Get the starry nights, the campfire stories, the cozy sleeping bag, and all the best parts of camping in some of California’s most beautiful settings—but without the hassle of hauling loads of gear into the backcountry. These glamping (short for “glamour camping”) destinations give you the best of both worlds—a back-to-nature break from everyday life, but enough comfort that you won’t wake up with a sore back and covered in mosquito bites. And the settings? The hardest part will be choosing which one to head out for first.
For most of these 11 locations, listed south to north, everything, including bedding and meals, are included, though some sites require you to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park Roar & Snore, Escondido
How about an overnight safari trip to see African animals just a half-hour drive north of downtown San Diego in Escondido? On a Roar & Snore Safari at the remarkable San Diego Zoo Safari Park (the sister property of the San Diego Zoo), have a sleepover adventure in one of 46 comfy, safari-style tents that border an expansive grazing area for giraffes, rhinos, gazelles, antelopes, and other exotic animals. These stays include a ride on the Africa Tram and your choice of walking tours and an after-hours opportunity to look at resident animals. And when you wake up in the early morning? Enjoy an open-air breakfast with views of grazing animals to observe and photograph, long before the park’s doors are open to visitors. (More: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Roar & Snore)
Starry Safari at The Living Desert, Palm Desert
Bearded dragons, cheetahs, bat-eared fox, Arabian oryxes—these are just a few of the remarkable wild animals that will be in your desert dreams—and outside your tent—when you book an overnight stay at The Living Desert in the Palm Springs region. March through May, guests can enjoy a cracking campfire, exchange ghost stories, and roast s’mores. Then it’s time to curl up inside your private tent (cots are provided but you bring your own sleeping bag) and listen for night sounds, like the distant howls of coyotes in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Or just relax outside to gaze at a sky full of stars. Wake up to enjoy an exclusive private tour of The Living Desert, a nature preserve of more than 1,000 acres of Sonoran desert that showcases animals of the world’s deserts. (More: Starry Safari at The Living Desert)
KOA Ventura Ranch, Heritage Valley
With zip lines, climbing walls, teepees, and deluxe cabins, this isn't your typical just-off-the-highway group campground. Tucked into the coastal hills of Santa Paula, a little over an hour north of Los Angeles in Heritage Valley, this sprawling, family-friendly destination is part of the nationwide KOA chain. Stay in a teepee that sleeps up to 8 people, or book a tricked-out tent cabin (queen bed, futon, microwave, and mini-fridge). The grounds are so spread out here that some visitors opt to zip around on motorbikes or golf carts that are available for rent. In addition to the teepees (which can be furnished with Native American appointments such as fur throws and cowhide rugs for an extra charge), there are also deluxe and studio cabins with partial kitchens, A/C, coffee makers, and WiFi. (More: KOA Ventura Ranch)
AutoCamp, multiple locations
Sleep in a shiny silver bullet at the Airstream and luxury-tent hotel AutoCamp in Santa Barbara, Sonoma County, or outside Yosemite National Park. Several of the sleek, vintage trailers are fully outfitted, with a little deck and Adirondack chairs outside, a gadget-filled kitchen, cozy quilts for snuggling, and even upscale toiletries that will make Mom smile. Each trailer also includes two cruiser bikes—perfect for rides to Santa Barbara’s as Stearns Wharf, the beach, or the bustling Santa Barbara Public Market, where you can pick up designer cupcakes, crusty artisanal bread, and other treats for supper back in your super-cool Airstream. In Sonoma, walk down to the Russian River to swim or canoe, play lawn games, or lounge by a fire pit inside or outside the mid-century-modern-style clubhouse. The 3,000-square-foot building also offers a store to stock up on snacks and local beer and wine. (More: Autocamp)
Tule Ranch, Morgan Hill
About an hour from San Francisco, Tule Ranch is a working, family-owned eco-ranch that offers leisurely tours where guests can pitch in on all aspects of the operation. Help out by feeding the livestock (alpacas, potbelly pigs, babydoll sheep, cows, and more), grooming quarter horses, or stocking livestock water with mosquito-devouring goldfish. It also has a single, truly dream-worthy glampsite set on the tip of the San Francisco Bay Peninsula. This uniquely private setting, perfect for a solo getaway or couples, offers sweeping views, a wine-barrel sun shower, deck, swinging chair, and bed linens amidst ancient oaks and rolling hills. Explore Morgan Hill and the surrounding Silicon Valey area to discover wineries, breweries, a farmers’ market, and the up-and-coming downtown.
