An Underappreciated State Park In California Boasts A Gorgeous Beach And Vibrant Reefs

California is one of the best U.S. states for enjoying marine life and impressive beaches — or, if you know where to go, both at once! The place to do this is Leo Carrillo State Park, a fabulous coastal reserve off the West Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. It is around an hour's drive from North Hollywood and 28 miles from Santa Monica.

This state park is so incredible that it is no surprise that filmmakers love it, too: "Karate Kid," "Grease," and "Inception" had scenes shot on this state beach. It is the place to enjoy the Californian dream, as you can do everything from surfing to diving for tropical fish views and whale watching here. There are also plenty of places to camp, so you can make your trip to this epic state park into a vacation you'll never forget. Once you've been here, you may want to go on a road trip to visit every park in California.

Things to do at Leo Carrillo State Park

The big draw of Leo Carrillo is its coastline, as it has 1.5 miles of stunning beach to explore. It is a real adult's playground as you can swim, surf, windsurf, and surf fish in the ocean. Dolphins, harbor seals, and sea lions are some of the beautiful marine mammals that can be seen from the shore. You can also watch gray whales migrate down the Southern California coast in April and May. As the water is clear and there are reefs to explore, it is also a great spot for diving.

You can go on several hikes inside the park, ranging from the easy beach trail to the more difficult Nicholas Flat trail. Leo Carillo State Beach is perfect for beachcombing, and its abundance of tide pools means that you can look for wildlife in them, like crabs and anemones. Birdwatchers can also search for pelicans and cormorants that feed here. Those with an angling license will enjoy fishing for bass and perch in the park. The beach is an incredible place to watch the sun go down after a busy day of enjoying these activities.

Places to stay in Leo Carrillo State Park

You may not want to leave this beautiful California state park, but that isn't a problem because you can stay here overnight. The park's Canyon Campground has 135 campsites available for families. Each accommodates up to eight people and features a picnic table and fire ring. It also has a group site for up to 50 people. The park provides hike-and-bike campsites as well as electricity hookups for those who need them.

A store, visitor center, restrooms, two barbecue pits, a water tank, and an RV sanitation station are available for visitors. Showers are token-operated, so bring $1 bills to buy them if you want to use these facilities. The park gets busier in the months between May and October when the weather is good, so it is recommended that you book in advance to avoid disappointment. To make your ultimate Californian vacation happen, reserve your spot with the California Department of Parks and Recreation before you go.