours 20 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via CA-99 N) – 279 miles, 4 hours 35 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-580 E and CA-120 E) – 165 miles, 3 hours 5 minutes

Pinnacles National Park. “I explored caves for the first time at Pinnacles National Park and surprisingly, my phobia of tight dark spaces didn’t bother me at all. All I thought about was how cool the cave was and how badass it felt to climb through it. It must have been how Nicolas Cage felt in National Treasure. If you make your way out here, check out Lower Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave (check status of caves before setting out here). Make sure to bring a headlamp!” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 391 miles, 6 hours 12 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 271 miles, 4 hours 26 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 S) – 123 miles, 2 hours 11 minutes

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “I’ll never get tired of being surrounded by giant sequoia trees. Besides the grand green forests, both parks offer stunning views of lakes, waterfalls, and meadows. Both parks consists of mostly wilderness, which is a backpacker’s dream. However, if you’re there for a short stay, a visit to the parks is not complete without a hike to the General Sherman tree.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5N) – 323 miles, 5 hours 8 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N and CA-65 N) – 203 miles, 3 hours 24 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via Ca-99 S) – 262 miles, 4 hours 5 minutes

Death Valley National Park. “Heard about the delicate wildflower super bloom that occurred earlier this year? It happened right in this park. It was also here where I tumbled on Mesquite sand dunes, tasted the salt flats at Badwater Basin, and had a picnic at Artist’s Palette (so many different landscapes in one place!). If you want to end the day with breathtaking sunrise and sunset views, head to Dante’s Point.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via US-395 N) – 327 miles, 5 hours 24 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via CA-14 N)  – 259 miles, 4 hours 25 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 502 miles, 8 hours 11 minutes

Channel Islands National Park. “A National Park comprised of islands? I’m in! I’m fascinated with Channel Islands’ coastal beauty and sea caves. Because it is relatively undeveloped, you can only get around the island by foot. Which makes it the perfect national park to get away from modern civilization.” – Vivian

*Note: You can only access the islands via park concessionaire boats (Island Packers) and planes (Channel Islands Aviation) or private boat from Ventura or Santa Barbara.

Joshua Tree National Park. “Deserts are way underappreciated. Granted yes, if you’re not at Joshua Tree to rock climb, it can look like a dusty barren land. But it has so much more to offer! I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunset or night sky anywhere else in California. Your view of the world is wide opened here. And gosh, the golden sunrises are killer.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N)  – 164 miles, 2 hours 34 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-10 E) – 132 miles, 2 hours 9 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 512 miles, 7 hours 26 minutes

State Parks

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*Free admission to 116 California State Parks

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. “Do yourself a favor and hike to Burney Falls. It is a very short hike, but is considered one of most beautiful waterfall in California (or even the world). Apparently Teddy Roosevelt once named Burney Falls as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. This is definitely on my list of ‘must-do’ hikes”. – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 725 miles, 11 hours 21 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 605 miles, 9 hours 18 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 N) – 278 miles, 4 hours 30 minutes

Mount Tamalpais State Park. “A hike to the summit of East Peak on Mt. Tamalpais will feel like a hike through heaven. In addition to a plentiful submersion of fog, there’s a part of the trail where you hike above the clouds (or fog, I don’t really know) and it just feels surreal. The meadows are beautiful, the hike is moderately easy, the view is worth it, and it’s only a couple of minutes away from the city.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 520 miles, 8 hours 58 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 400 miles, 6 hours 32 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 N and CA-1 N) – 18 miles, 0 hours 41 minutes

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. “A hike along the northern coast of California is always a great idea. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park will take you along the hidden trails of Big Sur while Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park will offer you easy access to viewing McWay Falls — the famous waterfall you see on everyone’s instagram profile.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via US-101 N) – 416 miles, 7 hours 7 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via US-101 N and CA-1 N) – 293 miles, 5 hours 26 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 S) – 149 miles, 2 hours 36 minutes

Note: A fee is charged upon entering the parking lot to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There is free parking on Highway 1, but it’s a bit of a walk to the falls.

Red Rock Canyon State Park. “This State Park offers a glimpse of the red rocks and canyons you normally see in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, right here in California. I love red rocks so this is a must-visit place for me. It offers desert cliffs, buttes, and quirky vivid rock formations. I haven’t been here yet, but I can’t wait to witness this with my very own naked eyes” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-15 N) –  226 miles, 3 hours 38 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via CA-14 N) – 121 miles, 1 hours 52 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 364 miles, 5 hours 40 minutes

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. “When I first heard of this place, I was most excited to visit the slot canyon and wind caves, and be able to gaze upon a bighorn sheep. When I got there, there was only time to visit one of them. I chose to visit the slot canyon and I’m so happy I did. I felt like an explorer, twisting and turning my way through the whole canyon. My favorite part of it all was being forced to turn sideways during narrow portions of the canyon.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via Montezuma Valley Rd) –  86.2 miles, 1 hour 52 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via CA-60 E, I-15 S and CA-79 S) – 157 miles, 2 hours 44 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 530 miles, 8 hours 53 minutes

