California’s beaches are vast and varied, but many of them come with great campsites. Whether you’re looking for a rugged, hike-in camping experience or a more luxurious stay, you’ll find the beginning of your next California beach camping adventure on this extensive list. Campground beaches are also exciting places for exploring. Some have lagoons and dunes to check out, and some even have geological formations with fossils you can take a look at – if you can find them.
Best California Beach Camping in Northern California
Our first few campsites cover campgrounds on or near northern California beaches. Some of these locations are closed during the offseason, but some are simply less crowded at those times. Take a look at these camping and glamping locals and see which one of them is right for you.
Shipman Creek Campsite
First on our list of the best California beach camping is Shipman Creek Campsite.
A hike-in tent camping spot located on the Lost Coast Trail, the Shipman Creek Campsite is a great destination for energetic adventure seekers. If you’re looking for a challenging site to reach, this could be the one for you. The Lost Coast Trail runs along the King Range Mountains, which you can check out if you want to do some more extensive hiking during your camping stay at Shipman Creek.
The Bureau of Land Management does require that all members of your camping party each get a permit to hike in the area, which you can apply for on their site. And because this is such a rugged location, you are also required to bring a bear canister to store your food during your stay. Make sure you abide by these local rules to keep your trip safe and legal.
Located in the Point Reyes National Park about an hour north of San Fransico, Coast Campground is another hike-in campsite. Considerably easier than Shipman Creek, the hike up to this spot is only a little over a mile and on a dirt-and-gravel road, rather than through pathless woods. While the hike in is less rugged, you’ll still need to pick up a permit from the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center before setting up camp. This is a great somewhat challenging camping ground to try out before going for the more advanced experience at Shipman Creek.
If you’re looking for amazing views while doing some California beach camping, then Kirby Cove is perfect.
If you’re allergic to dogs, this is a good camping spot to consider because pets aren’t allowed here. But this is another more rugged location with a steep one-mile hike from the parking area to the campsites. There’s a day spot that holds thirty-five people and five overnight campsites that can comfortably fit ten each.
Reservations are required at this location, but the view of Sanfransico and the Golden Gate Bridge makes the hike to Kirby Cove well worth the effort.
If roughing it isn’t your style, consider this glamping (glamorous camping) local. This northern California drive-in glamping spot is great for campers who would still like to have the comforts of home, like a real bed and bathroom. Mendocino Grove isn’t right on the beach, but it’s just a quick drive away from the campsite. With hammocks in the surrounding trees and restaurants located nearby, you can enjoy the outdoor experience of camping without the inconveniences of pitching your own tent or cooking over a campfire.
Francis Beach at Half Moon Bay
With a wide, white-sand beach great for laying out and beach strolling, Francis Beach also features a bluff with a grassy picnic area and a beautiful view of the sunset. Both tents and RVs are welcome here. Equipped with restrooms and a visitor’s center, this is location is a good middle-ground for campers who want to get close to roughing it, but not too close. Horses and dogs are free to use the nearby Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail but are not allowed at the campground or on the beach.
Steep Ravine Beach
South of Stinson Beach, at the bottom of a steep canyon, sits Steep Ravine Beach. This is a rocky beach with drift logs, more ideal for hiking and exploring than catching some rays. The Steep Ravine Hotsprings are located nearby, as is the clothing-optional Red Rocks Beach. This may be a spot better suited to adults than children for this reason.
Lawson’s Landing beach, dunes, and campground have been in the Lawson family since the 1920s. If you’re looking for a quieter dune experience, this is a good option for you since vehicles are not permitted on the dunes. This natural location is preserved for nature and guests are asked to leave nothing but footprints.
Each campsite comes with a picnic table and community fire rings are available throughout the campground. Reservations are required and prices depend on the number of guests, vehicles, and the desired campsite, so check out their reservations page and enter your camping information to find out the cost for you.
Best California Beach Camping in Central California
Central California beach camping has just as many opportunities for adventuring as northern California. Whether you’re driving your RV or planning to backpack with your tent, you’ll find dunes, coves, lagoons, and marinas on this list.
If you’re looking in central California, then Jalama Beach is perfect for your California beach camping aspirations.
Jalama Beach is a large campground with over 107 camping spots. If you’re looking for RV or trailer beach camping opportunities, this is the place for you. Thirty-one of their sites have electricity hook-ups, and there are dumping stations located throughout the RV area.
Tent campers are welcome here as well. All campsites come with a picnic table and a BBQ pit, and there are restrooms with hot showers to take advantage of as well. Reservations are required. You can reserve your spot at their website linked above.
Oceano Dunes at Pismo Beach
Recognized by conservationists as the best and more extensive coastal dunes in California, the Oceano Dunes are the place to camp if you want to bring your OHV (off-highway vehicle) along for the ride. If you don’t have your own OHV, don’t worry. There are plenty available to rent!
There are no designated campsites, but only 150 camping parties are allowed in the area at a time. Reservations are required.
Located within the Montana de Oro State Park, Spooner’s Cove is an experienced hiker’s dream. With many cliffs and the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak, you’ll get your workout in hiking around this camping site.
