California Beach Camping

A First-timer's Guide

california beach California State Park Beach Camping - can be booked through Reserve America and they are sold out every single night during summer and spring vacation but definitely worth the effort. Go to their website and check out what each park has to offer - you will not be disappointed

Orange County Beach Camping -

crystal cove evicted cottages location Crystal Cove State Beach - In 1979 the State of California purchased approximately 3,000 acres and some beach cottages from the Irvine Company and then it took 20 years to evict the people living in them. In June 2006 Reserve America began taking reservations for the newly renovated cottages. Each year there are more available…but reservations are nearly impossible to acquire as more and more people hear about them. Give it a try - at $150-$200 per night these cottages are considered the gem of the coast. I cannot believe I shared this…now I will NEVER get one! Go to to TRY to get reservations…on the first day of each month, the sixth month out becomes available - so 1/1 all of July becomes available. They also have camping for REAL campers. You hike back up steep trails, carrying in everything you need including water. The strenuous trail reportedly takes 2-6 hours but believe me, no one in my family can speak to that as fact! Make sure you are booking the right thing when you contact Reserve America - they have different pages for cottages and camping!

doheny-beach-park Doheny State Beach - is a great place to learn to surf because the waves are small, well spaced and conditions are predictable. The bottom is full of rocks so it is also one of the worst places to learn to surf if you don't have aqua socks for your feet. Surf fishing is also very popular in this area with some excellent results! We often rent a spot at this beach for a large crowd. You get barbeques, a fire pit and a big plot of grass right up against the boardwalk and the beach. They have volleyball, snack bars, rest rooms and equipment to rent including surreys. Stay out of the way if my family is having a race! Doheny's campground is located at the south end of the park and it has been voted by 'reader's choice' as best camping in the country. You need reservations so go online to as soon as possible to make sure you are not disappointed as this is probably the best beach camping in the southland. They have everything you need for whatever type of camping you do and the atmosphere is pure FUN!

rv camping San Clemente State Beach - located south of San Clem and is very popular with surfers and skin divers as well as hikers. You can also go skin diving for lobster! The campgrounds are located up on the cliff and there are trails cut into the bluff for beach access. This campground would require real vigilance for families with small children and can be booked by contacting as soon as you possibly can. You can get great views of whales and other sea creatures as they migrate up and down the coast.

navy vessel off san onofre state beach San Onofre State Beach - is a 3,000 acre scenic coastal canyon park divided into three areas. San Onofre Bluffs offers camping and day use parking adjacent to the sandstone bluffs. The beach below is accessed by rugged dirt trails. Campsites are a bit rugged with cold outdoor showers and chemical toilets and no hookups. You still need to book ahead with The San Onofre Surf Beach offers a world class surf break for day use only. There are portable toilets. The San Onofre/San Mateo Campground is across the freeway and inland about three miles. San Mateo Creek flows by the campground to the sea and the wetlands are home to many endangered species. This campground has it all, hookups, flush toilets, hot showers, fire pits and picnic tables but it is really hot here in the summer and the marines practice drills and maneuvers nearby with the helicopters creating a dust nightmare. Down at the very end of the beach there is a clothing optional area (naturist beach) located on about 600 feet of beach leased from the marines at Camp Pendleton. I understand the first time you try sunbathing in this fashion you better use a bunch of sunscreen!!

Los Angeles County Beach Camping -

surfing at bolsa chica Bolsa Chica Beach and Wetlands (across PCH) - is our favorite place to go surfing. JJ is a good (not great-yet) surfer and the waves at Bolsa are just perfect. Joe and I love to take him there because we always see a pod of dolphin and precisions of pelicans fishing just over the top of the water in perfect rows. You can build a fire and cook in the provided pits but there are snack shacks with great food and plenty of showers and restrooms (clean restrooms!!!). Most weekends there are folks set up renting surfboards and giving lessons. Do give it a try….it is a lot harder than it looks! But there is no turning back once you catch your first wave! The state currently charges $10.00 to park all day but once you leave that's it…no coming back for free. Do try to take a walk across PCH to the wetlands. There is always an amazing variety of birds that stop for a break as they migrate along the flyway. Bolsa has a huge RV camping facility with everything you need to settle in for a week or stop for the night. You must have reservations so contact to book your reservations as early as possible. You can reach Bolsa by exiting the 405 on Bolsa Chica going west and then taking a right on Warner to PCH and turn right again.

