It’s the weekend, or maybe you’ve got some vacation time saved up. Whatever the situation, you want to get away, and you probably want it to be quiet. And in California, there’s always great camping spots nearby.
If you’re new in town you might not think there’s a great place to get away from it all, but if you’ve been around the block a couple of times, you’ll know that you don’t have to go far to find a nice little spot to nestle yourself and a crack team of loved ones down into. If you need some help narrowing it down, we’ve got your back.
First on the list is Kirby Cove Campground. This little campground lies just off of the Golden Gate Bridge, giving you an excellent view of one of the most iconic landmarks in all of the United States. If that’s not your thing, you’re also a stone’s throw away from Fort Baker. This spot is great for history buffs and modern wonder marvelers alike.
Kirby Cover has a highly accessible picnic site and a pretty steep mile-long trail for hiking. No electricity or running water here, but it’s ideal for roughing it a few days.
- Beautiful views
- Historic landmarks nearby
- No running water
- The only hike is quite steep
South Fork is, in a word, huge. It’s the largest group campground in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area. It’s large enough to comfortably house over a hundred guests, so if you want to bring the crew, feel free.
There are group cooking spaces like fire pits and double grills, however, be aware that there’s no provided drinking water. That’s easy enough to compensate for if you’ve got the gumption and maybe a vessel large enough to boil some of the nearby water.
You can hit the Rubicon River in a short stroll. Bring along a rod or some floatation devices, and you’ve got yourself a weekend.
- Massive campground
- Easy to accommodate large parties
- You’re going to have to either bring or boil your own water
Bring your dogs, as long as you’ve got a leash! This lovely little peninsula has four campground areas along with flushing toilets and coin-operated showers. You can get some boating done here as well if you want to take advantage of the jetty quarter of the campground. RVs are welcome, there are no hookups on-site, but with generator hours from 8 am to 8 pm you’ll have plenty of time to get yourself situated.
Something they don’t tell you on their site is their wonderful proximity to a Sonoma Coast vineyard. It’s not quite Napa, but it’s close. This is an excellent spot to completely relax with a drink and the sound of some tranquil water.
- Flushable toilets
- Coin-op showers
- Nearby vineyard
- No RV hookups
- Dogs have to be on a leash in most areas
The Sky Campground located in Point Reyes National Seashore has really earned its name. The view here is beautiful. You’ll be camping about a thousand feet above sea level, and if you catch some clear weather you’ll feel like you can see all the way around the world.
If you’re the hiking type, you’ll be delighted to hear that there’s a nice moderate hike from the parking area up to the camping site, and a decently challenging 6km hike down to one of the plenty east bay beaches.
Seating is ample, and there’s space for up to 12 to fit comfortably.
- Varying difficulty in your hikes
- Incredible elevated view
- No motorized boats allowed
Olema Campground is another Point Reyes gem.
Olema is great for birdwatching, hiking, kayaking, and beaching. If you want to stay for a good long while they offer a weekly rate to ease pressure on your wallet, so you can really leave your worries behind.
It’s great for tents and motorhomes. Olema has plenty of hook up sites, showers, and internet access. They’re great at straddling the line between modern amenities and reconnecting you with nature. There’s even a post office if you want to slow down as much as possible and eschew the world of instant communication.
If you’re looking to turn the pace way down and settle in for an easy and memorable experience then Olema might be what you’re searching for.
- Excellent bird watching spot
- Abundant hookups and showers
- Dogs are allowed, but some breeds may be excluded
- Cancelation comes at a cost
Camping is different for everyone, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not best when it’s quiet. There’s nothing like finding a truly secluded area, hunkering down, and taking some time to just… think.
The Glen Campground is wonderful for exactly this. It’s beautiful and serene. It’s quiet and secret. The Shortest hike from the parking lot to here is a little over 7 km, and if that’s not a testament to its seclusion, then nothing is. The beach is nearby once you’ve set up camp. The hike is tough, but if you can make it those 4 kilometers, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful peaceful time.
Group sizes must remain small, and animals are encouraged, bring a book, and make you’re you’ve stocked up beforehand.
