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A Comprehensive Guide to California Beach Camping: Tips, Locations, and Must-Have Gear

A Comprehensive Guide to California Beach Camping: Tips, Locations, and Must-Have Gear

California is famous for its beautiful beaches, and beach camping is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly camping trip or a romantic getaway, California’s beach campsites offer something for everyone. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about beach camping in California, including tips for planning your trip, the best locations, and must-have gear.

Planning Your Beach Camping Trip

Before you head out on your beach camping adventure, there are a few things you need to consider. First, you’ll need to choose the right campsite. Some campsites require reservations, while others are first-come, first-served. You’ll also need to decide if you want to camp in a tent, RV, or trailer.

Other factors to consider when planning your trip include the time of year, weather conditions, and park regulations. Some campsites have restrictions on fires and pets, so be sure to check the rules before you go too.

Best Locations for California Beach Camping

Among the USA’s clear water beaches, California is home to many beautiful beaches, and there are numerous campgrounds to choose from. Some of the best locations for beach camping in California include:

1. Doheny State Beach

Location: Dana Point, CA.

Doheny State Beach is one of the most popular beach camping destinations in Southern California. Located in Dana Point, the beach offers a pristine coastline, crystal clear water, beautiful white sand, and numerous recreational opportunities for campers. Indeed, the beach is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and offers a serene ambiance that makes it an ideal place for camping.

beautiful day at Doheny State Beach
A beautiful day at Doheny State Beach for activities on the beach.

1.1. Camping at Doheny State Beach

There are several campgrounds in and around Doheny State Beach that offer camping facilities to visitors. The most popular campground is the Doheny State Beach Campground, which is located right on the beach. The campground features more than 120 campsites, including RV sites, tent sites, and group sites, which are available year-round.

The campsites at Doheny State Beach Campground have enough pieces of equipment with fire rings, picnic tables, and access to nearby restrooms and showers. The RV sites also have electrical and water hookups, making it a comfortable stay for campers.

1.2. Doheny State Beach Activities

Doheny State Beach offers plenty of activities for campers, including swimming, surfing, boating, fishing, and beachcombing. The beach is well-known for its excellent surfing conditions. Besides that, there are several surf schools and rental shops nearby that offer lessons and equipment rentals.

The beach also has volleyball courts, playgrounds, and picnic areas, making it a great destination for families. For those who want to explore the area, there are several hiking and biking trails on and around the beach.

1.3. Booking

To book a campsite at Doheny State Beach Campground, you can make a reservation online or by phone. It is recommended to make a reservation in advance, especially during peak season, to ensure availability.

2. El Capitán State Beach

Location: off Hwy 101, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara.

El Capitan State Beach is a beautiful beach that offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy miles of sandy shoreline and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The beach is known for its calm and clear waters, making it a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and fishing.

People do fishing at El Capitan State Beach
People do fishing at El Capitan State Beach. Image credit to Whalt on Flickr.

2.1. Camping El Capitan State Beach

El Capitan State Beach is home to a wonderful campground. It just takes you a short walk from the beach. The campground features a variety of campsites, including tent and RV sites. The campground is equipped with all of the amenities you need for a comfortable camping trip, including showers, restrooms, and a camp store.

The campsites at El Capitan State Beach are located in a beautiful wooded area, providing plenty of shade and privacy. There are a variety of different types of campsites to choose from, including standard, premium, and group sites. The standard sites are ideal for tent camping, while the premium sites offer hookups for RVs.

2.2. Activities at the Site

In addition to camping, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy at El Capitan State Beach. The beach is perfect for swimming and surfing. There are also plenty of opportunities for fishing and hiking. Furthermore, the nearby El Capitan Canyon offers horseback riding and zip-lining adventures.

2.3. Booking

If you’re interested in booking a campsite at El Capitan State Beach, reservations can be made online through the California State Parks website. It’s recommended to make reservations well in advance, as campsites at this popular beach campground tend to fill up quickly.

3. Pfeiffer Beach

Location: Big Sur, CA.

Pfeiffer Beach is a stunningly beautiful beach located in the heart of Big Sur, California. Known for its purple sand, rock formations, and turquoise waters, it’s a popular destination for beachgoers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts alike.

About one mile north of Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers breathtaking views of the coastline and redwood forests. The park spans over 1,000 acres and is well-known for its diverse flora and fauna. Therefore, it’s a popular destination for hikers, campers, and nature enthusiasts.

keyhole arch at pfeiffer beach
The keyhole arch at Pfeiffer beach is an ideal destination for artistic pictures.

3.1. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Camping

For those looking to experience the park’s natural beauty up close, the campground at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a perfect choice. The campground is situated in a grove of majestic redwoods and offers easy access to hiking trails, a river, and the beach.

