Salt Point State Park

Park in Coastal Highway 1

Image by Westend61 Getty Images

Stunning 6000-acre Salt Point State Park has sandstone cliffs that drop dramatically into the kelp-strewn sea and hiking trails that crisscross windswept prairies and wooded hills, connecting pygmy forests and coastal coves rich with tidepools. The 6-mile-wide park is bisected by the San Andreas Fault – the rock on the east side is vastly different from that on the west. Check out the eerily beautiful tafonis, honeycombed-sandstone formations, near Gerstle Cove. For a good roadside photo op, there’s a pullout at mile marker 45.

Though many of the day use areas have been closed off due to budget cuts, trails lead off Hwy 1 pull-outs to views of the pristine coastline. The platform overlooking Sentinel Rock is just a short stroll from the Fisk Mill Cove parking lot at the park’s north end. Further south, seals laze at Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve, one of California’s first underwater parks. Tread lightly around tidepools and don’t lift the rocks: even a glimpse of sunlight can kill some critters. If you're here between April and June, you must see Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. Growing abundantly in the forest’s filtered light, magnificent, pink rhododendrons reach heights of over 30ft, making them the tallest species in the world; turn east from Hwy 1 onto Kruse Ranch Rd and follow the signs. Be sure to walk the short Rhododendron Loop Trail.

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