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Five (mostly) free outdoors activities to try during State Parks Week

A yoga practitioner practices a pose at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. | Courtesy California State Parks

California State Parks Week celebrates the natural wonders and curiosities of California’s 280 state parks through a series of events running June 14-18.

From breathtaking beaches to magnificent mountains, the Golden State is filled with natural beauties—and many of the most popular destinations are just a short drive from the Bay Area. You can even reach some on public transit

Here are some of the wildest and most exotic excursions planned for this week. Some are close to home, while others really encourage you to get out to the far edges of the state. Registration is required for most events, and space is limited for some, so be sure to RSVP soon before you hit the road.  

1. Forest Bathing at Mount Tamalpais

🗓️ Wednesday | 9:15 a.m.-noon
📍 Pantoll parking lot at Mount Tamalpais, Marin County
🔗 RSVP here.
🎟️ Free

A view from the hike.
San Francisco can be viewed in the distance from this trail on Mount Tamalpais. | Adobe Stock | Source: Adobe Stock

While taking a walk in the woods is nothing new, the Japanese have their own way of communing with the great outdoors called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This form of ecotherapy, born as an antidote to the tech-boom burnout of the 1980s, asks practitioners to absorb the calmness and wellness-inducing aspects of nature. Take in your surroundings during a seated session at 9:15 a.m. or 10:30 p.m.—or do both—then go for forest-bathing walk with a certified guide for the Lower Old Mine Trail at 10:30 a.m.  

2. Yoga on the Santa Cruz Shoreline

🗓️ Thursday | 9:30-10:45 a.m.
📍 Seacliff State Beach, Santa Cruz County
🔗 RSVP here.
🎟️ Free

If you’re looking for a Zen experience, Seacliff State Beach offers a tranquil yoga class along the coast from 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. on Thursday. Nearby Natural Bridges State Beach also holds a combo yoga and tidepool education class where you’ll learn poses inspired by animals from 11 a.m. to noon the same day. Take your warrior pose to the next level on Sunday with a seed bombing event made for eco-warriors and learn how to make the pint-size balls of clay, compost and seeds to give Monarch butterflies nourishing native wildflower beds to fuel up on during the insects’ migration.

Monarch butterflies stay for the winter in a protected area inside Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. | Amy Osborne/AFP via Getty Images

If you’re willing to go the distance to balance your chakras, head north to Humboldt County for as guided morning yoga session at the confluence points of the Eel River. Commune with nature and your body through a fusion of stretching exercises to increase mobility and calm your mind. 

For more yoga classes set in out-of-the-ordinary outdoor locales, check out California State Parks Week’s website.   

3. Belly Dance at Folsom Lake 

🗓️ Thursday | 9-10 a.m.
📍 Folsom Lake State Recreational Area, Sacramento County
🔗 RSVP here.
🎟️ Free

Learn how to belly dance at a historic site with gold rush roots. Anastasia Raskin of Hoi Polloi Dance Studio teaches a fusion belly-dance class for beginners. No previous dance experience is necessary, and all ages, abilities and body types are welcome. History buffs may also be interested to learn that the area was once favored by Black gold rush-era miners.  

4. Go Birding on Angel Island 

🗓️ Thursday | 10:30 a.m.-noon
📍 Angel Island, Marin County
🔗 RSVP here.
🎟️ Free 

Explore Angel Island State Park's flora and fauna during ecology and birding tours held during California State Parks Week. | Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

If you’ve been itching to pick up birding since it exploded during the pandemic, now’s your chance to explore the booming naturalist hobby in a unique setting. Angel Island, also known as the Ellis Island of the West, has not only a complex history but also a complex ecosystem. Take the ferry from Tiburon or San Francisco and bring your binoculars to spot species as diverse as goldeneye buffleheads or seaworthy surf scoters. Learn to identify birds by sight and sound on a relaxed guided tour around Ayala Cove. Space is limited to the first 25 registrants, and a few sets of binoculars will be available to borrow. 

Admirers of flora and fauna can also take an ecology tour of Angel Island on Wednesday where nature enthusiasts can learn to identify different plant species on a 1.5-mile hike. And if a weekday field trip is not in the cards, the state park is also hosting a family day on Saturday.

5. Take a Tule Elk Auto Safari  

🗓️ Saturday | 10 a.m.-noon
📍 Tule Elk State Natural Reserve, Kern County
🔗 RSVP here.
🎟️ $8

Spot Tule Elk as they roam during a California State Parks Week auto safari. | George Rose/Getty Images

Did you know that Tule Elk roam the ranges of California? The smallest of three elk species native to the state, the species, once on the verge of extinction, has a dedicated reserve in the small San Joaquin Valley town of Buttonwillow, outside Bakersfield. Visiting the reserve may be a bit of a trek from the Bay Area, but if you’re itching to get really far out this weekend, this auto safari may be one reason to go on a road trip. Learn about the history of the tule elk herd at the site as you tour the reserve and its visitor center. Bring your binoculars for a closer look at the wildlife.