Traveling across California via a road trip is one of the classic west coast adventures that everyone should do. The I5 is a known road trip highway stretching from Mexico to Washington. While taking my family on this journey, we had to stop at some great state parks along the way, even if they were a bit off the beaten path. After all, California has some of the most impressive state parks in the country.

Places to Metal Detect in California
Places to Metal Detect in California

The only drawback to this great state is that you need to call ahead to the state parks if you want to attempt any metal detecting. Once you’ve jumped over that hurdle, the state parks become great places for any adventure, and metal detecting can be one of them.

Let’s take a look at some of the incredible state parks you can visit in California, and if you get in touch with them in advance for permission, and do some excellent metal detecting in them while you’re there.

We’ll take a look at my seven favorite California State Parks or areas I’ve enjoyed, along with some of their amenities and features.

Then we’ll take a look at more details about the laws, clubs, stores, and more surrounding metal detecting in the beautiful sun-bathed state of California.


1.     Fort Ord Dunes State Park – Swimming And Sun On The Beach

California has some of the most incredible beaches in the world. Six of these beachfront parks are located in a 21 mile stretch of coast of the Monterey Bay Area. These beaches allow activities such as swimming, kayaking, and according to the official brochure – beachcombing.

Metal-Detecting-Tips-for-Beach
Metal-Detecting-Tips-for-Beach

Keeping in mind regulations in the state, it’s best to call ahead for permission. However, if no tools are used to disturb the earth, reasonable disturbance in sand merely by walking on it would dictate that essentially if you leave no trace, there should be no issue. Keeping this in mind, call ahead to confirm you don’t need a permit for using a metal detector on one of the six gorgeous beaches of Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

Some of the great things you can do at this park are:

  • Swimming
  • Beachcombing
  • Snorkeling
  • Kayaking

Here’s how to find the Fort Ord Dunes State Park – https://goo.gl/maps/vweY7j1B5iqP21gx6

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/576/files/FortOrdDunesMonterey_Web2014.pdf


If you want to search for GOLD Northern California is the place to go. I’ve got a list of great spots in this article: Where to Metal Detect in Northern California


2.     El Capitan State Beach – Swimming and Sycamores

El Capitan State Park has a wide variety of options to entertain you and your family on your adventures. The beautiful beaches and park are located just west of Santa Barbara off Hwy 101.

I enjoyed my time at this beach because I was allowed to use my metal detector on the beach when I was there. Ensure you call ahead, though, as times change quickly, along with rules.

The beach has some incredible tide pools, so keep your eyes open for unique shells which you’re there. You might just find shells worth more than potentially lost treasures your detector will pick up.

El Capitan has a variety of amenities to keep you and your family entertained. Here are some of the park’s highlights:

  • Camping
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • RV Access
  • Fishing
  • Guided Tours Surfing

You can find this incredible park here – https://goo.gl/maps/P5JVrHWU7DmLFwX4A

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=601#Brochures-content-pannel


I’m always getting asked what equipment I use. I’ve been recommending the same solid metal detecting equipment for years.

  • My first metal detector was the Garrett Ace 250 (link to Amazon for current prices and reviews). This machine is still working great after 6 years. I keep it around for “group” treasure hunts.
  • I’m currently sweeping with a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector (Link to Amazon for Prices). Since I bought my AT PRO Garrett has come out with a package that includes wireless headphones. Getting tangled up in a wire when your on your knees digging is a pain. Check out the Garrett AT MAX package with Z-Lynk Headphones and Pin Pointer (Link for great prices over at Amazon)
  • When it comes to digging two tools are a must have. 1. A hand trowel -I recommend the Lesche Digging and Cutting Tool (link to check it out) and 2. A sand scoop – the one I’m using is the CKG Sand Scoop with Handle (Link to Amazon for current price and reviews) A good sand scoop is a game changer for beaches.
  • Finally get a good pinpointer. I have an older Garrett Pro, but the newer version – Garrett Pro-Pointer AT with Z-Lynk is completely waterproof to 20 feet and hooks up to your wireless headphones.

3.     Folsom Lake State Recreation Area – Camping, Swimming, And More

Not too far east of Sacramento, nestled in the Sierra-Nevada foothills lies Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. This beautiful area has all kinds of fun things you and your family can do while taking the time to enjoy your journey in the state of California.

The state-run recreation area allows many different activities, from swimming to fishing and boating to camping and hiking. There’s even more, to do there though, here are a few of the park’s amenities and activities:

  • Biking
  • Windsurfing/Surfing
  • Horseback riding
  • Historical/Cultural site

Give them a call before you go to find out where you’re allowed to use your metal detector, but the state’s primary rules apply regarding disturbing the environment, so leave no trace.

You can find the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area here – https://goo.gl/maps/d4rYiREt8HPh87h18

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/500/files/FolsomLakeFinalWebLayout061016.pdf


4.     Emma Wood State Beach – Sand, Sun, And Dolphins

Besides a fascinating historic war site you can explore, Emma Wood State Beach is another fabulous Californian beach with camping on site. You can even see Dolphins jumping just off-shore sometimes, which I thought was pretty exciting while I strolled along the coast.