winter beach scene at huntington beach surf city pier huntington beach Huntington Beach - (Surf City) is changing every single day and that's why we just love to visit. Already well know for surfing, volleyball and extreme sporting events as well as the best 4th of July celebration on the coast - Surf City reinvents itself each season. The newest attraction is the romantic Sunset Gondola Ride which runs about $80.00 for two people (I understand this is a fabulous way to propose to your sweetie) and takes you on a tour around the six islands that make up Sunset and Huntington Harbor. Parking is available but don't forget to pay at the station before you take off to enjoy the sights! Walk out on the pier and watch the surfers in and around the pilings and have lunch at Ruby's Diner. Ruby's has great food and atmosphere - you can also find them on the piers at Newport and Seal Beach as well many other locations. (Try a chocolate shake and some onion rings!) Camping right on the beach in Huntington at Sunset Vista RV Park is amazing but available only October 1 - May 31st. Nice discount for seniors so be sure to ask. They do not take walk in or call in reservations so book online at and expect to pay about $60.00 per night.

Private Parks Beach Camping

newport dunes rv park heron fishing Newport Dunes RV Park - this is an amazing '5 star' approach to camping. They have thought of absolutely everything to make your 'recreational' stay memorable in the OC! Take Jamboree to Back Bay Drive for tent luxury RV accommodations -located on the Newport Harbor Back Bay this place is fabulous! Call them directly to make reservations at 949 729-3863.

San Diego County Beach Camping

kayaking mission bay Mission Bay - is a 4,000 acre aquatic park offering beaches, camping, recreation, wild life preserve and Sea World and it is constantly changing with the weather, tides and time. It is really fabulous and is truly the heart of San Diego. Check out all of the many things to see and do at Mission Bay. (

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Ventura County Camping - is pretty scarce unless you have an RV. There are many spots along the Ventura County Coastline where you can pay up to $25.00 per night (some with hookups) or FREE to first come - first served. There are a few state and local beach parks available for tent camping - check with Reserve America for more details!

Santa Barbara County Camping - include El Capitan (one of our Top Ten) and Refugio State Beaches camp breakfast camp el capitan campers el capitan beach camping towel rack coastal nap
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El Capitan State Beach -is located on the ocean just north of Santa Barbara (see our central coast website) and can provide one of the best camping experiences anywhere for your family. It is tricky to get a good spot, however, since the railroad runs along the east side of the campground just a few feet away. We had an issue with our site being designated as a handicapped spot at the campground but not on line and were moved to one on the tracks. Well, the train goes through a lot and every time it does it blows a whistle that is teeth rattling and not conducive to a relaxing vacation. You need to book spots from the middle of the campground to the cliff edge (fabulous ocean view) to avoid the train. The shoreline is so gorgeous here and the ocean is full of seals, dolphins, whales and pelicans. The tide pools are beautiful and the walk along the beach is really great north or south! We took a picnic, boogie boards and some sand toys for the little kids down to the tables at the beach and spent the day. El Capitan has a small general store that handles some necessities like bread and milk and ice cream bars- hello!!! You can get bundles of wood there and we did several times! El Capitan has bathrooms, running water and can be booked through Reserve America. The good spots are always booked so start early!

biking at refugio refugio beach refugio state beach park Refugio State Beach - is located just north of El Capitan and frankly is not as nice. It is located down in the revine at sea level and seems very unkempt compared to El Capitan. The train is not a big issue here but the mosquitos from the stagnant water sure can be!

San Luis Obisbo County - has some marvelous beaches set up for camping. We love the area and would highly recommend camping or any type of stay in the area!

Morro Beach State Park -is located near my grandson James' home so we have camped there several times. morro bay state park campground It is located on the Morro Bay lagoon near the salt marsh bird sanctuary and walking distance to the morro bay golf course road charming museum. The golf course is next door and as you walk along the road you can plan to run into morro rock view a rafter (group) of turkeys hunting and pecking the ground for bugs. We always follow them around for an hour morro bay golf course lagoon trying to get a great picture and never succeeding. The most amazing thing was when we discovered them roosting high low tide morro bay up in the eucalyptus trees for the night!
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Morro Bay is a wonderful town and you should plan to spend some time down at the Embarcadero visiting the shops and enjoying the harbor view. embarkadero morro bay morro bay wharf Tidelands Park morro rock trail to morro rock sea otters
You can usually spot a seal or sea otter swimming around in the bay and the giant chess set makes for great photos. Down at the end of the street is Tidelands Park where kids can climb up on a pirate ship and play while you imagine yourself sailing away on one of the many boats moored in the bay! Drive out to Morro Rock and park just before it to see the surfers battling the waves as they come off the rock. Park halfway out near the water and you will see hundreds of ground squirrels and almost always a sea otter or two tied to seaweed and having a nap!