- Relaxing coastal location
- The epitome of coziness
- The shortest approach is nearly five miles
- No groups allowed
If you’ve been looking for another camping site close to a historical landmark, maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for in the China Camp State Park.
This area was once a shrimp-fishing village in the 1880s. About 500 people came here from Canton, China, and made their lives here on the coast. The museum located in the China Camp Village dives a little deeper into the full story, and it makes for a nice, relaxing, educational mode of recreation.
There’s plenty of hiking, access to a beach, and horseback riding. Dogs are welcome, just not on the trails. There are also picnic sites up for reservation capable of accommodating up to two hundred people with BBQs, chemical toilets, and horseshoe toss.
This is a great family spot, so bring the young ones and take some time to hit the museum.
- Unique ties to American history abound
- Museum on site
- No dogs on the trails
Maybe you’re looking for something cozy. The Bicentennial Campground is right up your sweater-loving alley. These grounds have just a handful of sites that only accommodate a few folks.
Tucked away in a grove of Cypress Trees in the Marin Headlands, the Bicentennial Campground is a low impact escape. Once you’ve completed your drive a short walk downhill with all of your gear allows you to practically roll into your easy access to the golden gate national recreation area.
You also have a few recreational options nearby. Make sure to take some time out to take a peek at the Point Bonita Lighthouse, adopt a rescued harbor seal at the Marine Mammal Center, and catch some rays at Rodeo Beach.
- Limited capacity makes for a cozy getaway
- Short walk to the site
- No electricity
- Pit toilets
The Rob Hill Campground finds its home at the highest point of the Presidio. The four-acre woods offer a plethora of sights, sounds, and relaxing smells. There are four campgrounds capable of handily holding up to thirty folks if you’re trying for a grand getaway.
Finding your way here couldn’t be any easier if you decide to take the massively convenient Presidigo Shuttle. Since this is a tent only site, the shuttle is going to be the biggest set of wheels you’ll see on your way up there.
No dogs, firearms, or alcohol here, it’s a mighty subdued spot. In fact, there are designated quiet hours between 10 pm and 6 am. The Rob Hill will be excellent for restoring yourself over the weekend.
Pack your bags, don’t worry about driving that last leg, and settle in for a laid back time.
- Easy shuttle ride straight to the campsite
- Easy on all five of your senses
- No campers or RVs allowed
- No amplified music
This here is an RV haven. No generators allowed, but you’ve got all of the hookups you could possibly need. Water, sewage, electrical, you name it.
No RV? No problem, we didn’t forget about you guys. There are 53 drive-to tent sites and 10 walk-to sites to go along with the RV sites. Every site is outfitted with a picnic table, fire ring, and a grill, so no worries about what you’re going to eat and how you’re going to set up your crew for dinner. If that’s not enough for you, they allow gas or propane-fueled stoves.
They’re also dog friendly, and there’s an equestrian center nearby, so plenty of opportunities to get some animal bonding in. Sadly, however, if you’re looking to get some marksmanship in, the range has been permanently closed.
So rev up your engines, it’s far out of town, and you’ll have everything you need for a tranquil time.
- Great for dogs
- Equestrian Center close to the campsite
- Shooting range has been shut down
11. Pine Hollow Campground
This campground is one of four right alongside Sunset Beach.
Pine Hollow Campground is a no-nonsense campground. It’s great for driving in and setting up shop. No need to worry about feeling outclassed by an RV, everyone’s on equal footing here because of the lack of hookups. You’re all going to be walking to the same bathrooms (pretty clean, by the way!), using the same showers (also clean), and taking the same stroll to the beach.
This is a prime location, but that does mean that sites are going to be a little on the small side, and you’re going to be near your neighbors, so come ready to socialize (or maybe practice your avoidance, we won’t judge).
- Clean bathrooms and showers
- Close to the beach
- No hookups
- Tighter quarters than other campsites on this list
12. Big Basin
Looking for some Redwood groves? Maybe you can’t get enough of them, or you’ve never had the chance to really take in their majesty. Big Basin Redwoods State Park will scratch that itch for you. Big Basin is the oldest state park in California, and it’s chock full of Redwoods. It’s hard to overstate their size. Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty, with her torch piercing the clouds off in the distance. Well, these are wider around and just as tall. It’s mind-boggling.
