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California’s Best Coastal Campgrounds
John Burcham/Getty Images

California’s Best Coastal Campgrounds

Is there anything more serene than falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves under a canopy of stars? Whether you ‘rough it’ in a tent or post up in a fully equipped RV, you can have the ultimate California beach camping experience year-round. “From the sunny Southern California beaches to the Central Coast’s Mediterranean-like weather to the rugged, breath-taking scenery of the north, California mimics nearly every coastal climate and geography in the world,” says Debbie Sipe, CEO and executive director of California Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds.

Most of these oceanfront campsites on this list are in high demand year-round, reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. Online reservations can be made up to a year in advance in some cases, and if your desired dates aren’t available, keep checking back as newly available dates are released in blocks one month at a time.

Sipe recommends booking a midweek, off-peak-season visit to give you more flexibility, and points out that the fall is a great time to visit the state’s coastal campgrounds because the summer crowds have dwindled and the weather is still inviting. Still, be prepared for unpredictable temperatures any time of year, in terms of both camping equipment and clothing. The coastal regions can get chilly fog and/or high winds—especially north of Santa Cruz—which can burn off or die down for a beautiful, warm day.

Dogs (on leashes) are permitted at most parks, but you’ll want to consult the campground website before making a reservation. Also, note that many of these campgrounds are on protected land, so be aware of site-specific rules and regulations designed to preserve the land and native wildlife. 

Below are eight coastal camping spots, listed south to north, where you can sleep on or next to some of California’s best beaches.