Last year, we bought a California State Parks Frequent Visitor pass from the State Parks Foundation. From a direct-mail solicitation, no less. For $125, we got a hang-tag for the car, a subscription to Sunset Magazine, a detailed map, and a remarkably well-written guidebook to all the parks.
I know what you're thinking. Trev and Ann in matching visors and fanny packs, squeezing their Winnebago past bicyclists on Highway One. Or maybe tearing up once-pristine deserts with their OHVs. Not so! Now, I might like to get a smallish RV one day, truth be told. I believe our days of curling up on the hard, lumpy ground while re-breathing our own carbon dioxide inside a tiny tent are behind us. But visors, fanny packs, and OHVs are right out!
My larger point here is that I have become a huge fan of the state parks. Until last year, they were invisible to us. We did not want to pay $10 to check out what was perhaps just a port-a-potty and a dusty trail--so we always drove by. Now we go in. And we have discovered wonders.
For example, the unassuming-looking Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma offers some lovely hikes, and contains the Robert Ferguson Observatory, which is open to the public for day- and night-time observing programs. There are three pretty day-use areas tucked inside Point Reyes National Seashore. Your hang-tag gets you into Point Lobos and any number of beaches all along the California coast. There are literally hundreds more options. And not to put too fine a point on it, a whole new world of accessible bathrooms on Highway One has been opened to us.
For us, the hang-tag paid for itself in a couple of months. So, Californians--please consider supporting your embattled but wonderful state parks. We are definitely renewing.