Want to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean and fall asleep to the soothing sound of crashing waves with a beach camping trip? Thankfully we don’t have to go far to check off all those glorious camping boxes. And the best part (besides the soothing sound and Instagram-worthy snaps), camping at one of these close-to-home spots is a full of outdoor adventures where kids will be too busy playing in the ocean, flying kites, toasting s’mores and exploring tidepools to ask for screen time…maybe.
The Best Beach Campgrounds South of San Francisco
Sunset State Beach: This campsite has a beach on one side and miles and miles of strawberry fields on the other. It has 90 sites for car camping, some able to accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length (no hook-ups). The shade is minimal in some of the sites so bring a pop-up sunshade for the afternoon. The beach is just a short walk away (down about 100 steps) or if you are lugging lots of beach gear, you can drive your car, from your campsite, and park in the lot below. Good to know: Campsites are pretty close together and don’t offer a ton of privacy.
201 Sunset Beach Rd.
Manresa State Beach: Manresa is smaller than its neighboring state beach campgrounds with only 64 sites. All the sites here are walk-in which means you can park in the unloading zone to get your gear to your site but then you need to move your car to the upper lot for the remainder of your stay. Pro Tip: Bring a folding wagon for your gear to help transport it but it’s fully worth the effort—the campsites are on a bluff overlooking the ocean. As with any beach campsite, the temperature dips at night and it can be very chilly in the mornings until the fog burns off so make sure you wear layers and bundle the kids up at nighttime.
Sand Dollar Lane
photo: Kate Loweth
New Brighton State Beach: New Brighton is between Manresa and downtown Capitola. This campground offers 109 campsites including nine premium sites that overlook the ocean. Ten sites include RV hook-ups and they even have one bike and hike campsite that’s reserved for those who arrive via their own two legs. Paths lead you down to the beach or you can walk along the train tracks to get to downtown Capitola if you need to run to Village Creamery for a scoop of mint chip ice cream. Shade is sparse in some of the sites and make sure you bring quarters for the showers.
1500 Park Ave.
Plaskett Creek Campground: With the road to Big Sur open, Plaskett Creek is the spot to go. The campground is small and draws surfers, families and those with a chill vibe. To access the beach, you need to walk about 10 minutes and down some stairs but the payoff is you get to spend the day at the pristine Sand Dollar Beach. Head to the bluffs at sunset for some gorgeous views. Because this is a National Park site, you can book up to a year in advance.
Big Sur, CA
Kirk Creek Campground: Located within Los Padres National Forest, this campground sits on a bluff 100 feet above the ocean with 33 single-family sites for tent and RV camping (no utility hook-ups). Each site enjoys a fantastic view of the water and is equipped with a table and campfire ring with grill. Vault toilets are provided throughout the campground but there’s no showers or running water. There’s a trail to the beach (watch for poison oak) and hiking along the Vicente Trail nearby. Good to know: You can book sites here up to six months in advance.
Big Sur, CA
Limekiln State Park: Ocean Camp is a few steps from the beach at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur. With just 12 camping spots, most located right next to the creek, Ocean Camp is typically booked out months in advance. The beach is accessed by walking along a sandy path leading under a bridge. Although not directly on the beach, the campsites are somewhat sheltered from the wind, which makes it easier to sleep, especially if you’re tent camping. RVs and trailers are permitted at this campground, but don’t expect any electrical hook-ups. The bathroom block has showers and each site has a fire ring with grill plus a picnic table.
Big Sur, CA
Half Moon Bay State Beach: 52 campsites sit just steps from the sandy beach that makes up Half Moon Bay State Beach. The benefit of this campground is definitely its proximity to the sand and you only have lug the gear a short distance to set up shop for a day in the California sun. Need provisions or don’t feel like cooking? Downtown Half Moon Bay is just a short walk away (we recommend the sandwiches at the San Benito Deli—massive and delicious). Coin-operated hot showers are available if you need to hose the sand off the kids before bed.
95 Kelly Ave.
Half Moon Bay, CA
The Best Beach Campgrounds North of San Francisco
photo: Sarah McDonald
Anchor Bay Campground: Head north to Mendocino County and you will be rewarded by the beauty of this small, six-acre, privately-owned campground. It lies in a narrow gulch filled with native redwood trees and other coastal flora and has been a family-friendly destination of choice since 1925. The campground’s 27 sites include four in the redwoods with the rest sprinkled along the beach. Each camp spot has a water hook up, picnic table and fire pit. A short trail from the campground takes you into the small town where you can get coffee and pastries from White Cap.
Kirby Cove Campground: Just eight miles north of downtown San Francisco, Kirby Cove is a camping destination that is popular with city families who want to experience camping without the long drive into the mountains. Four campsites are available and campers can enjoy the nearby coarse sand beach and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fog is prevalent so make sure you bring clothes that you can layer during cooler times of the day. Campers must provide their own water and foghorns from boats may disturb your sleep (so pack the earplugs).
Point Reyes National Seashore: North of the Golden Gate Bridge is the rugged peninsula of Point Reyes National Seashore. There are two primitive hike-in campgrounds close to the ocean where adventurous families can get away from it all. These backcountry camps both require a permit.
Coast Campground is nestled within a small grassy valley, a short walk from the beach. There is no parking at the campsite itself, so you will need to haul everything from the Laguna trailhead 1.8 miles away. There are 12 regular sites and two group sites, with a vault toilet. Although the campsite has a water faucet, there is no guarantee it will be running, so bring your own water to be safe.
Wildcat Campground overlooks the ocean with a short walk to the beach, but there’s a 6.3-mile hike from Bear Valley Trailhead or a 5.5-mile hike from the Palomarin Trailhead. Again, you’ll find vault toilets and a faucet but little else.
Fire Lane Tr.
Point Reyes Station, CA
photo: National Park Service
Sonoma Coast State Park: Two separate campgrounds make up Sonoma Coast—25 sites at Wright’s Beach and 98 sites at Bodega Dunes. Beach access is easier from Wright’s Beach but both offer paths to the water where you might spot some whales if you are lucky. You may hear foghorns throughout the night so keep that in mind for light sleepers. Hot showers and flush toilets are available.
Bodega Bay, CA
—Sarah McDonald & Kate Loweth