The 51 Proven Places To Find Fossils in California in 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

| Updated

The 51 Proven Places To Find Fossils in California in 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD


In California, you can find a vast range of fossils that tell us about the past of the Earth. There’s something for everyone, from ammonites and shark teeth on the coast to giant, solid mammoths and saber-toothed cats from the Ice Age. Going to the desert, you might find leaf imprints or petrified wood millions of years old.

The key is to know where to look and what you’re looking for. It isn’t always easy but we’ll show you some of the best places to find California fossils.

Each fossil is like a time capsule, giving us a peek into a world that existed long before humans.

Imagine holding a fossilized shark tooth, thinking about the huge creature that once ruled the seas, or finding a mammoth bone and wondering how it got around California thousands of years ago.

It’s not just about the excitement of finding something new; it’s also about extraordinarily connecting with Earth’s past. There’s no telling what you might find!

The Fossils Of California You Can Find

In California, the range of fossils is a journey through Earth’s history book. Its diverse geography and rich geological history make it a fossil hunter’s paradise.

We’ve made a comprehensive guide to rockhounding in California so you can learn more about the interesting rocks and minerals here.

How We Found The Best Places For Fossils in California
Our team is constantly on the lookout for new fossil sites and are very plugged into the fossil hunting community. There are new locations that are constantly being found and we love to help more hunters find success. Here are the main factors we used when determining the recommendations we set out :

  • The extensive local experience and understanding of our team
  • Input from multiple local fossil hunters and fossil groups
  • The accessibility of the various locations
  • Safety and potential hazards when collecting
  • Private and public locations
  • A desire to include locations for both experienced fossil lovers and those who are just starting out

Using these weights we think we’ve put together the best list out there for those who love finding great new fossils for our collections!

Common California Fossils

A cool and rare brachiopod fossil
Brachiopod fossil photo provided by Fossilera

In California, there are many different kinds of fossils. Some of the most common fossils in the state are listed below:

  • Ammonites
  • Bird Fossils
  • Brachiopods
  • Foraminifera
  • Leaf Imprints
  • Petrified Wood 
  • Shark Teeth

California State Fossil – Saber-toothed Cat

A unique and amazing saber-toothed cat skull fossil
Sabertoothed Cat fossil photo provided by and available for purchase at Noctividus

Saber-toothed cat fossils are one of California’s most iconic ancient treasures, prominently in the Los Angeles La Brea Tar Pits. These well-preserved remains offer a glimpse into the Ice Age, showcasing the saber-toothed cat’s fearsome fangs and robust build.

Scientists study these fossils to understand better the creature’s behavior, diet, and role in its prehistoric ecosystem. The abundance and quality of these fossils make California a hotspot for learning about this fascinating extinct predator.

Rare State Fossils

Leaf imprint fossil photo provided by CelsestialCrystals

Here are some of California’s rare and valuable fossils. Keep an eye out for the following fossils as you look around:

  • Dinosaur remains
  • Giant ground sloths
  • Marine reptiles
  • Mastodons
  • Microfossils
  • Saber-toothed salmon
  • Whale ancestors

The Best Places To Find Fossils In California

We’ll discuss the excellent place in California to look for fossils. Even though there are many choices, we’ll focus on what we think are the best ones. When you go to these places, you’ll have a great time and find some amazing rocks and minerals.

Always Confirm Access and Collection Rules!

Before heading out to any of the locations on our list you need to confirm access requirements and collection rules for both public and private locations.

These requirements are subject to change without notice and may differ from what we state below.

Always get updated information directly from the source ahead of time to ensure responsible rockhounding.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

A picturesque view of a field of various blooming flowers at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in the southeast corner of California. It’s the largest state park in California, covering over 600,000 acres, and one of the best places in the U.S. to find a wide range of fossils.

The park’s unique geology shows a rich tapestry of Earth’s history, from ancient sea life to extinct land mammals. The rocks here are from the Miocene Epoch to the Pleistocene Epoch. This spans millions of years of changes in geology and life.