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Drive north out of Morro Bay to Cayucos - another charming town with a western flavor. They have some antique shops, a fishing pier and a wonderful old tavern as well as a candy shop that sells fabulous ice cream! (The entire area is amazing and we have been visiting there for years. My daughter Tammy loved it so much she decided to make it her home. Our '' website "drives" you up Pacific Coast Highway ("old 101") to 'Los Osos', 'Morro Bay' and 'Cayucos'.

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Montana de Oro State Park -is located on the shore south of Los Osos and Morro Bay. As you drive into the area you are struck by the thousands of eucalyptus trees almost look like they were planted - in rows! Well, they were, by some guys from Australia who planned to get rich selling the wood to the railroad. The problem was that the wood was not strong enough and the plan was abandoned leaving miles of trees along the beautiful shore! I have to say that the beach at Montana de Oro is a place where I could literally spend an entire day. The waves are crashing on the beach as a stream joins the ocean running past a cave. The beach is always covered with rocks and shells and gulls are fighting and screeching….it is just overwhelming - it is so beautiful. Not a great place to get into the ocean but a simply fabulous place to enjoy the violence and beauty of the sea! The campground is located across from Spooner's Cove and offer restrooms and picnic tables. There are hiking and horseback riding trails all over the hills and along the shore and fishing is excellent. Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wild flowers that bloom in the spring. It is always very cool here in the evening and never gets awfully hot even mid day so bring some layers to be comfortable.
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Monterey County Camping - along the coast at Big Sur is unparalled for beauty and challenging weather (see 'Big Sur' on our website)! The ocean is dozens of different colors and much of it is out of reach due to the steep cliffs in the region. But when you find a spot with access - GO FOR IT! You will not be disappointed! Most of the campgrounds are self serve on the spot and subject to availability. Do check Reserve America as some are reservable and that would be a good thing during the busy times such as summer. Make sure you get a full tank of gas before entering the area - Gorda is well known for selling the most expensive gas in America. It was $4.99 a gallon for premium when we were there this week! (4/6/08) Take along plenty of layers of clothing as the wind often blows and it can get quite cool even during the day in the summer months! Plan ahead for food and whatever else you may need. There are very few stores and everything is very expensive!

California Island Camping
Catalina Island -is located just '26 miles across the sea' according to the song and you can easily get there by boat or plane. The landing path is really scary as you fly directly toward the mountain cliff and then at the last minute the air currents lift you up to land on the tiny strip. I have done that for the very last time! The boat trip is really nice and you can see whales and dolphins and breathe the fresh salt air. We use the Long Beach port when we go over for the day. It is nice to walk around the beach and seaside village and the restaurants are quite enjoyable with outdoor dining. There is camping available at five different camp grounds on the island and something for every type of camper. Check out the web site at for more information. You can take a glass bottom boat or go SCUBA or snorkling in the clear water and really see a lot. Barking seals crowd the rocks around the island and the atmosphere is really quite nice. What is NOT NICE is that sightseeing bus trip up to the airport around death defying cliff roads. Yes, you can see buffalo etc. along the way the the views are really spectacular and the airport is interesting but NEVER AGAIN...everyone knows...I am waiting at the beach!

island adventure island packers boat island packers office ventura harbor Channel Islands - are located off the California coast near Ventura. You can usually see these unique and interesting islands from the observation tower at the Channel Islands Visitor's Center. They offer amazing opportunities to hike, camp, snorkel, SCUBA, whale watch, bird watch, swim and so much more. The official water transport for the Channel Islands is Island Packers and they will provide the schedules and expectations of tours to the islands at their web site at You need to wear layers, bring your own food and water, wear hiking boots and for goodness sake - LOTS OF FILM!!!