The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground features 189 campsites, including standard, premium, and group sites. The standard sites can accommodate up to eight people and two vehicles, while the premium sites offer additional amenities like electricity and water hookups.

3.2. Things to Do in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

There are plenty of activities to keep campers busy at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The park has over 80 miles of hiking trails, ranging from leisurely strolls to challenging hikes through the rugged terrain. You can also explore the nearby Big Sur River, which is great for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. In the evening, campers can gather around the campfire and stargaze under the clear skies.

3.3. Contact for Booking

Campsites at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park can be reserved up to six months in advance through the park’s website or by calling the reservation center. You should book early, especially during the peak season (May through September), as campsites can fill up quickly. The campground is open year-round, and reservations can be made for up to 14 nights at a time.

4. Morro Strand State Beach

Location: off Atascadero Rd off Highway 1.

Located in San Luis Obispo County, Morro Strand State Beach is known for its beautiful sandy beach and stunning views of Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that rises from the ocean.

camping at morro strand state beach
Camping at Morro Strand State Beach. Source of image: sgrace on Flickr.

4.1. Morro Strand State Beach Campgrounds

The campground at Morro Strand State Beach offers 90 campsites, including RV sites and tent sites, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground’s location is just steps from the beach. Thus, it’s an ideal place to stay for those who love to swim, sunbathe, and surf. The campsites are equipped with picnic tables and fire pits. There are hot showers and flush toilets available for campers too.

4.2. Activities at the Place

In addition to beach activities, there are also many other things to do in the area, including hiking, bird watching, and wildlife viewing. The park is home to a variety of bird species, including pelicans, seagulls, and sandpipers, and visitors can often spot whales and dolphins from the beach.

4.3. Booking a Campsite

To book a campsite at Morro Strand State Beach, you can check the availability on the California State Parks website and make a reservation online. It’s important to note that the campground fills up quickly during peak season. Hence, you need to book early to secure a spot.

5. Carpinteria State Beach

Location: Santa Barbara County, Southern California.

Carpinteria State Beach is a picturesque coastal area located in the Santa Barbara County of California. The beach is renowned for its scenic views, clear blue waters, and an array of recreational activities for visitors. Definitely, the beach is a popular destination for camping enthusiasts and offers plenty of camping opportunities.

Sunset at Carpinteria State Beach. Image source: slworking2 on Flickr.

5.1. Carpinteria State Beach Camping

There are three main campgrounds at Carpinteria State Beach, which include Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa. Each of these campgrounds offers a different camping experience, depending on your preferences. The Anacapa campground is situated near the beach and offers the best views of the ocean. The Santa Cruz campground is located near the park’s entrance and offers more privacy. Whereas, the Santa Rosa campground’s location is on the bluff and offers panoramic views of the ocean.

The Carpinteria State Beach campgrounds offer various types of campsites, including tent sites, RV sites, and group sites. The tent sites are situated near the beach and offer the most stunning views of the ocean. The RV sites are equipped with full hookups, including water, electricity, and sewer. The group sites are suitable for large groups and offer facilities such as picnic tables and fire rings.

5.2. Activities while Camping

There are plenty of activities for you to enjoy while camping at Carpinteria State Beach. The beach is ideal for swimming, surfing, and fishing. You can also take a stroll along the beach, go hiking, or explore the tide pools. The campgrounds offer facilities such as restrooms, showers, and picnic areas.

5.3. Reservation for Your Trip

To book a campsite at Carpinteria State Beach, you can do so online or by calling the park directly. Reservations are highly recommended, especially during peak season, as campsites tend to fill up quickly. Campers should also be aware of the park’s rules and regulations, including quiet hours, fire restrictions, and leash laws for pets.

6. Crystal Cove State Park

Location: off Pacific Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA.

Crystal Cove State Park is a stunning destination for your California beach camping trip. Located on the Pacific Coast Highway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove offers a picturesque setting for you to experience the beauty of the Southern California coast.

crystal cove state park beach
The beautiful Crystal Cove State Park beach with many activities.

6.1. Crystal Cove State Park Camping

One of the best camping options at Crystal Cove is the Moro Campground, which offers a variety of campsites for tents and RVs. With a total of 58 sites, the campground provides an intimate atmosphere, perfect for a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The campsites at Moro Campground range from primitive tent camping to full RV hookups, allowing visitors to choose their preferred level of amenities. Each site features a fire ring, picnic table, and access to restrooms and showers.

6.2. Crystal Cove State Park Activities

Aside from camping, Crystal Cove State Park offers a range of activities for you to enjoy. The park boasts more than three miles of beachfront, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. The tide pools along the rocky shoreline provide opportunities for exploration and discovery, while the park’s hiking trails offer stunning views of the ocean and surrounding hillsides.