In addition to fossils, Anza-Borrego has beautiful badlands, palm oases, and vast desert views, making it a trip back in time and a feast for the eyes.

Where and what to find fossils at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego is a haven for fossil enthusiasts because of its well-exposed sedimentary formations. These rock layers are like pages in a history book, containing fossils of creatures like camels, mastodons, and even large marine mammals from when the area was submerged under the sea.

The park is primarily known for its mammoth and mastodon fossils and the remains of prehistoric horses and giant ground sloths.

Rock pick being used

The tools every fossil hunter will need

When you're out looking for fossils having the right tools for the job is really going to make or break your success. You don't need a lot for most trips but there are a handful that are critical and will make your life a lot easier.

We get asked a lot about the equipment we use. Over the years we've found a handful of tools that we recommend to both new and experienced fossil hunters which we outline in great detail in our complete rockhounding tools and kit guide. These are quality options that also happen to be relatively inexpensive.

Below are the basic tools that make your life so much easier and save you a ton of time. Check out the full guide to see everything we recommend bringing. One quick note, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases but we try very hard to only recommend gear we would use ourselves and often recommend brands you can't find on Amazon.

At a minimum you should have:

1 - Sturdy rock hammer: The Estwing Rock Pick is our standard

2 - Rugged chisels: Try Kendo' 3-piece Chisel Set

3 - Compact shovel: The Koleiya 28-inch shovel works well

4 - Rock screen pan: The Wazakura Soil Sieve Set fits the bill

5 - Eye protection: DeWalt Safety Glasses are cheap and comfortable

6 - Head protection: Malta's Safety Helmet has been our go-to

7 - Jewelers lens with at least 20x magnification: Jarlink's Jewelers Loop is perfect

The fossil-finding books that we use most

There are also a few books that have been extremely helpful in the search for gems. These books have great recommendations and tips:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals: North America 

Southwest Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide 

Earth Treasures: The Southwestern Quadrant 

We provide links to find these tools on Amazon but some can also be found at your local hardware stores. For more recommendations check out the link to our full tool guide above.

La Brea Tar Pits

A very unique park and fossil pit with mammal statues

The La Brea Tar Pits are the most famous places to find fossils worldwide. These natural asphalt pits have been like flypaper for thousands of years, trapping and preserving many organisms from the Pleistocene Epoch. This makes the site a great place to learn about the animals that lived during the Ice Age.

Bones, teeth, and other parts of plants and animals found in the tar have helped scientists figure out more than 600 different species. Researchers can put together a very detailed picture of what life was like in prehistoric Los Angeles by putting together information about the plants and animals that grew there.

Where and what to find fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits

Animals as small as insects and as big as mammoths, mastodons, and saber-toothed cats would get stuck in the sticky tar, which preserved their bones very well.

Santa Monica Mountains

Beautifully colored skies over the vast landscape of Santa Monica Mountains

The Santa Monica Mountains have a lot to offer in terms of both natural beauty and scientific interest. These mountains are a great place to hike, watch birds, and enjoy the outdoors. They are also a great place to look for fossils.

The area is known for its sedimentary rock formations, which date from the Miocene Epoch to more recent times and show the area’s geological and biological history.

Beyond their fossil wealth, the Santa Monica Mountains offer dramatic landscapes, from craggy peaks to sweeping ocean views. These mountains provide a multi-faceted experience that marries the past with the present in the most scenic way.

Where and what to find fossils at Santa Monica Mountains

Santa Monica Mountains is a great site for fossil enthusiasts because of the range of fossils you can find. These include marine fossils like bivalves, gastropods, and even ancient shark teeth, reflecting the area’s past as an ocean floor.

Terrestrial fossils, such as leaf imprints and small mammal bones, can also be found, adding another layer of biological richness to the region.

