13 state parks to see before they close

If you haven’t heard, it was announced in May that 70 of California’s state parks are closing indefinitely due to budget cuts. About 21 of those have gotten temporary reprieves of a year or so, mostly through private funding, but the rest are set to shut down July 1, 2012, which is, what, three weeks from now. It should also be noted that a lot of state parks have already had to drastically cut back services over the last year or more, even before the crazy talk started of actually shutting a bunch of them down. In the Bay Area, 13 state parks are set to close (10 got temporary reprieves), and the best time to see them would also be the only time to see them, now. Here’s the list, from north to south.

Anderson Marsh State Historic Park
This is the northernmost park on the list and a hike from the city. I may not have included it because of that, but it’s located on the southeast corner of Clear Lake, which is a popular destination. The 1,065- acre park contains a tule marsh (home to migrating birds), historic ranch structures and archeological sites from the Pomo tribe that date back 10,000 years, some of the oldest in the state.

Austin Creek State Recreation Area
This is a lovely, isolated park about 8-10 miles north of Guerneville in Sonoma County. The 5,927-acre park features a rugged and varied landscape, with ravines, open hillsides, grassy meadows, oak woodlands, redwood forests and 20 miles of trails. Check out the abandoned Pond Farm artists colony, or spot the ocean from some of the summits. There’s even black bears and mountain lions here. You can drive or hike to campsites, but be advised that several of the campgrounds were closed in 2011 due to service reductions (i.e., budget cuts).

Olompali State Historic Park
The historical significance of the park includes the oldest house built north of the San Francisco Bay, in 1776, by Chief Aurelio of the Olompali tribe, as well as artifacts from the Coast Miwok tribe which inhabited the site as far back as 6,000 BC until the 1850s (a project had been underway to build a representative Miwok village). The 700-acre park just north of Novato and along Hwy 101 features hiking and horseback riding trails and shaded picnic areas. You can also get great views of the Petaluma River and San Pablo Bay from 1,558 foot Mount Burdell.

China Camp State Park
This 1,514-acre park gets its name from a historic Chinese American shrimp fishing village that dates back to the 1880s when 500 people (mostly from Canton, China) lived here. A few of the structures and pier are maintained, including the Quan Bros. snack shop open on weekends. The park, which is adjacent to San Rafael and juts out into San Pablo Bay, features camping, 15 miles of hiking/mountain biking/equestrian trails, picnic areas, a boat launch and a beach for swimming.

Benicia State Recreation Area
Just west of the town of Benicia, this 447-acre park protects tidal wetlands along the Carquinez Strait. The park features 2.5 miles of road and bike paths for bikers, skaters, runners, walkers and horseback riders, excellent fishing at Dillon’s Point, picnic areas and wildlife that includes coyote, river otter, numerous bird species and California Golden Beaver (and their dams).

Benicia Capitol State Historic Park
Located in downtown Benicia, this is the site of California’s state capitol for a year, 1853, prior to moving upriver to Sacramento (the legislators complained of poor weather conditions and uncomfortable sleeping quarters). The building has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with period furnishings including desks, candlesticks and spittoons. There’s docent-led tours on the weekends, though the building is also popular with school field trips.

Brannan Island State Recreation Area
About 15 miles north of the far east bay town of Antioch, this 329-acre park is made up of numerous islands and marshes in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. And with a flourishing wildlife that includes 76 bird species, muskrat, river otter, beaver and mink, it is (or was) the best place to canoe maybe in the state. It’s also great for other water recreation, swimming, boating, windsurfing and fishing. And there’s 140 campsites, picnic areas and a swim beach.

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area
This 170-acre park along the San Francisco Bay is located between Hunter’s Point and Candlestick Park, an easy distance for city residents to ‘get away’ to a quiet preserve of nature. The park offers picnic areas, two fishing piers, hiking trails, bike/jogging path and great views of the bay and the birds who flock here.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach
Located south of Pacifica and at the end of McNee Ranch State Park, Gray Whale Cove is small (3.1 acres) but incredibly dramatic, with cliffs that drop abruptly into the ocean. A steep trail leads down to a sandy beach (aka Devil’s Slide) and sheltered cove, popular with sunbathers, while a picnic area sits atop the bluff and offers views of passing gray whales.

Portola Redwoods State Park
This rugged, 2,800-acre park in the Santa Cruz Mountains near La Honda is forested with coast redwoods, Douglas fir and live oak, including one of the tallest redwoods (300 feet) in the mountains. The park offers 18 miles of trails, 53 campsites, and scenic Pescadero and Peter’s Creek that run through the park.

Twin Lakes State Beach
This mile of sandy shoreline in Santa Cruz is popular with beach-goers, swimmers and picnickers. The city’s small craft harbor sits inside the park, and is adjacent to Schwan lake, good for bird watching. The beach is backed by a bluff, separating it from the neighborhoods above.

Zmudowski State Beach
About a two-mile long stretch of sand located south of Santa Cruz and west of Watsonville, this secluded beach is popular for surf casting fishing, bird watching, horseback riding along the water’s edge and surfing (though watch the rip tides). The beach also features the Pajaro River estuary and natural preserve, which attracts lots of feathered wildlife.

Moss Landing State Beach
This mile-long beach is just south of Zmudowski and just west of Moss Landing Wilderness Area, attracting numerous bird species. Fishing, surfing, windsurfing and horseback riding are popular activities. And the area is popular with picnickers since the dunes block serve as wind breaks.

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