Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt presented the sites to Clinton, who announced the recommendations but reserved any final decision until next year.
But speaking to environmentalists and administration officials gathered in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Clinton seemed inclined to accept the referral.
"By giving these lands national monument status, we would ensure that they could be passed along to future generations healthy and whole," Clinton said.
No purchases would be required, Clinton said, because all four monuments are on federal land. "There is no greater gift we can offer to the new millennium than to protect these treasures for all Americans for all time," he said.
Additionally, Clinton was sending to Congress today a list of 18 natural and historic sites he would like to see protected under the administration's "Lands Legacy Initiative," a $652 million program to protect farms, forests and urban parks.
"I believe there are certain places humankind simply cannot improve upon," Clinton said. "We must use this time of unparalleled prosperity to ensure people will always be able to see these places as we see them today."
Babbitt recommended designating 1 million acres along the north rim of the Grand Canyon as the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument; 71,100 acres on federal lands north of Phoenix as the Agua Fria National Monument; thousands of small federally owned islands, reefs and rocks along the California coast as the Coastal National Monument; and 8,000 additional acres of the Pinnacles National Monument near San Jose, Calif.
"These recommendations are very much in the spirit of the philosophy of the president's protection of our national treasures," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
But state officials say the proposal would cause financial hardship to the local economy by removing the land from the tax base and scuttling business ventures.
"I am very concerned about the lands being eaten up by the federal government," Arizona Gov. Jane Hull said.
National monuments can be designated by the president under the Antiquities Act of 1906 or by an act of Congress. The law gives the president authority to protect any land that has historic, scientific or archaeological significance.
Under the monument designation, land has increased protection against development such as mining, although some activities including cattle grazing are still allowed.
In Phoenix on Monday, Sen. Jon Kyl said he is writing a letter urging Clinton not to go forward with Babbitt's proposal.
Calling the proposal "government by decree," Kyl said it would send a message that the federal government doesn't care wha Arizonans think.
"It's wrong and I don't think the state of Arizona is going to stand by and let this happen," Kyl said.
Mohave County Supervisor Carol Anderson said the county is already struggling to support services, and the preservation designation would make it worse.
But while lawmakers criticized the proposal, it was cheered by environmental groups.
Protecting the areas from mining and off-road vehicles "just makes common sense," said Rob Smith, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club. "This Congress has been very reluctant to protect land. The time has come to make a move."
By Kevin Galvin;