One of the great things about this state beach park is the versatility of camping allowed. They have family camping, RV access, even primitive camping, which I haven’t tried yet, but it sounds interesting.

Here are some of the park’s further activities:

  • Bike Trails
  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Camping
  • RV Access

You can find Emma Wood State Beach here – https://goo.gl/maps/z5bvqURTsnneMACy6

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=604


5.     San Onofre State Beach

Just three miles south of San Clemente on the I-5 is a great place to get some sun. One of California’s vital watersheds, this state beach is not only crucial for the environment, but it also boasts some of Cali’s legendary surf breaks as well.

When you’re traveling through San Clemente, don’t miss out on San Onofre. There are many things to do, including pitching a tent to do some camping or reserving a spot for your RV.

You can do a variety of activities when not strolling on the beach in search of lost treasures. The park also offers the ability to go swimming, biking, hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and of course, surfing.

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=647


Metal Detecting Tip: A fantastic way to ensure you don’t miss anything on your treasure hunt is to walk in a grid-like pattern. Map out the area in your mind and cover it methodically, like a forensic detective might map out a crime scene, or how an archaeological dig might be mapped into a grid. Using this technique ensures you don’t miss out on that elusive treasure waiting to be found. For more great tips on detecting and more, read this article: https://metaldetectingtips.com/metal-detecting-tips/


6.     Auburn State Recreation Area – Gold Panning Allowed

Less than 50 miles outside of Sacramento, you’ll find the Auburn State Recreation Area. This jewel in the heart of the gold country is a great place to take the family for fun and adventure. The park boasts several connected campgrounds, features like kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking all permissible, the fun can last the entire day.

Auburn State Recreation Area also allows gold panning for recreational purposes. No tools other than a pan are permitted, but it’s one step closer to being able to do full treasure hunting at the park. Make sure you call the park in advance to find out where you’re allowed to use a metal detector in the park.

Source: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=502


7.     Livermore Area Parks – Non-State Park Permit Aquireable

If you can manage to visit Livermore, California, get in touch with the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District office and obtain a metal detecting permit. The parks office has jurisdiction over several places that can allow you to do some excellent treasure hunting for a license that doesn’t cost too much.

Source: https://www.larpd.org/

Metal detecting on beach for treasures
Metal detecting on beach for treasures

Metal Detecting Laws For California

California is a very liberal state, but that doesn’t mean that they allow metal detecting as freely as other states. Many parks, including state parks, do not allow metal detecting. Or at least, they do not allow aspects of typical treasure hunting, namely digging. Many parks have strict policies that maintain that although waving a metal detector around might not be against the rules, digging a hole to find what your metal detector detected might be crossing the line. At the very least, typically, a permit of sorts is required. Always call ahead to any park you want to do metal detecting to ensure you are compliant with local regulations.

Quick Law Recap:

  • California State Parks: Disturbance of natural scenery, plants, and animal life is strictly forbidden. Aside from that, there is zero mention of metal detectors within the state website rules and regulations resource. However, it is against the law to pry or dig up any mineralogical, historical, or archaeological item within the state without appropriate permission. Find more about metal detecting in California Park System HERE.
  • National Forests: Permit required from US Forest Service – I also advise reading this PDF regarding Lake Tahoe National Forest. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3851963.pdf
  • BLM Lands: Permit required. Read this article about Metal Detecting – Can Metal Detect on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land? I also recommend checking at the BLM Website – HERE

California State (General):  Within California’s penal code states that any person who finds a lost item must do their due diligence to find the owner and return the item; otherwise, it is considered theft.


Metal Detecting Clubs In California

  • East Bay Prospectors – Concord, California. This club is an official chapter of the GPAA, founded in 2009. The club has a relatively new website and forum with very little current activity. Contact them directly for more information. Here’s their website link: https://ebprospectors.com/
  • Mount Diablo Metal Detecting Club – Concord, California. This club boasts club meetings held on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. The club has events such as mini-hunts and larger planned trips. Membership fees apply. Here’s their website link: http://mdmdc.com/

Metal Detecting Tip: Use a sweeping pattern. When you’re detecting in an area, try sweeping your detector from side to side, each pass slightly overlapping the previous pass. This way, you will have less chance of missing those elusive treasures. For more great tips, take a look at this article: https://metaldetectingtips.com/metal-detecting-tips/


Metal Detecting Treasures Found In California

A good treasure hunter never turns down the possibility of a gold nugget. In California, a gold nugget weighing 70 ounces was found by such a treasure hunter. Using a metal detector in the foothills of Butte County, the hunter would later sell the nugget for a whopping $400,000. Not a bad payday for that guy! Read the full story here – https://www.coinworld.com/news/precious-metals/gold-butte-nugget-california-digger-bob-coin-world-precious-metals-kagins-numismatics.html


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David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.