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10 Best Family Camping Sites in California

10 Best Family Camping Sites in California

Whether you’re looking for high-end amenities or an off-the-grid experience, California has a family-friendly campsite to meet your needs

A family camping trip is a great way for parents and kids to reconnect through the unplugged joys of fresh air, exercise, and nature’s beauty. Camping families share a lot more than roasted marshmallows. They step away from their screens, relax into unstructured schedules, converse without distractions, and create memories that last a lifetime.

A key part of a successful camping trip is choosing a setting your family will enjoy. Soulful seascape? Ancient redwood forest? Moonlit desert canyon? California’s landscapes check all the boxes, so pick your favorite. Ifyou want to camp on the coast, the Golden State’s western edge delivers hundreds of miles of sand and sea. If your family prefers the mountains, head for the Sierra Nevada’s alpine lakes and saw-toothed peaks. And if you’d like to camp on an island, California offers that too. 

To get started, check out these 10 family-friendly campgrounds across the state:
 

California Family Camping, Elk Prairie


Best Family Campsites in Northern California

1) Elk Prairie Campground, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Location: 50 miles north of Eureka 
What makes it great for families: Spend the night at Elk Prairie Campground and your kids may spot massive Roosevelt elk grazing on grass right outside your tent. They’ll be wowed by the wonders of Fern Canyon, where thousands of graceful ferns cling to 50-foot-high walls. Your family can choose from dozens of redwood hikes or join the Redwood Creek Buckarettes for a horseback ride. Need more excitement? Drive the family through the massive Klamath Tour-Thru Tree or walk along treetop suspension bridges at Trees of Mystery.
Top tip: The North Coast’s redwoods are a huge draw, so book far in advance to score a peak-summer reservation. Sites are easier to come by in spring and fall, and that’s also when the region gets the best weather.
More info: Reserve one of 75 sites up to six months in advance at ReserveCalifornia.

2) Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: 180 miles north of Sacramento and 50 miles east of Redding
What makes it great for families: This camp in Lassen Volcanic National Park is within walking distance to Manzanita Lake, where your family can swim, paddle a kayak, or float around in inner tubes. An easy trail leads around the lakeshore, and ranger-led programs are available in summer. The Manzanita Lake Camper Store offers kayak and SUP rentals, plus every kid’s favorite: soft-serve ice cream cones.
Top tip: Lassen’s amazing volcanic features at Bumpass Hell and other sites are must-sees. But check the park’s website for current conditions before you plan a trip—after a heavy winter, snow may linger in the park until early July.
More info: Manzanita Lake is typically open from late May to mid-October; reserve sites up to six months in advance at recreation.gov. If you’re not keen on packing your whole family into a tent or RV, consider renting one of 20 rustic camping cabins.
 

California Family Camping, Manchester Beach KOA


3) Manchester Beach KOA, Mendocino Coast

Location: 150 miles north of San Francisco
What makes it great for families: Not only is this camp a short walk from miles of sand and waves at Manchester Beach, it also has family-friendly amenities like a swimming pool, hot tub, disc golf, and a community campfire area. The camp is perfectly situated for day trips to the Point Arena Lighthouse, the charming coastal village of Mendocino, and a string of nearby state parks.
Top tip: Your kids will want to spend long hours exploring driftwood-strewn Manchester Beach, so pack the puffy jackets. Mendocino’s summer weather leans toward cool, coastal fog.
More info: Bring or rent bicycles so the whole family can ride the gentle trails at nearby Van Damme State Park and Russian Gulch State Park.

4) Manresa State Beach, Santa Cruz Coast

Location: 85 miles south of San Francisco
What makes it great for families: Santa Cruz is a mecca for sun and fun, but drive a few miles south of the city’s Beach Boardwalk and you’ll find a quieter stretch of sand. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Manresa State Beach’s walk-in campground has 60 tent-only sites tucked into a shady cypress grove. A five-minute walk leads to the beach, where kids can hunt for sand dollars, build sandcastles, spot dolphins playing in the waves, or surf-fish for halibut, striped bass, surf perch, and smelt.
Top tip: The surf can be rough for inexperienced swimmers and surfers, so ask the rangers about current conditions before entering the water.
More info: This is a walk-in camp, so you can’t park your car right next to your site. Wagons are available to haul your gear to your tent. Reserve a site up to six months in advance on ReserveCalifornia.
 

