The Golden State is so vast, so there's plenty of off the beaten path areas to camp on BLM land or nestled in a campground near the coast. This list includes developed and undeveloped campsites, but be warned that nearly all developed California campgrounds (including beach sites) require planning, permits and fees.
Bring your beach ball and volleyball, and load up the folding camp chairs and you’ll be ready to experience the wonders of beach camping in California
We’ve chosen five campgrounds on the beach to showcase the diverse beauty of California.
San Onofre is located three miles south of the childhood home of Richard Nixon, the dazzling San Clemente in southern California. It is a public state beach suitable for camping and surfing and requires reservations several months in advance through the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The best thing about San Onofre for beach camping California style is how close it is to both San Diego and L.A. and its great observation deck for surfers.
Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur offers gorgeous views and lots to do nearby. This camping area is lush and located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. There is plenty to do near Big Sur, as well. For this campground, bring your outdoor recliner chair to find a perfect lawn spot to view the stunning blues and whites of the ocean below.
Like Kirk Creek, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is wildly popular and located on the Big Sur Coastline. Hiking includes walking along a ridge line with ocean views, or veering off to wind through the redwoods, oaks and chaparral.
Leo Carillo tops many beach camping lists because it offers so much. The area boasts tidal pools and has rentals for surfing and wind surfing. The coastal caves and reefs make it an excellent spot to put in a sea kayak. Intense white surf breaks over rocks along the shore, and this public beach near Malibu brings its share of visitors but is a little less full than nearby Zuma.
If you want a beach out of the way, check out Channel Islands National Park. Take a ferry from Santa Barbara and choose from a variety of campgrounds on each of the five islands. Reservations for both ferry and campgrounds are necessary. Camping here is primitive, but away from boat landings so campers must haul gear from the boat. The fee is only $15 a night for this unusual and little known National Park.
We also recommend McGrath near Ventura for an unusual camping experience in the dunes. This area is a lush wetlands next to the coast, favored by bird-watchers and nature lovers. A river runs through the area and sometimes causes flooding, so check on conditions before planning a trip here.