The cove is right where Islay Creek empties into the Pacific, and the pebble beaches are a gorgeous sight!
Sunset State Beach
Enjoy beautiful sunsets and a breathtaking view of Monterey Bay while walking or picnicking on this gorgeous sandy shoreline. Sunset State Beach is a dog-free and horse-free area, ideal for those who prefer plenty of space from animals. Both RV and tent camping are allowed a little ways off the beach.
This is a great spot for fishing and remote-control gliding. Fishing does require a license. Reservations are also required for this California beach campground, but the only cost is a $10 vehicle charge.
Andrew Molera State Park
The Andrew Molera State Park is located in a pretty meadow near the Big Sur River. This location has twenty-two standard campsites and two hike-and-bike sites available for reservation. Each spot includes a picnic table, fire pit, and food storage container. Potable water is available.
They don’t allow reservations with less than forty-eight hours’ notice, so make sure you plan ahead if you’re considering this location.
Port San Luis
This beach camping site is RV-only – no tent- or car-camping is allowed here. A fantastic location for boating and fishing, Port San Luis also features a lighthouse and a wide variety of dining options. This is also the most expensive campground in our list of California beach camping opportunities, coming in at $66-$86 per night depending on your RV hook-up needs, with extra fees for bringing in a boat. If you prefer the finer things in life to tent camping, consider visiting this ritzier local.
Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay’s natural bay habitat includes a beautiful lagoon and a saltwater marsh, both excellent opportunities for birdwatching. With a vibrant marina, an 18-hole golf course, and a cultural history museum, there’s something to interest anyone at this beach camping spot.
This site features 120 camping spots, some of which require a reservation and some of which are available on a first-come first-served basis. Tent campsites are $35 each and RV hook-up spots are $50.
Best California Beach Camping in Southern California
Last but certainly not least on our list of California beach camping opportunities are those in southern Cali. If you’ve been waiting for those fossils mentioned above, get ready to find out more about them first on this list!
Gaviota State Park
Would you like to stretch out and relax in some steamy hot springs? That’s exactly what you can do just off the trailhead near Gaviota Peak. The mountains here are an interesting, layered geological phenomenon that actually contains fossils. If you’re willing to explore for long enough, you may just be able to find a few impressions of life from so long ago that we can’t even imagine it.
Crystal Cove State Park
A popular beach for swimmers and surfers, Crystal Cove is also full of tide pools. Lots of ocean animals inhabit these tide pools until the tide comes back in, making them an interesting feature of this beach camping location. Most kids will enjoy exploring the tide pools for hours to see what creatures they can find.
Mountain bikers will enjoy the 2400 acres of backcountry forest, and the beach is a popular place for snorkeling and scuba diving. Equestrians are also welcome! Tent camping sites are available as well as one- or two-bedroom cottages.
Leo Carillo State Beach
In addition to tide pools, Leo Carillo State Beach also offers coastal caves and reefs for all to explore. Their one-and-a-half-mile beach is perfect for surfing, swimming, windsurfing, and beachcombing. With electrical hook-ups for RVs and token-operated showers, this is another good site for those who’d prefer a few homey comforts to sleeping in a tent on the ground.
Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa Island is accessible only by boat. Visitors are usually dropped off under the pier, where they must climb a steel-rung ladder up to the top of the pier, but they may also be dropped off by skiff on the beach. There is no visitor’s center or any other service on the island and boats only come out two-four times per week, so good planning is necessary before making the trek.
There are 15 primitive campsites on the island, and they must be reserved at $15 per site before your trip. There’s also free camping available on another beach that’s a ten-mile hike from the boat drop-off location.
Sycamore Canyon Campground
With three and a half miles of shoreline and seventy miles of hiking trails near Malibu, there’s plenty of ground to cover at Sycamore Canyon. Forty different campsites are available for tent camping in the woods a short walking distance from the beach.
No registration is required, but fees for entry to the park are due on arrival. Dogs are welcomed here as long as they are kept on a leash.
San Elijo State Beach
If you want to make surfing part of your beach camping trip, then consider San Elijo State Beach. Beginner to intermediate surfers enjoy the mostly mellow waves with a few spots of more challenging surf. There are 170 campsites right on the beach or nearby. Campsites adjacent to the beach are $50 per night, and campsites on the other side of those from the beach are $35 per night. One vehicle per site is free with a reservation, and additional vehicles are $15 each.
While this spot is pricier than many of the other examples of California beach camping sites we’ve seen today, its serving access makes it well worth the cost.
Wrapping Up The Best California Beach Camping
We hope that you enjoyed our list of the best beach California beach camping and hopefully found your next camping destination!
Do you know of an awesome beach camping site in California that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments!
Check Out These Other California Posts on Beyond The Tent:
- 21 Spots for Free Camping in California
- The Best Hiking Trails in California
- 21 Spots For California Lake Camping
- The Best RV Camping in California
- The Best Natural Hot Springs in California
- 21 Best Places To Go Glamping in California
- 40 Best Places to go Camping in California
- California State Park Camping Guides