The Borrego Badlands in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images
California is home to 279 state parks, which cover more than a million acres combined and stretch from 230 feet below sea level at the Salton Sea to more than 10,000 feet above at the snowy San Jacinto Peak. The state park system, the biggest in the nation, preserves impressive waterfalls and wildlife reserves, some of the world’s largest trees and the state’s most stunning flowers.
Today I have some recommendations for state parks to visit in the winter, no matter what sort of vacation you’re craving. And you can now check out free vehicle day-use passes for most of California’s state parks from your local library.
See elephant seals
Roughly 20 miles north of Santa Cruz, Año Nuevo State Park is one of the few places in North America where you can see elephant seals up close. The massive animals, each about the size of an S.U.V., can be viewed at the park year-round, but winter tends to be the busiest and most exciting season, as it’s when the pups are born.
From December through March, the seals come ashore to mate, give birth and nurse their young. Park docents offer guided walks starting on Dec. 15 and continuing every day until March 31, with the exception of Dec. 25. Read more about reserving a tour.
Experience a gold rush town
About 90 miles southeast of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the city of Columbia was once the second largest in California. Between 1850 and 1880, more than a billion dollars’ worth of gold was mined in the area. And in 1945, the State Legislature designated the site the Columbia State Historic Park so that a typical gold rush town could be preserved.
During the holiday season, visitors to the park can watch confectioners make giant handmade candy canes and can enjoy special events, including a Los Posadas Nativity procession and a Christmas equestrian parade.
Explore the desert
Though spring is typically the best time to catch its famous wildflower blooms, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a lovely place to visit in the winter. The largest state park in California, it offers miles of hiking trails, sweeping vistas of the rugged Borrego Badlands, excellent stargazing and “an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California desert,” said Jorge Moreno, a state parks department spokesman.
More on California
- Jaywalking Law: California has had one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the nation. Starting Jan. 1, that will no longer be the case.
- Remaking a River: Taming the Los Angeles River helped Los Angeles emerge as a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the territory. Imagining the river’s future poses new challenges.
- A Piece of Black History Destroyed: Lincoln Heights — a historically Black community in a predominantly white, rural county in Northern California — endured for decades. Then came the Mill fire.
- Employee Strike: In one of the nation’s biggest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers across the University of California system walked off the job to demand higher pay.
Go cross-country skiing
Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park is 2,000 acres of dense pine, fir, aspen and cedar forest along the quiet western shores of Lake Tahoe. Winter visitors to Sugar Pine Point can camp in the snow and explore miles of marked cross-country skiing trails.
Learn about California history
Thirty miles south of Redding, William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park is a memorial to William B. Ide, a leader of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt against Mexican control of California. The park features an old adobe home, blacksmith shop and other historic sites, which can be toured on the weekends. The park’s annual Pioneer Christmas Party, which recreates the settlers’ earliest holiday celebrations, will take place this year on Dec. 17.
The rest of the news
Fast food: A coalition of restaurant owners and business groups said it had filed petitions with more than one million signatures for a referendum to block a new law that set higher hourly wages for fast-food workers in California, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Kelp forests: Researchers claim that the behavior of a massive extinct herbivore, the Steller’s sea cow, might inform conservation efforts of threatened ecosystems, such as California’s kelp forests.
Los Angeles mayor: Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Karen Bass as the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles on Sunday, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Colorado River water: Some Imperial Valley farmers said they feel they are not charged enough for the Colorado River water they use on their farms, the low cost of which has not changed since 2011, saying it gives them little incentive to conserve, The Voice of San Diego reports.
Lady Gaga’s dog walker: A man who shot Lady Gaga’s dog walker during a violent robbery in Hollywood during which two of the singer’s French bulldogs were stolen was sentenced on Monday to 21 years in prison.
Taylor Swift lawsuit: In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County, a group of 26 Taylor Swift fans said Ticketmaster had engaged in anticompetitive conduct.
Criminal case dismissed: An attempted extortion case against Nelson Esparza, president of the Fresno City Council, will be dropped, The Fresno Bee reports.
Robot police policy: San Francisco supervisors who oppose a new policy that allows police officers to kill some suspects with robots may turn to voters if they can’t persuade their colleagues to reverse course, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
What we’re eating
Flaky pastry, warm, runny cheese, what’s not to like?
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Lyn Allred, who recommends the town of Cambria on the Central Coast:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
Have you visited any of the travel destinations that we’ve recommended in the newsletter? Send us a few lines about your trip, and a photo!
We’d like to share them in upcoming editions of the newsletter. Email us at [email protected]. Please include your name and the city in which you live
And before you go, some good news
The Times recently asked readers to tell us what they were thankful for this year, in fewer than 100 words. The responses touched on large moments of gratitude, like a lifesaving drug or the birth of a child, as well as the mundane joys of life, like ice cream and exercise.
Here’s a sweet one from Annalisa McMorrow, 53, who lives in Point Reyes Station:
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia and Maia Coleman contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].