Oceano Dunes is a must stop spot for ATV rides right near the beach. It’s in amazingly close proximity to Pismo Beach and awesome beach towns. There is RV camping as well as tent camping and spots are on the beach. Be sure to go only during low tide as you have to drive through a section of the beach! Don’t get stuck!
If you appreciate the coast near Big Sur, you will love Monterey. They have stellar camping grounds on the beach and awesome tourist destinations to visit while you’re in town, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which I visit at least once a year). These beaches are chalked full of wildlife and the awesome beach town of Monterey is bustling with great restaurants and shops. Like most of my beach camping choices, Monterey is ideal for ocean activities like Kayaking, whale watching, etc. It’s absolutely beautiful and worth the trip year round!
If you’re headed up or down the 101, Avila is a must stop. Located just north of Pismo Beach, Avila is tucked away down a hill that is totally worth venturing off to. It’s a beautiful place to camp and has an awesome little private beach town with restaurants, bars, and shops. I do not recommend camping here during peak times in the Summer. My advice is to wander here late Spring and Fall while the temperatures are still warm enough to enjoy while beating the crowds!
If you’re looking to camp in California, Sequoia National Park should be one of your top destinations. They have cabin and tent camping. I have stayed in both. There are trails galore and GIGANTIC trees bigger than your car. This beautiful setting is worth visiting year round and I recommend camping during the less touristy times in early Spring and Fall. You are near lakes, waterfalls, and an array of bodies of water. I recommend coming up the back end up the park for an easier ascent rather than via the 198. The 198 takes you up a steep, but beautiful, hair pin turn ridden road. If you get car sick easily, take the route through Fresno.
If you’re headed to San Diego, be sure to stop and check out Carlsbad just off of the 5. this awesome beach town is quintessential Southern California beach awesomeness and it is absolutely gorgeous. Camp right off of the beach as well as have access to local shopping and restaurants. While you camp, you’ve got to check out Carlsbad cliffs for some stellar views. There are also loads of beach activities like whale watching, kayaking, surfing, fishing, and paddle boarding! My secret spot for the best fish and chips EVER is close by in Oceanside called “Harbor Fish n’ Chips.” Be sure to check this place out!
Yes. Yosemite is popular, but for a reason: its breathtaking scenery and wildlife. Reserve in advance, avoid peak times for a little less of a touristy vibe, and soak this place up. It’s a must for CA camping.
I’ve grown up camping at Carpinteria as a SoCal native and it is definitely worth the visit. With sites that have close access to the beach and a super cute town within walking distance, this is a great place for couples, groups, and families. The only downside of Carpinteria is a train that runs through near the grounds, but if you’re looking for quintessential CA beach camping, this is pretty ideal. Hit up ‘The Spot,’ a tiny shack on the beach that serves up some delicious burgers and visit during the Avocado Festival during October 5-7. It’s one of the best times to camp there. https://www.avofest.com/
Morro Bay is the most adorable beach town just above San Louis Obispo, west of the 101 freeway. It’s worth making the short trek there! There is surfing, kayaking, fishing, and tons of activities to do while you camp out. Only downside is it gets a bit windy sometimes. Be prepared to bring some warmer clothing and enjoy this perfect little town. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and great bars to visit when you hit up the town to get away from camping.
The hike can be brutal so make sure you not only have all of your gear, but you’re prepared to hike when it’s dark to avoid the heat. Headlamps, waking sticks, and water are a must, in my opinion. Mules will take your heavier gear down (you must have a permit to do this and previous reservations). Once you make it, your tiredness and pain from the hike will instantly disappear when you see the views and get inside of that turquoise water. Everything about Havasu Falls is breathtaking and worth the work. To access other waterfalls prepare yourself for some treacherous descents down a nearly vertical wall. Safety here and awareness is a must, but other than that, this place is dreamy.
If you’re looking for a beautiful desert to camp in, look no further. Joshua Tree is easy to access and is, hands down, the best desert spot to pitch your tent in California!
Lake Kaweah is a great spot to stop and camp or explore before you head up the hill to the Sequoias! There are great hiking spots, camping spots, and you can fish or cool off in the lake. Nearby is Three Rivers for some beautiful views and places to relax for the day and cool down from the valley heat. A major factor to know before deciding to stay here are the water levels. Sometimes they are very low depending on the drought status and other times they are so high they cover up the campground. The ideal times to come here are Spring through May and Fall before the temperatures drop!
This spot off the 1 in Marin County is gorgeous. You’re close to the beach, but deep enough in the redwoods to get your fill on the forests within the Bay Area. I highly recommend this spot and the sites here are coveted so make reservations if you can! There are also no lotteries here.
There is nothing not gorgeous about this site in Big Sur. It’s also very close to Pfeiffer Beach. Along with access to the site, there are resort amenities like a restaurant up the hill, a general store, and a full bar with a patio. This is a really great and affordable site. Our group stayed in a yurt, but it’s really unnecessary to spend that extra money if you have a tent.
This is a great place to camp especially if you’re in a bind and need to find an available place to camp quickly. The views within the hills are gorgeous and we woke up to over a dozen deer grazing in a meadow just below our site. The only downside is the mosquitos if you’re near water so bring your repellent!
Calaveras is, hands down, my favorite park in CA. It’s beauty and trees are unmatched anywhere in California. It is perfect for hiking, exploring, and nearby fishing. If you do any park besides the more well known ones in CA, do not pass this one up!
As a SoCal native, this is easily one of my favorite places to camp. To avoid large crowds you can easily drive into these sites on off seasons in late Spring and Fall. The weather is perfect and you’re literally camping directly on the beach. Need firewood? The host will drive firewood to your site. This spot is perfect for one night or several days!
China Camp is located in beautiful Marin County and is in close proximity to the San Rafael bridge. With several spots to hang out on the beach, you can view historical landmarks, camp out, or have a picnic right on the water. This area is easy to get to, not overly crowded, and super beautiful.