To some people, camping in California means camping near the beach. And it's easy to see why - the coast's (mostly) moderate climate, slow pace, proximity to activities like water sports, hiking or biking and picturesque views have made it a California camping destination for people from all over the world.
This is the first edition of our multi-part series of The Best of California Camping, where we gather up some of the most popular campgrounds from all over the state. In this edition we will be focusing on California's beach campgrounds.
Beachside camping in California is the quintessential "California" experience. With the wind in your hair, your toes in the sand, and your tent pitched or your RV or camper parked only steps from the water, you'll be one happy beach camper at any of the below 20 beach campgrounds from all over California.
Doran is located in Sonoma County Regional Park, situated on a peninsula in between Bodega Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. The Park has a very nice large (2 mile long) sandy beach, picnic area, hiking an d biking trails, wetlands and campground. Nearby activities include water sports, boating, canoeing/kayaking, beachcombing and wildlife viewing.
New Brighton State Beach is one of the most popular and most visited state beaches in California. This 93-acre park along the beautiful coast of Santa Cruz offers spectacular views of the Monterey Bay. It is famous for its family-oriented campground which sits on the towering bluffs high above the Pacific Ocean. Fun fact: it was once the site of a Chinese fishing village.
Carpinteria State Beach is a mile-long beach with activities such as swimming, surfing, fishing and camping. Seals and sea lions and an occasional gray whale may be spotted during the winter months where it actually can get bit chilly, requiring coats. It has 216 campsites for RV's and tent camping.
El Capitan State Beach offers day use and overnight camping. Located about a 30 minute drive north of Santa Barbara along Highway 101. El Capitan has lots of shady areas with many oak and sycamore trees throughout the park. Some of the campsites offer beautiful views from the cliff-top.
Moderate ocean temperature at Emma Wood State Beach makes the area a great place for swimming, surfing and fishing. A freshwater marsh at the southwest end of the beach attract raccoons, songbirds and red-tailed hawks. The beach also features the crumbling ruins of a World War II coastal artillery site. There is a grassy area for groups and a campground for hikers and bikers.
Faria County Beach Park is the furthest south of three parks, located between Ventura and Carpinteria. The three parks on Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara are Hobson R.V. park, Rincon R.V. park, and Faria County Beach Park.
Gaviota State Park takes its name from the Spanish word for seagull, given to the area by soldiers of the Portola Expedition who supposedly killed a seagull while camping here in 1769. Marked by a tall Southern Pacific railroad trestle that crosses Gaviota Creek high above the day-use parking lot, the park is a popular spot for swimming, picnicking, surf fishing and camping.
This small campground is triangle-shaped with campsites around the edges. Many of the sites are right next to the ocean. There's a small beach just below the rocks. The campground is located between the ocean and the railroad track.
Morro Strand State Beach is a three-mile coastal frontage park. From the beach, visitors can view the entire Estero Bay, including Morro Rock. Activities include fishing, surfing, wind and kite surfing, kite flying, sunbathing, strolling on the beach, bird watching, and exploring the town of Morro Bay.
Buffered by the Channel Islands, Refugio is a magnet for swimmers, divers, sea kayakers and casual surfers. Refugio State Beach offers excellent coastal fishing as well as trails and picnic sites.
Bolsa Chica State Beach campground is right on one of the more popular beaches in Southern California. All 60 sites have water and power, with the odd numbered sites (1-59) having beach front, and the other (2-60) even sites off the beach (PCH view). All sites are in a parking lot and are paved.
South Carlsbad State Beach in San Diego County, features fantastic beaches with swimming, surfing, fishing and the famous evening jogs or strolls. The large bluff-top campground is very popular, and is often sold out during summer months. It is also one of the great, warm beach locations enjoyed by tourists who come to feel the sun.
Doheny State Beach is two parks in one - with camping in the southern area (with some campsites only steps away from the beach) and day use in the northern area, where there is a five-acre lawn with picnic facilities and volleyball courts. Surfing is popular, but is restricted to the north end of the beach. Surf fishing is also popular.
Leo Carrillo State Park has 1.5 miles of beach for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing. The beach also has tide pools, coastal caves and reefs for exploring. Giant sycamores shade the main campgrounds. The park also features back-country hiking.
California's newest State Park campground is set on a terraced hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean, just north of Laguna Beach on Pacific Coast Highway. Below the campground is a day use area with beach access, just a short, but steep, walk from your campsite.
Since 1937 San Clemente has been one of the most popular beaches in California. A dramatic setting and invigorating air satisfy its many visitors, whatever their interest, energy level or state of mind. The mile long beach stretches between the curling ocean surf and the foot of a steep bluff.
Located in Northern San Diego County, San Elijo State Beach (campground) is a great location along the Southern California coast where swimming, surfing, camping and picnicking are just a few of the activities you can enjoy. The campground is located along the bluff and many of the camping spots have uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.
The San Onofre Bluffs portion of San Onofre State Beach features 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of sandy beaches with six access trails cut into the bluff above. The campground is along the old U.S. Route 101 adjacent to the sandstone bluffs.
Silver Strand State Beach is a 7-mile isthmus that connects the city of Coronado and Imperial Beach and sits between the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. The spot is named for the silvery oyster shells that cover the beach and dunes here and you can also find clams buried in the sand by the water.
Campers who prefer mountains and mountain activities will want to stay at Sycamore Canyon, half a mile or so inland from Pacific Coast Highway. Most of the park's trails can be reached from the campground, which has not only huge, shade-providing trees but also restrooms with flush toilets and showers.
That wraps up our Best of California Camping: Beaches chapter. These are just some of the most popular campgrounds in California, but of course there are other great campsites in California to experience as well.
As always you can browse our California campground directory for even more options. Let us know if we missed one of your favorites!