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How to Buy a California State Parks Annual Pass

How to Buy a California State Parks Annual Pass

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.


Carpinteria State Beach playground with an eagle nest

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))

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.

As recently as 2015, there was an option to buy the pass from the California State Parks Foundation. Unfortunately, that program was discontinued.

Now the only option is to buy your pass directly from California State Parks.  It means there’s less of a need for a blog post explaining each option, but I know there are misunderstandings about which parks are included in the pass.

stairs down to Crystal Cove State Beach

The California Explorer Pass ($195) gives you access to most of the popular state parks (state parks operated locally have never been included).

At the $15 rate for most 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.

san onofre state beach bluffs with crashing waves

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.

river at Big Sur State Park

Buy pass directly from California State Parks

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.

South Carlsbad State Beach stairs with view of lifeguard tower under the stairs

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.

California State Park welcome sign

Give the Gift of California State Parks

See the Math

Park photos: San Onofre State BeachCarpinteria 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.

Izabela j

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.

Michele Whiteaker

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.