With rugged coastal mountains, golden sandy beaches and lush woodlands, the protected parks within a day’s drive of Long Beach, California are a nature lover's dream.
If you’re visiting Long Beach, California, the industrial port city is a prime starting point for some wild times in the great outdoors. In some cases, it only takes a short drive to find rugged coastal mountains, crashing Pacific surf, and dramatic displays of raw natural splendor. Get out of town and onto scenic trails in some of California’s finest state and national parks, each offering a different facet of the bio-diverse ecosystems that make Southern California an outdoor lover’s dream come true.
Crystal Cove State Park
Thirty-two miles (drive time varies significantly, depending on traffic) down the coast from Long Beach lies one of the largest and most popular wilderness coastlines in the entire state, Crystal Cove State Park. With more than 3 miles of pristine golden sand beaches backed by more than 2,000 acres of wilderness to explore, the park is an ideal place to disconnect, if just for an afternoon, and enjoy paradise not far from the city.
Crystal Cove attracts huge crowds on the weekends, especially in the summer, but the clear blue waters and endless tide pools are worth braving the masses. Stop by the federally listed Crystal Cove Historic District for a seaside lunch at Beachcomber Café, and check out the 1930s era cottages — some are available for overnight rental — before hitting the 18 miles of trails that head inland through the wildflower studded backcountry along Moro Creek to a bluff top campground with sweeping views of the vast coastline.
Chino Hills State Park
Enter the solitude of the golden grass-covered Santa Ana Mountains without leaving the city in Chino Hills State Park, located approximately 50 miles straight inland from Long Beach. Home to willow and sycamore woodlands where redwing blackbirds and bobcats make their home, this raw slice of California’s original habitat offers more than 90 miles of trails through approximately 14,000 acres of park land surrounded by dense urban sprawl.
Stop by the Discovery Center to learn about the unique flora and fauna of the area before heading out along Telegraph Canyon Trail to McDermott Springs, the best spot in the park to view wildlife. For awesome views of the surrounding Southern California metropolitan area, hike up to McLean Overlook, which sits at about 1,000 feet above sea level.
Channel Islands National Park
The five rocky, ridge-lined islands that make up Channel Islands National Park consist of a breathtaking coastal wilderness that offers several days of sights and attractions — and the journey there is half the fun. Make the 90-mile drive up the California coast to Ventura Harbor from Long Beach, and then book a boat trip on board an Island Packer, which makes one-hour to three-hour trips to each separate island.
Marvel at the huge sea lion colonies on wind swept San Miguel Island, once an important center to the local Chumash Indians, or hike up to Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island, where splendid views of the complete island chain take your breath away. Sea kayaking around Santa Cruz Island and diving in the kelp forest around Anacapa Island allow you to see the unique marine environment up close. Whale watching in the area is a must-have experience during migratory seasons.
Joshua Tree National Park
It’s a little farther (approximately 140 miles) from Long Beach, but some of the best stargazing on the planet awaits in Joshua Tree National Park. Situated at the meeting point of two important ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree is an arid wilderness of epic proportions that it would take days to explore.
If you enjoy rock climbing, the red rock-strewn desert landscape offers challenges around every corner, or you could traverse one of the many trails on foot, bicycle, or even horseback. Must-sees include the exotic forests of Joshua trees, the short nature trail up to Skull Rock, and the panoramic vistas over the entire Coachella Valley from Keys View.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Approximately 115 miles from Long Beach lies Mount San Jacinto, the second highest mountain in Southern California and a popular playground for outdoor enthusiasts. At nearly 11,000 feet at its summit, the weathered granite peak boasts snow caps for most of the year and should only be climbed with the proper equipment. The mountain and the surrounding area are accessible via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the opposite side of the park.
From Stone Creek Campground, take the Panorama Point Trail Interpretive Audio Tour, which provides the unique history of the area while taking you through the alpine forest to a picturesque view of the valley floor below. Drive-in campgrounds in the park are available near the town of Idyllwild, a postcard perfect historic lumber-town-turned-artist-colony that is home to some excellent restaurants as well as galleries, cafes, and nightly cultural events.
The wilderness areas within a day’s drive of Long Beach are some of the most dynamic and visually stunning sites on the planet. Share your photos of this beautiful area with the world with us on Instagram.