The Seven Best Campsites in Southern & Central California

Zack Garhart
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Summer is right around the corner, which means camping season is about to hit peak form. The California coast is filled with gems for camping, and certain sites offer different amenities and features. Whether you’re seeking the cool ocean breeze or a dense forest feel, there’s something for everyone.

From tent camping to RV hookups, we’ve got you covered with this list of the seven best campsites in Southern & Central California.

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1. Saddle Mountain Ranch

Saddle Mountain Ranch offers everything from full cabins to walk-in sites for tent camping. Whether you’re traveling with friends, or riding solo, there are different options for your camping needs. This campsite is tucked in the woods, but not too far from the sea. So that means you can sleep under the stars, surrounded by trees and the quiet wildlife of California before embarking on a trip to the ocean by morning. Both Monterey and Carmel-by-the-sea are nearby. The luxury tents and cabins at Saddle Mountain Ranch create a cozy feeling for travelers and make camping a lot more comfortable. Bonus: they have a pool and badminton court on site!

2. Jalama Beach County Park

Located along the remote stretch of coastline between Santa Barbara and Lompoc, this hilly gem offers pristine beaches, awesome surf breaks, and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. At Jalama Beach County Park, you can set up camp right on the sand and fall asleep under the stars to the crashing waves of the ocean. There are also partial hookup sites that are located along the hillside, giving you great views of the ocean. One thing we love about this campsite is just how close it is to everything! Santa Barbara is nearby, and there are also grocery stores, fishing supply stores, and the famous Jalama Burger.

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3. Morro Strand State Beach Campground

Home to the iconic Morro Rock, this strip of the Central Coast is some of the most beautiful land in California. Morro Strand State Beach Campground gives you access to Morro Bay, and other quaint surfer towns nearby. Morro Bay offers a chill, laid-back vibe with a mix of locals and travelers, while San Luis Obispo has a mix of history and culture, making it a must-stop on your way down the coast. Along this stretch, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins and whales passing by offshore! The campground at Morro Strand State Beach Campground offers both standard campsites and ones with hook-ups, with varying prices. Check their website for availability before heading out!

4. Bodega Dunes Campground

Head a bit further north and hit up Bodega Dunes Campground. Located roughly 70 miles north of San Francisco, Bodega Dunes is one of the premier campsites along the Central Coast of California. Situated in Sonoma Coast State Park, this campground is within an hour’s driving distance of wine country, giving you plenty of daytime activities to enjoy before setting up camp for the night. Bodega Dunes is great for camping because of its picturesque setting, with rocky bluffs and incredible shorelines.

5. Pismo State Beach North Campground

One of the top surf spots in California, Pismo Beach is revered by locals and travelers alike. With a chill vibe and friendly locals, Pismo is popular for people heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco. This campground offers great access to some of the Central Coast’s best surf breaks, as well as stellar fishing and vast dining options. There are plenty of cool coffee shops in town, many of which have sweeping ocean views. If Pismo State Beach North Campground is booked up, check out nearby Oceano Camp for additional spots. This is a popular camping area, so book in advance!

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6. Carpinteria State Beach Campground

With some of the best surfing around, Carpinteria also features great camping spots. A hidden gem just south of Santa Barbara, the town of Carptineria is where people come to unwind for the weekend. From the plethora of small local shops and awesome eateries on Linden Avenue, the town of Carpinteria gives you a range of things to do before you set up camp. Take time to explore both Carpinteria and nearby Santa Barbara, as they both offer a rich mix of culture and history. The Carpinteria State Beach Campground takes reservations and offers spots for both tent and trailer camping.

7. San Onofre Bluffs Campground

Last up is San Onofre Bluffs Campground. Situated just south of San Clemente, this surf spot offers serene camping. With a laid-back vibe and unrivaled surf, San Onofre offers an outdoor experience unlike any other. Firepits and picnic tables are sprinkled throughout the campground, giving you all that you need for a full camping experience under the stars. Even if you’re not a surfer, spend some time exploring the tide pools and keep an eye out for endangered and rare species of marine life. With San Onofre State Beach Trail nearby, you can also hike along rugged cliffs and bask in the breathtaking ocean views. This place has it all, and it’s popular so make sure you check their calendar before heading over!

Check out this video for more recommendations on where to camp in California!

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