6.3. Reservations Crystal Cove State Park

To book a campsite at Crystal Cove State Park, you can make a reservation online or by phone up to six months in advance. As one of the most popular beach camping destinations in California, campsites at Crystal Cove tend to fill up quickly, especially during the peak summer months. It’s recommended that you plan ahead and make reservations well in advance to ensure availability.

Must-Have Gear for California Beach Camping

When it comes to beach camping in California, there are a few items you’ll need to bring with you. These include:

  • Tent, RV, or trailer
  • Sleeping bags and pillows
  • Cooler for food and drinks
  • Portable grill or camp stove
  • Beach chairs and towels
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Etc.

In addition to these essentials, you may also want to bring along items like binoculars, a camera, or a portable speaker to enjoy the trip.

BIG BONUS – Grab Your Free List of Essentials for Beach Camping

Are you ready to take on the ultimate adventure and experience the beauty of beach camping? Don’t hit the road without our downloadable list of essentials for beach camping. With our comprehensive list of must-have items, you’ll be fully prepared for an unforgettable trip by the sea.

The Broad Life's Toiletries List

The list of essentials for beach camping will guide you through the planning process and ensure that you have all the gear and supplies you need to enjoy your time in nature. So why wait? Sign up now to download our list of beach camping essentials and get ready to embark on an adventure you’ll never forget!

Enjoy Your California Beach Camping Trip

Beach camping in California is a unique and unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a first-timer, the state’s beautiful beaches and well-equipped campsites make it an ideal destination for beach camping. By following the tips and recommendations in this article, you’ll be well on your way to planning the ultimate California beach camping trip.


a guide to california beach camping - the broad life pinterest board
guide to california beach camping - the broad life pinterest board

Khoi Nguyen builds The Broad Life with a desire to inspire people go exploring the world and live a more interesting, experience, and adventurous life. This blog shares the stories, pictures, and experiences at destinations where he has traveled to.


  • Alice Mola

    What an awesome guide, I think Crystal Cove sounds the best to me just based on the long beaches and pretty name. It’s good to advise people to book in advance, as these destinations probably fill up very quickly during the peak summer season. It would be fun to take an RV and try to hit them all!

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Yeah, camping with an RV brings a very different and particular experience than camping with a tent. But I’d love to try all the experiences, haha.

  • Share to Inspire blog (@pacioalita)

    Its my firts time beach camping in California and your guide helps me so much with what to expect and prepare. Thank you!

  • Luna S

    Love the long list of camping friendly beaches! It is so helpful to know which you are allowed to camp at so you don’t get booted in the middle of the night.

  • Ntensibe Edgar

    Nnniiiccceeeee…I’d love to spend some time at the Pfeiffer Beach. I am very impressed by that artistic arch.

  • Bryan Carey

    I haven’t gone camping in a LONG time! The reason is because my family are spoiled- they want to stay in luxury hotels and resorts. But I will get back to camping someday and I love the California coast, where you get a beautiful sunset to end each day.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Haha, I can understand. I did camping a lot before but now I spend more time in the resorts for my daughters to enjoy.
      But camping still brings a special experience for me.

  • Dana Vitolo

    Camping on the beach sounds amazing! I love California and I’d love to try this next time we travel there. It looks so peaceful and relaxing!

  • Barbie Ritzman

    Beach camping. Now that sounds like the kind of camping that I would enjoy!

  • abzstylz

    I would definitely love to go camping with my husband this summer! Now that we live closer to Cali, hopefully we can camp out at this great location. Thanks for sharing!

    • Khoi Nguyen

      I’m sure beach camping in California is one of the best activities you experience with your husband.

  • Stephanie

    I love camping on or near the beach. We went camping once a month when I was a kid, all over the state of Florida, so yes many beaches as well. It would be neat to go to the California beaches to see how they are different from this side of the country.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Yeah, camping is always an interesting part of any trip, bringing soo many exciting experiences.

  • Stephanie Grillo

    I haven’t been camping in ages. Thanks for the list of great places to camp in CA and all the tips of activities to do!

  • Fransic verso

    I’ve been wanting to see the the keyhole for a long long time. This is interesting guide and will help a lot.

  • Neely Moldovan

    Beach camping sounds so fun! I do not have a big desire to camp but it does sound fun!

    • Khoi Nguyen

      You should experience it one and truly know about beach camping. You will love it, I’m sure.

  • Marysa

    I’ve never been beach camping – this sounds like fun! Interesting how it differs from our Vermont camping experiences.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Experience beach camping one time and I’m sure you will like that.

  • Elise Ho

    Our sons love camping. They always make sure that we are fully prepared.

    • Khoi Nguyen

      Being fully prepared is an important thing to make sure your trip is enjoyable and experienced. Enjoy camping!

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