Discover the world through travel & beyond!

Favorite Family-Friendly Nature Spots in California

Travel Mamas sometimes receives compensation and/or hosted travel and sample products related to blog posts. This story may include affiliate links for which we receive a small commission at no extra cost to consumers.

America’s State Parks, Reserves, and Beaches enable families to connect with nature. Visiting and donating to our National Parks system ensures our children and future generations will be able to enjoy these beautiful natural spaces for years to come. Check out three of my favorite family-friendly nature spots in California, my adopted home state.

Redwood Tree in Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur, California

Redwood tree in Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Best Place to Forget Your Worries

A California park that holds special memories for me is Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. As a Midwest girl by birth, while I love the sandy, palm-lined landscape of San Diego, I often long for walks in the woods. I want to breathe in the scent of pine, hear leaves crunching underfoot, and feel small in the shade of big trees.

My husband, Phil, and I visited Big Sur a few years ago during the sixth month of a stressful pregnancy and amidst the shocking beginning of what has been a financially rocky few years for our family. My mom watched our toddler daughter while Phil and I took a respite our troubles for a few days. Escaping to this breathtaking spot of nature’s beauty gave us time to breathe, to connect, to remember why we had chosen each other before there were children and the weight of constant worry.

Big trees were what I was looking for, and that’s just what I found at Pfeiffer State Park. In addition to Conifers, Oaks, Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Maples, Alders and Willows, this park is home to redwoods, the tallest tree species in the world. Redwoods can grow up to 360 feet in height! Standing next to something that huge, that beautiful…reminded me how insignificant my problems were compared to largeness of the world.

Hiking with my daughter at Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla

Hiking with my daughter at Torrey Pines State Reserve (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Where to Experience Southern California’s Natural Beauty

One of my family’s favorite spots to connect with nature is at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla. On weekends you can often find us hiking one of the Torrey Pines State Reserve’s eight trails. My favorite is Beach Trail, which descends over three-quarters of a mile from its cliff top to the beach. It provides gorgeous, sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. That hike tends to be a bit too much for our two-and-a-half-year-old, so we often stick to the easiest path, Guy Fleming Trail, a more manageable two-third mile loop.

No matter which trail you choose, all provide an opportunity to experience Southern California’s indigenous beauty. The reserve is named for the rare, twisted Torrey Pine Trees. You can also spot Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, and colorful wildflowers. If you’re lucky, you may even see California Gray Whales on their migration between the Bering Sea and Mexico.

Torrey Pines State Beach, La Jolla, California

My husband and daughter splashing in the waves at Torrey Pines State Beach, La Jolla (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Favorite Family-Friendly Beach

During the summer, we lay out a blanket and picnic lunch on the beach below the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve at Torrey Pines State Beach. For eye-candy and an eclectic party vibe, head to Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach. For a pristine, upscale beach, head to South Beach on Coronado, which stretches out before the famed Hotel del Coronado. But if you want a laid-back, family-friendly beach scene, come to Torrey Pines State Beach.

This is my family’s favorite beach in San Diego County. We love its long stretch of sandy shoreline set against the beautiful backdrop of the reserve’s cliff. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a ten-minute drive from our house!

Do you have favorite natural spots in California? Please leave your thoughts about nature conservation in America and beyond in the comments!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Arrows Sent Forth says

    If I moved from the midwest, I’d miss walks in the woods also! That’s such an amazing feature of California, though–its variety of landscapes. Sure hope Proposition 21 passes, wish I could lend my vote to the cause!

  2. Love this, Colleen — three places I have yet to explore. Yay! :o)

  3. Debbie Ferm says

    I just want to run into the wave in that photo! It’s gorgeous here today, but it’s October, and I know I won’t be running into any waves around here anytime soon.

    I need to come back to California!

  4. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Arrows Sent Forth – So true! The variety of landscapes in California is amazing. I’m glad I can share them with my kids at the state parks, reserves & beaches throughout the state!

  5. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Debi & Debbie – I hope you both will bring your families to come explore Torrey Pines Reserve & Beach sometime! My family would love to join you! (Ooh…beachside blogger meet-up!)


  1. Tweets that mention The Travel Mama's Blogs & Trip Reports - Accommodations, Air Travel, Disney Travel, Road Trips, Trip Reports -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Colleen Lanin, BridgetASmith. BridgetASmith said: Loved @travelmamas post about her favorite state parks […]

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.