The California State Parks celebrated their 150th year. Buying a pass is a great way to support our state park system or give someone the gift of outdoors.
Remember, if you want to visit Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington State Beach, Doheny State Beach, or other state beaches and parks in Orange County – it’s going to cost you $15/day use.
I certainly get my money’s worth out of my annual pass.
Here’s the day use fee schedule if you’re wondering about other parks which are also around $10 to $12 a day.
Annual passes are for day use only – not overnight camping. (So if you have already paid for overnight camping reservations, then you won’t need a day use pass.)
As of April 2022, there is a pilot program in place where you can check out a California State Parks Library Pass from your local library! It’s very exciting! Especially for those where cost is the biggest barrier to access. Each library has a little bit different policy on how long the check out period is or if you can place holds — but definitely put your library card to use to check out a pass for FREE for a few days or weeks.
Where Can You Play?
There are 20+ family-friendly parks and beaches in the LA/OC/SD area to visit by purchasing this pass.
It gives you the freedom to visit these places multiple times during the week, too!
You can just drive in to park at Crystal Cove and see the sunset!
Make this your Year of State Parks!
You get access to ALL of these for your whole carload of people for $195/year.
Orange County State Parks (SP) and State Beaches (SB)
- Bolsa Chica SB
- Chino Hills SP
- Crystal Cove SP
- Doheny SB
- Huntington SB
- San Clemente SB
- NOTE: Corona Del Mar SB (excluded)
I wrote a whole detailed blog post called Best California State Parks in Orange County for Kids and Families if you want to learn more about these places and what to do with your family when you get there!
Popular Los Angeles County State Parks (SP) and State Beaches (SB)
- Antelope Valley CA Poppy Reserve (SNR)
- Leo Carrillo SP
- Malibu Creek SP
- Malibu Lagoon SB
- Topanga SP
- Will Rogers SHP
- El Matador Beach (Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach)
Popular San Diego County State Parks (SP) and State Beaches (SB)
- Border Field SP
- Cardiff SB
- Carlsbad SB
- Cuyamaca Rancho SP
- Palomar Mountain SP
- San Elijo SB
- San Onofre SB
- Silver Strand SB
- South Carlsbad SB
- Torrey Pines SB & SNR
Before you freak out too much about the cost, read my post about 3 Ways to Make Your Investment in California State Parks More Affordable. I’ve done the math for you — and I think it’s pretty convincing of the value you will get from this pass!
Why Buy a California State Parks Pass?
First of all, CA State Parks are such treasures that you’ll want your kids to be able to experience them over and over again!
These parks fit all the parameters of the Nature Kids Institute Nature Connection Pyramid.
Secondly, see the Monthly block on the pyramid? And how it notes the #1 reason for closures is under-utilization by the public.
So you can save a park, just by visiting it.
How to Decide Which Pass to Buy If You Want to Visit CA State Parks & Beaches in Orange County
Always consult the official California State Parks site for the final word on pricing.
If you want to buy a pass, you can get it directly from California State Parks. Now in 2022 there are a number of NO COST options available for your family, as well. These no cost options could weigh into your decision on whether you need to buy a pass.
The California Explorer Pass ($195) gives you access to most of the popular state parks (state parks operated locally have never been included). If you have the means to buy the pass it’s the only way to guarantee you’ll be able to go when you want to go — and it leaves the library passes open to those who truly need it.
At the $15/day rate for Orange County state beaches and parks – you only need to go 13 times in a year or basically once a month to make it worthwhile.
NO COST OPTIONS
If you have a 4th grader from California in your family — you can get the California Adventure Pass which will get you into 19 parks statewide (but, unfortunately, none in Orange County).
Here are the closest parks included on this pass:
- Chino Hills SP (Inland Empire)
- California Citrus State Historic Park (Inland Empire)
- Silver Strand SB (San Diego)
- The others are parks you would be likely to visit on a family vacation or weekend trip to the desert.
There is a National Parks version of this pass for 4th grade students. It’s from an initiative called Every Kid Outdoors. Visit the Every Kid Outdoors website and make sure you PRINT OUT YOUR PASS and have it with you when you visit. It has a code that’s individual to you — so you can’t share it.
(In case you were wondering, parking passes to state and national parks are charged by car load. So if your 4-person family is on a road trip and traveling by car, ONE day use pass or ONE annual pass will work for your whole family. It’s not like the movies where you pay for each person individually.)
Check out the California State Library Parks Pass from your local library. This is rolling out in April and May 2022 and you get access to the same 200+ parks as the regular annual state parks pass mentioned with the CA Explorer Pass! There is a comprehensive website called CheckOutCAStateParks.com which explains all the details and you can learn more from your local library.
CalWORKS Golden Bear Pass. Are you a family enrolled in CalWORKS? You can apply for this pass through the California Department of Social Services on a secure form. You can apply any time during 2022 and the pass is good through December 31, 2022. This is also good at the 200+ parks.
The Golden Poppy Pass ($125) has limited access with NOT all parks included. Make sure you always check the parks accepting the Golden Poppy Pass before you make your purchase.
There are other passes available with discounts for seniors (Golden Bear Pass) and disabled.
There’s even a Distinguished Veteran’s Pass with no fee.
Buy pass directly from California State Parks
- California Explorer ($195)
- Golden Poppy ($125)
Remember! Many of us who live in Southern California go to the same state beaches multiple times. During summer, state beaches are staffed with lifeguards and have access to restrooms, showers, and picnic areas.
Ordering through the online store is probably the easiest — or you can purchase in-person at District and Sector Offices.
Over the years, I’ve bought mine from the gate attendants at Crystal Cove State Park, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Doheny State Beach, and Huntington State Beach.
I just waited until I made my first visit after the previous pass expired and paid for a pass at the entrance rather than the day fee.
You will get your hang tag pass right from the attendant at the gate.
I like this option because I don’t have to wait for it to come in the mail.
Give the Gift of California State Parks
- You can purchase gift certificates through the California State Parks store for the price of the California Explorer Pass + $6.95 (total of $201.95).
- You can pair the pass with an item from the store, like a ball cap, mug, or water bottle.
See the Math
- I put together a post about 3 Ways to Make Your Investment in California State Parks More Affordable which explains how you can get the most value for your investment in this pass.
Park photos: San Onofre State Beach, Carpinteria State Beach (top), Crystal Cove State Beach, San Onofre State Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur, South Carlsbad State Beach
Disclosure: I have been a member of the California State Parks Foundation and SPAN: State Parks Action Network, but I am not affiliated with them in any other way. All my views are my own and you should check the linked official websites for official information.
Sunday 7th of June 2015
Why You don't have an option for tourists,like one week pass for state parks ?We don't need pass for whole year.
Monday 8th of June 2015
There are day passes to the parks. They range anywhere from $10-$15 a day. So if you will be here for 7 days and want to visit the park every day it would cost you $105. You would just buy it every day as you enter the park.