Skip to main content

Here Are California’s Most Popular State Parks

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Nov. 13, 2023 • 2:00pm
Vibrant blue waters meet a rugged ocean beach.
Sonoma Coast State Park runs from Bodega Bay to Jenner. | Source: Getty Images

More than 68 million people visited California’s state parks in 2019—not bad for a state of 40 million. And though Sacramento hasn’t crunched the numbers since then, the number of annual visitors surely jumped during the pandemic.

The Standard took a closer look at which of the 200-plus sites attract the most visitors throughout the state—and the most popular park is not one that you might expect.

Sonoma Coast State Park is No. 1 in California, with 2.6 million visitors in 2019.

With miles of beaches, campgrounds and fishing attractions on Highway 1 from Bodega Bay to Jenner, Sonoma Coast is a deserving—if surprising—winner. It’s one of 43 state parks that surround the Bay Area that attracted nearly 13 million visitors in 2019.

RELATED: See a Prehistoric Pop-Up Lake in California’s Hottest Spot

What’s not surprising is that beaches are the most popular natural attraction in the state park system, with 13 of the top 25 parks located along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Another shocker? The most popular park with campers.

Ocotillo Wells, the desert destination for off-road vehicle exploration near the Salton Sea, attracted more campers than any other state park in California. In fact, with more than 583,000 visitors, it received double that of the second-place park, South Carlsbad State Beach.

Two dune buggies and two dirt bikers ride through a desert on a clear day.
Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreation Area is the most popular California state park for camping. | Source: Getty Images

For boating, Folsom Lake is king. More than 64,000 boats were launched in the reservoir near Sacramento, making it the most popular park for boating in California. Folsom Lake was also the third most visited state park in 2019.

Six rows of empty docks on a calm lake.
Folsom Lake has more boat launches than any other California state park. | Source: Getty Images

Search the table below to find the attendance figures for your favorite state park.

Shelley D. Fargo contributed additional research for this story.

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

Couples dance while clad in Victorian era clothing at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair Returns to Cow Palace After Boycott

San Francisco Japantown's Osaka Way with the Pease Plaza in the background.

Where To Shop in San Francisco’s Japantown for the Holiday Season

Items made by local San Franciscan makers are displayed at Fleetwood clothing store

This Might Be the Coolest Shop in San Francisco’s Coolest Neighborhood

Colorful lanterns hang in a narrow San Francisco alleyway that has a red terrace and a red sign.

San Francisco Chinatown Holiday Season Shopping Guide: 2023 Edition

The tasting room at Ram's Gate winery is decked out for the holidays.

Make a Happy Holiday Trip Up to Sonoma County