Skip to main content

Day-Trip to These 5 Undiscovered State Parks Near San Francisco

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished May 28, 2023 • 10:47am
Elephant seals hang out on the beach at Año Nuevo State Park. | Getty Images

More than 40 of California’s 280 state parks are day-trippable from the Bay Area. And with State Parks Week beginning June 14, it's a great time to rediscover the dozens of beaches, forests and historic sites available to explore this summer.

Check out the map below for new ideas for weekend destinations, and read on for five of the Bay Area’s less popular parks that are worth a visit in 2023.

A Guide to California State Parks Near the Bay Area

See a Historic Mill in the Napa Valley

Home to an extra large water-powered grist mill from 1846, Bale Grist Mill Historic State Park preserves a glimpse of the early agricultural days of Napa Valley. From the site above Calistoga, visitors can head out on walks in the adjacent Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

The Bale Grist Mill State Park near Calistoga showcases the early agricultural history of the Napa Valley. | Getty Images

Stroll the Shoreline of the Carquinez Strait

Benicia State Recreation Area offers a unique view from its site on the narrowest spot of the Carquinez Strait. Walkers, bikers and even roller skaters love the paths along the marshy bay—and the fishing ain’t bad either.

Drive the Spectacular Sonoma Coast

From Bodega Bay to Jenner, the Sonoma Coast State Park manages 16 miles of beaches along Highway 1. Though 2.6 million visitors came to the park in 2019, it never seems crowded because it is so spread out. Day-trippers can always find an empty spot to poke into coves, peek at tide pools, watch for whales and devour some local seafood before the trip home.

Bike and Hike Near the Bay

Named for a shrimp fishing village from the 1880s, China Camp State Park has miles of trails and is a popular bayside spot with mountain bikers, hikers and even swimmers (!) in Marin County. Though the historical museum is currently closed, visitors can find out more information about upcoming events on the Friends of China Camp website

The sun sets at China Camp State Park in Marin County. | Getty Images

Meet the Elephant Seals—Without the Crowds

Humans head to Año Nuevo State Park north of Santa Cruz to see up to 10,000 elephant seals. Though the park is hardly “undiscovered,” it is far less popular from April to November when there are fewer elephant seals hanging around so no reservations are needed to make a self-guided walk to the viewing area.

Shelley D. Fargo contributed additional research for this story.

Questions, comments or concerns about this article may be sent to

A picture of a coyote that was seen near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco Animal Control Urges Caution During Urban Coyote ‘Exploring’ Season

A little girl looks at holiday lights in awe.

Holiday Lights 2023: Where To See the Bay Area’s Most Festive Showcases

A woman is tandem skydiving, her hand is made into a shaka position suggesting she is having fun, and the background shows the Hawaii coast.

How My Skydiving Weekend in Hawaii Had a Terrifying Ending

A overhead shot from above of names of people who lost their lives to Aids written in chalk on the sidewalk.

Photos: San Francisco Gathers for World AIDS Day Events in the Castro, Golden Gate Park

A mansion's entrance with a poster offering a $10,000 reward is seen in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood.

San Francisco Mansion Offers $10K Reward for Arrest of Man Who Hopped Fence