State Beaches

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Half Moon Bay State Beach. “For a more chill day in the bay, opt for Half Moon State Beach. You won’t be able to get much swimming in, but there are picnic tables for afternoon lunches and relaxation away from crowds of angry shoppers. Plus, who doesn’t love a good view of the coast?” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 498 miles, 8 hours 28 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 378 miles, 5 hours 55 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via CA-1/Cabrillo Hwy N) – 27 miles, 0 hours 36 minutes

Sunset State Beach. “This is a great beach to collect sea shells and sand dollars along the shore. Many people come here to fly kites, camp along the beach, or gaze upon mountainous sand dunes. Great way to chill out after the hectic holiday.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) –  448 miles, 6 hours 56 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N and US-101 N) – 328 miles, 5 hour 17 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 S) – 88 miles, 1 hour 35 minutes

El Matador State Beach. “Being the closest beach to Malibu, many people flock to El Matador State Beach for its unique rock formations and beautiful sea stacks. North of the beach lies caves and unique rock arches. Photographers flock here to photograph the prominent arched rock during sunset. You can’t miss it. I’ve been here a couple times and it never gets old.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) –  158 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-10 W and CA-1 N) – 40 miles, 50 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via US-101 S) – 385 miles, 6 hours 7 minutes

Carlsbad State Beach. “Considered one of the quieter beaches in Southern California, it’s a great place to escape the crowds and enjoy cool views of the beach and coastal bluffs. Because of the view, many people enjoy camping on top of the cliffs. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see pods of dolphins!” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) –  31 miles, 0 hours 32 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 S) – 92 miles, 1 hours 27 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 478 miles, 8 hours 8 minutes

Torrey Pines State Beach. “Popular amongst surfers, Torrey Pines State Beach is one of my all-time favorite beaches. Aside from the beach, it offers rocky sea cliffs that create an amazing scenic landscape. It was fun walking along the cliff and seeing the breathtaking view from above.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) –  19 miles, 0 hours 22 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 S) – 104 miles, 1 hour 40 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 490 miles, 8 hours 16 minutes

National Forests

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Shasta-Trinity National Forest. “The largest National Forest in California has lots to offer: big trees, massive waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and lots of hiking trails. Like any forest in the northern part of the state you can expect a colder, cloudier hike through the forests at this time of year.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5 N) – 709 miles, 11 hours 15 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 N) – 589 miles, 9 hours 12 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 N) – 261 miles, 4 hours 21 minutes

Stanislaus National Forest. “Smacked dabbed in between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, Stanislaus National Forest has a stunning 800 miles of rivers and streams surrounded by the stunning Sierra Nevada (yes 800!!). Fun fact: this area was a hot commodity during the Gold Rush. You may encounter some historical sites and artifacts during your stay here.” – Jennifer

  • From San Diego (via I-5N and CA-99 N) – 494 miles, 8 hours 50 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via CA-99 N) – 374 miles, 7 hours 1 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-580 E and CA-4 E) – 169 miles, 3 hours 46 minutes

Inyo National Forest. “My first backpacking trip was in Inyo National Forest. We hiked to Kearsage Pass — a great trail to gaze upon the high eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Along the hike, you will pass by five awe-inspiring lakes. I couldn’t stop marveling at how blue the lakes were and how remarkable the scenery was with the Sierra Nevada as the backdrop. With so many trails here, you’re bound to find a sense of wilderness and solitude here. ” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via US-395 N) –  414 miles, 7 hour 30 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via US-395 N) – 327 miles, 6 hour 8 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-80 E) – 446 miles, 7 hours 50 minutes

San Bernardino National Forest. “The San Bernardino National Forest has many points of interests: Big Bear Recreation Area, Lake Arrowhead, and San Gorgonio. Designated wilderness areas are located throughout the forest, offering tons of hiking trails for all levels of people. There’s no way you’ll get tired of this place.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via I-15 N and I-215 N) –  129 miles, 2 hour 38 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-10 E) – 82 miles, 2 hours 0 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 461 miles, 7 hours 48 minutes

*Note: An Adventure Pass is required to enter this National Forest.

Cleveland National Forest. “Cleveland National Forest is different from other National Forests as it is mostly covered in chaparral. Right now is the best time to visit here since the weather is cooler. If you don’t feel like hiking, drive along the Sunrise Scenic Highway — a windy 24-mile road that offers panoramic views of the mountains and its surroundings.” – Vivian

  • From San Diego (via CA-163 N and CA-67 N) –  44 miles, 1 hour 3 minutes
  • From Los Angeles (via I-5 S) – 128 miles, 2 hours 17 minutes
  • From San Francisco (via I-5 S) – 509 miles, 8 hours 31 minutes

*Note: An Adventure Pass is required to enter this National Forest.

Happy Trails!
Jennifer and Vivian

This post was not sponsored by REI 

9 Comments

  1. Great post! California has so much to offer. I have to check out some of these places that were on my list as well! 🙂

    Like

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