California Family Camping, Lodgepole Campground


Best Family Campsites in Central California

5) Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia National Park

Location: 70 miles east of Fresno
What makes it great for families: At this national park campground, your kids will fall asleep to the glorious music of the Marble Fork Kaweah River, then wake up to cool mountain air and outdoor fun. Hike the easy trail from camp to Tokopah Falls. Climb the 390 stairsteps to Moro Rock’s bald granite summit. Visit Tharp’s Log, a real-life treehouse that was built into a fallen sequoia log. Pay homage to the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree. Need to wash clothes or pick up snacks? A visitor center, market, showers, and laundry facilities are within walking distance of camp.
Top tip: When your family grows weary of blackened hot dogs cooked over a campfire, sit down to a meal at Wuksachi Lodge[JS1] , a 10-minute drive from camp.
More info: The 214 sites at Lodgepole are open from late May to late November. Reserve a site up to six months in advance at recreation.gov

6) Thousand Trails Rancho Oso, Santa Barbara

Location: 25 miles north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Mountains
What makes it great for families: Introduce your kids to horseback riding and ranching life at Thousand Trails Rancho Oso. When you camp on this 310-acre property in Santa Barbara’s mountains, your kids can head out for trail rides, meet and greet the barn animals, play horseshoes, hike on miles of trails, and cool off in two swimming pools. For a fun side-trip, drive to nearby Solvang to taste fabulous Danish pastries and see windmills and other Danish architecture.
Top tip: The last mile of road is narrow and winding. Large RVs can make it, but it’s much easier in a smaller vehicle.
More info: If you’re more into “glamping” than camping, Rancho Oso rents covered wagons, tipis, and Western-style cabins for overnight stays.

Best Family Campsites in Southern California

7) Two Harbors Campground, Catalina Island

Location: Off the coast of Los Angeles
What makes it great for families: A scenic one-hour boat ride makes getting to this Pacific island campground a thrill for the whole family. Disembark at Catalina Island’s village of Two Harbors, where your site is within a few minutes’ walk. Don’t have camping gear? Rent or buy everything from tents to firewood from Two Harbors’ Visitor Services, and they’ll deliver it to your site. Spend your days paddling in kayaks or snorkeling, or just stare out to sea and count passing sailboats. Every campsite has a view of a sparkling expanse of the Pacific.
Top tip: Purchase a single-use cooler and groceries from the Two Harbors General Store. For a $30 fee, they’ll deliver it with a bag of ice to your campsite.
More info: Catalina Express sails directly to Two Harbors from San Pedro. As soon as you reserve your campsite, book your ferry tickets. Learn more about Catalina Island camping here.
 

California Family Camping, Joshua Tree, Jumbo Rocks


8) Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

Location: 150 miles east of Los Angeles
What makes it great for families: The name says it all. Every kid will love a camp called Jumbo Rocks. As soon as they pile out of the car, they’ll start clambering around the namesake boulder formations and playing hide-and-seek. At day’s end, the whole family can enjoy Joshua Tree’s orange-glow sunsets and star-filled night skies. Jumbo Rocks is also centrally located near family-friendly hiking trails like Skull Rock, Ryan Ranch, Arch Rock, and Cap Rock.
Top tip: Keep in mind that you’re in the middle of the desert, so bring your own water for drinking, cooking, and washing up. If you want to have a campfire, pack firewood. And be forewarned: There’s no cell service in most of the park.
More info: 124 sites are suitable for tents and small RVs. Reserve up to six months in advance on recreation.gov. On weekdays, you may be able to score a last-minute site, but you must book it online before you drive into the park. Learn more about Joshua Tree camping here.

9) Paso Picacho Campground, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Location: 50 miles northeast of San Diego
What makes it great for families: Head east from coastal San Diego to introduce your kids to a landscape that’s vastly different from the beach. Only an hour from downtown, Cuyamaca Rancho’s oak-and-conifer dotted hills offer miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, plus fabulously dark night skies and a glittering blanket of stars. Your kids will feel like real mountaineers when they scale Stonewall Peak or catch their first fish at Lake Cuyamaca.
Top tip: Take a family-friendly side-trip to the quaint town of Julian for a gold-mine tour and apple pie.
More info: Eighty-five sites are suitable for tents or RVs. Reserve a site up to six months in advance on ReserveCalifornia.
 

California Family Camping, South Carlsbad State Beach


10) South Carlsbad State Beach, Carlsbad 

Location: 29 miles north of San Diego
What makes it great for families: Camping at the beach maximizes your family’s sun-and-sea relaxation and minimizes the packing, driving, parking, and schlepping required for fun on the sand. South Carlsbad’s 220 sites are located on a bluff about 50 feet above the beach and provide easy access to surfing, swimming, beachcombing, and savoring panoramic coastal views. A camp store rents boogie boards and other beach equipment, and when you discover that you forgot to pack the marshmallows, Carlsbad‘s shops are only five minutes away.
Top tip: Tack on an extra day to take the kids to LEGOLAND California.
More info: Reserve a site up to six months in advance on ReserveCalifornia. The most desirable sites are perched on the bluff edge.

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