The Ecotourist’s Guide To California
California may be famous for its sunny beaches and arching palms, but the Golden State’s many ecosystems — like rivers, forests, deserts and mountains — are also well worth a visit. Given its diverse wilderness, the Golden State is a goldmine for nature-loving travelers, most especially for ecotourism.
Ecotourism has taken on varying definitions over the years, but the practice is primarily defined as responsible travel to natural areas, intended to conserve the environment while improving the well-being of the local people. Ecotourism is a fun, conscious, and eye-opening way to explore the world — so here are a few must-see ecotourism destinations in California!
If the word “California” conjures up images of sandy beaches in your head, then Mendocino’s foggy, rugged coastline is sure to shake things up. Meander through trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park, which offer spectacular views of sea arches and hidden grottos along the coast. You can stake out a campsite or cozy up at The Stanford Inn By The Sea, an eco-resort on the park’s perimeter. This unique hotel offers amenities aimed at reconnecting guests with nature, including yoga lessons, organic meals harvested fresh from their farm, canoeing and cycling.
Yosemite National Park
There are tons of ecotourism opportunities in Yosemite, with hiking and camping being some of the most popular. Hike to the top of Half Dome or explore some of the park’s magnificent waterfalls. Ecotourists can learn about the Yosemite’s dense regional history by going on guided nature and history tours.
Half Moon Bay
Nestled on the rocky coast just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay offers a wide selection of ecotourism experiences. You can kayak through marine reserves with sea lions, but if you’d rather stay on land, there are plenty of redwood forests to hike through and miles of ocean bluffs to bike along.
Read more about Half Moon Bay’s ecotourism program here.
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is a quaint beach town that sprawls through the heart of the Central Coast’s wine country. Take a trip out to Montaña de Oro State Park and walk along the coastal bluffs, or hike some of the region’s Nine Sisters, a chain of ancient volcanic mountains. San Luis Obispo is also a top destination for wine connoisseurs; you can support the local economy and workers by trying the wine right at the source.
About an hour south of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara is another gorgeous beach town along the Central Coast. Here, you can surf, paddle, hike, go mountain biking and, yes, indulge in more wine tastings!
Explore the vast expanses of California’s mysterious desert in Palm Springs. Just outside of Palm Springs is Two Bunch Palms, the country’s first carbon-neutral resort, where you can relax in their natural mineral hot springs.
Joshua Tree National Park
About an hour east of Palm Springs, this park is known for its famous namesake trees. Joshua Tree’s stunning rock arches and charming desert oasis feel are also beloved by visitors, and it’s a great park for hiking and camping.
Big Bear Lake
Big Bear is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, making it the perfect natural getaway for city-dwelling Angelenos. Here, you can swim, kayak, camp, hike and mountain bike, as well as ski and snowboard in the winter.
To discover more ecotourism destinations in California, check out this interactive map.