Some areas of the mountains have even yielded the remains of larger mammals like whales, revealing the area’s fascinating transition from marine to terrestrial environments over millions of years.

Sea Cliff

A majestic cliff formation with crashing waves on the shore at the bottom of the cliff.

The sea cliffs of California have more to offer than just stunning views and beautiful sunsets. They are also a fossil collector’s dream. These tall formations run along the coast and are mostly made of sedimentary rocks, which often have fossils from different times in Earth’s history.

The cliffs are like layered cakes of Earth’s history, with each layer showing a different part of life on Earth millions of years ago. Even though you may have to walk a bit or be careful to get to some fossil-rich areas, many are easy.

It’s important to be careful when exploring because cliff edges can be dangerous, and tides can change quickly. Whether you’re an experienced fossil hunter or a casual nature lover, the sea cliffs of California are a great place to enjoy both the beauty of nature and the scientific discoveries you can make there.

Where and what to find fossils at the Sea Cliff

From mollusks like ammonites and bivalves to the teeth of ancient sharks, these cliffs provide a fascinating window into prehistoric ocean life. The ocean’s constant erosion naturally exposes new material, making each visit a potential discovery.

Sharktooth Hill

A vast land area where you can look for fossils

Sharktooth Hill is one of the most well-known places in the world to find marine fossils. It is near Bakersfield, California. This area dates back to the Miocene Epoch about 15 million years ago. It gives us a fantastic look at marine life from that time.

Sharktooth Hill has a lot of well-preserved fossils, which is different from other places where fossils may be broken or hard to find. This is because sedimentary rock and silt encased and kept the bones of these ancient animals in good shape. It was named a National Natural Landmark in 1976.

Where and what to find fossils at Sharktooth Hill

The site is famous for its well-preserved shark teeth, such as those from the prehistoric megalodon, a shark that was much bigger than the great white. You can also find the teeth and bones of whales, seals, and rays. This is an excellent place for anyone interested in ancient ocean life.

Other Top Places To Find California Fossils By Region

A picturesque landscape with a river, grasslands, and mountains in the backdrop

After telling you where to find the best fossils in California, we’ll talk about other great places to look for fossils. To help you, we’ve made a list of these places.