Wildhaven, Sonoma County
Why not combine a glamping getaway with some of the best wine-tasting in the country? Sonoma County is home to Wildhaven, which means a stay in one of their deluxe, safari-style tents will be in close proximity to more than 425 wineries, Lake Sonoma and the Russian River, and the towns of Healdsburg, Guerneville, Calistoga, not to mention gorgeous mountain-vineyard views. The 10-acre riverfront property offers complimentary yoga sessions and live music events, and quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. ensure a peaceful stay.
El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara County
Guests at El Capitan Canyon—located 30 minutes northwest of Santa Barbara amidst the oceanfront and backcountry of El Capitán State Beach—choose from a range of overnight accommodations. Keep it classic with canvas tents built on platforms, or go for one of the cedar cabins with bathrooms and kitchenettes, or an Adventure Yurt with a domed skylight that allows for easy stargazing. The real draw here, though, is the proximity to the coastline itself, where you can walk, bike, or drive to the sandy beach and tide pools. Visitors can even go on a leisurely llama hike to a field that offers sweeping views of the Pacific. Complimentary cruiser bikes are available for guests; friendly staff can also arrange surf lessons, whale watching excursions, kayaking, or wine tasting. (More: El Capitan Canyon)
Treebones Resort, Big Sur
Along the spectacular Big Sur coast, you'll find a unique glamping experience: Treebones Resort, with 16 yurts perched on redwood platforms, each with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Step inside for some surprisingly swanky touches, such as queen-size beds and cushy couches, plus sinks, heaters, and electric lights. Outside, deck chairs provide the perfect vantage point for jaw-dropping sunsets. Other truly unique options include the Human Nest and Twig Hut, “wood-art” installations that up to two adventurous people can sleep in. At the other end of the luxury spectrum is the solar-powered 500-square-foot “autonomous tent,“ a cocoon-like structure that includes a private deck, claw-foot shower, king-size bed, gas fireplace, and outdoor fire pit. Traditional bring-your-own-tent campsites with restroom and shower facilities are available as well. (More: Treebones Resort)
Costanoa Lodge, Pescadero
Mountain bike through redwoods or meander along beaches with teeming tide pools, then chill out in a fully outfitted safari-tent “bungalow” (plush bedding, electricity, and WiFi) at the coastal Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero. Roughly a 1.5-hour drive south from San Francisco, this peaceful retreat is heaven on earth for nature and wildlife lovers. Drift off to sleep listening to the sound of crashing surf and lonely coyote yelps; in the morning, stroll along the empty beach and spot lounging elephant seals. Hiking, kayak tours, guided bird-watching walks, and yoga are popular activities here, and kids can do things like make tie-dye t-shirts and ice cream at Costanoa Kids Camp, which runs from April through August. Appealing extras include an outdoor hot tub with views of coastal hills, and—to completely posh it up—a luxurious day spa. (More: Costanoa Lodge)
Sequoia High Sierra Camp, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Located on Sequoia National Forest land between Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park, roughly a 4-hour drive south of Yosemite Valley, is the remote Sequoia High Sierra Camp, a wilderness site where guests snuggle up in off-the-grid tent-cabins. This is glamping in truly exceptional California style: Dinners are five-course, open-air affairs prepared by a gourmet chef, and canvas tents are outfitted with luxurious rugs, feather duvets, and woolen blankets on cozy beds. Plus, of course, there are stunning views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada just outside your tent flaps. On these sojourns, the High Sierras are your oyster: fish or swim in jewel-like alpine lakes, hike, bird-watch, or even explore the country on horseback. Upon your return to camp, take a hot outdoor shower under a canopy of sequoia branches; the view of blue sky (or starry skies) above is unforgettable. (More: Sequoia High Sierra Camp)
Yosemite High Sierra Camps, Yosemite National Park
These five High Sierra camps in the heart of Yosemite require some grit to reach, but once you’ve arrived, the scenery—some the park’s most spectacular high country around Tuolumne Meadows—will make that (minimum) mile-hike worth it. You won’t be loaded down, though—the fully outfitted cabin tents at each site, complete with a woodburning stove to ward off the chill of the ~9,000-foot elevation air, means you’ll only have to pack your personal items and toiletries. During your stay, enjoy hot dinner and breakfast, served family style. Sack lunches for trailside picnics can also be ordered in advance. Guided hiking trips are available, lasting from five to seven days, as are four- to six-day guided saddle trips, for both adults and children (minimum age for hiking trips is seven; for saddle trips, 10). (More: Yosemite High Sierra Camps)