National parks are free Friday. Here’s how else you can enjoy free parks access around San Diego

A crowd of people, some in naval uniform, surround a monument overlooking the ocean.
Guests attend a wreath-laying ceremony near the Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo statue at Cabrillo National Monument on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A growing number of passes now allow free access to state parks for library patrons, fourth-graders and low-income Californians, too


Entry is free Friday to all National Parks Service sites, offering San Diegans access to the trails and historic sites of Cabrillo National Monument.

It’s one of the five days this year that all national parks — and a total of more than 400 sites administered by the service — offer free admission, giving the public a chance to get outside in nature at a park they may never have been to before.

California’s state parks system, meanwhile, has expanded its free-access offerings this summer with programs targeting fourth graders, library patrons and low-income Californians.

Friday’s free entrance day to national parks commemorates the third anniversary of a federal law boosting infrastructure funding for national parks.

The two free dates remaining this year are Sept. 23 for National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 for Veterans Day.

San Diego’s only national parks site is Cabrillo National Monument, with its 1913 statue commemorating Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s exploration of the coast of California and its network of trails featuring coastal sage scrub habitat, bird watching and tide pools.

Other national parks within a day’s drive include Joshua Tree, with its unique desert landscape, and the Channel Islands.

The National Parks Service offers other year-round free admission passes for military personnel and people with permanent disabilities.

Those passes can be obtained for $10 at or for free at a federal recreation site. A list of sites is available here:

Two people holding binoculars hike along a trail through a sun-dappled pine forest, looking into the foliage for birds.
Birders Rob Farber and Eve Martin, of Del Mar, keep a lookout for birds in the morning while hiking on the Weir Trail in Palomar Mountain State Park — one of more than 200 parks that all Californians can access with passes they can check out from their public library.
(Charlie Neuman/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

California also offers a growing number of ways to visit its hundreds of state parks for free.

Public library card holders can check out free day-use passes from their local library to visit more than a dozen popular state parks and beaches in San Diego County, plus others around the state.

Low-income Californians can get a Golden Bear Pass, which provides free vehicle day-use access to more than 200 state parks for a calendar year.

From free Wi-Fi and tutoring to fitness classes and state park passes, here are some of the interesting options available at libraries throughout San Diego County.

Feb. 15, 2023

And fourth graders can get a free one-year pass that gives them and their families access to 19 state parks and beaches — including Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado and Anza-Borrego Desert and Cuyamaca Rancho state parks near Julian.

Learn more about each kind of pass and eligibility requirements at