Location Fossils
Along creek bed in Bell Quarry, Alameda County Plants, Fresh water invertebrates, Vertebrates
Livermore area, near Altamont Pass, Alameda County Fossil plants
Pleasanton area, in railroad cut on Pleasanton-Sunol road, Alameda County Broad marine fauna
Kirkwood area, Carson Pass Fauna, Alpine County Plant fossils
Markleeville area, Ebetts Pass Fauna, Alpine County Plant fossils
Feather River area, old Banner Mine on River Bank, Butte County Abundant fossil plants
Reynolds Ferry area, Stanislaus River, Butte County Oecotraustes, Perisphinctes
Blacksburg area, Thomas Farm, Roanoke County Arthrorhachis, Eoharpes, Ampyx, Nileus, Bronteopsis, Homotelus
Mokelumne area, Valley Spring fauna, Calaveras County Plant species
Berkeley area, at mouth of Strawberry Canyon, Contra Costa County Pecten
Clayton area, Mt Diablo, Contra Costa County Fossil plants
Hercules area, at Pecten Pit in San Pablo Bay, Contra Costa County Large number of Pecten fossils
Mount Diablo area, Black Hawk Quarry, Contra Costa County A wide variety of Pliocene mammals
Pittsburg area, Kirker Creek, Contra Costa County Actaeon, Clavella, Modiolus
Sobrante Ridge area, in valley on west of Bear Creek, Contra Costa County Odontapsis, Otodus, Myliobatis, Crocodile teeth, Turritella mortoni
Auburn area, east of Hawver Cave, El Dorado County Nototherium, Felis(Cougar)
Coalinga area, Salt Creek, Fresno County Turbinolia, Trochocyathus, Flabellum
Coalinga area, Anticline Ridge, Fresno County Pelecypods, Gastropods
In sand and mud around the shores of the Salton Sea, Imperiial County Molllusk shells
South of Badger Flat, Inyo County Brachiopods, Receptaculites, Pelmatazoa, Trilobites, Gastropods
Independence area, head of Mazourka Canyon of Inyo Mountains, mouth of Indian Field Creek, Inyo County Trematobolus
Resting Springs, Armagosa River, Inyo County Mollusks
Bakersfield area, Kern River Canyon, Kern County Vertebrate teeth, mollusks
Fort Tejon, Alizos Creek, Kern County Septifer, Conus, Meretrix, Architectonica
Tejon Hills, Comanche Creek, Kern County Pecten
Avenal area, Big Tar Canyon, Kings County Abundant sand dollars, Bryozoa, Balanus (barnacle)
Grizzly Canyon Road, between Burns Valley and Cache Creek, Lake County Anodonta, Valvata
Along trail west of Tapia Park, Los Angeles County Mollusk molds and fossils
Sepulveda Canyon, Los Angeles County Fish-Lampanyctus
Old Topanga Canyon , Los Angeles County Gastropods and Pelecypods
San Jose Hills, Los Angeles County Fish-Bathylagus, Ganolytes, Lampanyctus, Plectrites
Marin Highlands, Near Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County Ammonites
Merced River, below Old Benton Mill Site, Mariposa County Aucella, Pholadomya, Belemnites, Amusium
Vaqueros Canyon, Monterey County Solenosteira, Mytilus
Colfax area in Chalk Bluffs, Placer County Plant fossils
Taylorsville area in Montgomery Creek, Plumas County Stromatopora, Zaphrentis, Heliotis, Syringopora, Halysites, Orthis, Ormoceras
Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County Plant fossils
San Gorgonio Pass, Thousand Palms Canyon, Riverside County Fossils
Barstow area in Black Mountain, San Bernardino County Fossils

Common Questions About Fossil Hunting In California

Triceratops tail vertebra bone fossil
Dinosaur fossil photo provided by Fossilicious

People who go to California to find fossils often ask these questions. The answers are important to know.

Can you find megalodon teeth or shark teeth in California?

Shark teeth, including those of the ancient megalodon, can be found in various parts of California. Sharktooth Hill near Bakersfield is one of the most famous sites for finding marine fossils, including shark teeth.

While megalodon teeth are rarer than other types, they have been found in the state. These fossilized teeth give valuable insight into these massive prehistoric predators that roamed the seas millions of years ago.

Is it illegal to collect fossils in California?

The legality of fossil collecting in California varies depending on the location and type of land where you wish to collect.

Collecting vertebrate fossils on federal land is generally illegal without a scientific research permit. Some federal lands may allow casual collection of common invertebrate and plant fossils for personal use, but you should check the specific regulations for the land in question.

Regulations can vary, but collecting fossils from state parks is generally prohibited without a permit. You can collect fossils on private property if you have explicit permission from the landowner.

Check out the updated rules for collecting in the state of California if you want to know more about it.

Can you find dinosaur bones in California?

While California is rich in fossils, it’s not a hotspot for dinosaur bones. Most of the rock layers exposed at the surface in California are either too old or too young to contain dinosaur fossils.

Dinosaurs lived from about 252 to 66 million years ago during the Mesozoic Era. Much of California’s exposed geology is from the Cenozoic Era, which began 66 million years ago, after the time of the dinosaurs.

Our Favorite Places To Buy Fossils In California

Stories in Stones rock shop in California where you can find and buy fossil specimens

If you don’t want to do the dirty work and spend hours looking for these old treasures, you can go to one of our rock shops in the state. Here are some places you can buy rocks:

About Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Keith Jackson is an avid rockhound who is constantly exploring new sites to expand his collection. He has worked as a professional Geologist for over 20 years and holds a PhD in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Masters Degree in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a Bachelors Degree in Geology from the University of Connecticut.

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