Big Basin accommodates a good number of folks without ever feeling crowded. You can bring your campers and dogs, and there’s plenty of opportunity for backpacking and waterfall ogling.
- Excellent access to redwoods
- Lots of room for campers
- Horse trails have to be shared with bikes
- Drones have been banned
The only negative thing folks have to say about the Haypress Campground is that they can’t have it all to themselves.
This is another no-frills campsite. We’re talking pit toilets and bear boxes. But we’re also talking about beautiful views and plenty of sunshine. This means you’re going to have to lug some water along for your stay, and you’re not going to be bringing your motor home along with you.
The Haypress Campground is a short hike into the beautiful rolling fields of the Tennessee Valley. The quick jaunt is a small price to pay for a site as relaxing and warm as the Haypress Campground. You couldn’t have asked for better tree placement.
This spot is a no-brainer, so go ahead and reserve a site. You won’t be disappointed.
- Trees won’t block your ample sunshine
- The hike to the campground is pretty easy
- No water onsite
- Keep a lookout for bears
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: you can bring the dogs, don’t you worry. They’re allowed to hang out in the campsites and the picnic areas on the Cross Marin Trail.
You might need to pack some lounge chairs. This is a beautiful site, and it begs to be lounged in, and since hanging hammocks from the trees here is frowned upon, this is going to be your best bet. You’ve also got a pair of hiking trails to explore if you’re looking to maximize your Samuel P. Taylor experience.
If you’re looking to forage for mushrooms or wanting to try your hand at fishing in the Lagunias Creek, then you’re out of luck. There are threatened coho salmon and steelhead trout in that particular creek, and the mushrooms are a protected resource.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a resplendent beauty to camp in, but maintaining that comes with quite a few rules, so make sure you review them if you’re planning on heading this way.
- Exceptionally beautiful campground
- Bring your furry friends
- Can’t fish in the Lagunias Creek
- Can’t hang hammocks from the trees
Three words: hiking and redwoods. If you like hiking, and you like ancient incomprehensibly large trees then the Portola Redwoods State Park Campground will provide an excellent you with a great camping experience.
The hiking trails don’t allow horses or biking, so if you’re looking to bring those along, you’ll have to stick to the paved roads and the Iverson Cabin service road. But for the on-foot hiker, you’re in for a treat. The Portola Redwoods have around eighteen miles of trail (divided neatly into easy, moderate, and strenuous) for you to get happily lost in.
There are coin-operated showers if you find yourself wanting that simple relief after a particularly long trek.
- Lots of great hiking
- Coin operated showers
- No biking on the trails
The Francis Beach Campground is part of the Half Moon Bay State Beach. This particular campground has 52 sites, with a decent blend of tent sites and trailer/RV day-use sites. Some of the sites have electrical hookups, but there are no water or sewage hookups to be found here, so plan accordingly. There are water filling and dump stations, though, so you’ll never find yourself high and dry here.
If you’ve got any mobility hurdles, the visitor center is incredibly accommodating, they strive to include everyone in this relaxing pastime.
- Lots of sites
- Easy beach access
- Highly accessible (including rentable beach wheelchairs)
- No sewage hookups
- No collecting (that includes seashells)
Up in Mount Tamalpais, you’ll find the Pantoll Campground. The Mount Tamalpais State Park lays claim to over 6,000 acres of serene, verdant paradise. It’s easy to forget you’re so close to the city, but sometimes all you need is a little space to clear your head.
With easy access to water, and (flushing!) toilets, you’ll have an easy time at this first-come, first-serve campground. Arriving early if you want to get a good spot is probably the hardest thing about staying at the Pantoll Campground.
In fact, if you’re looking to hole up in a cabin, there are eight of them nearby in the Steep Ravine Cabins and Environmental Campground.
- Wheelchair accessible
- Excellent hiking trails
- First-come, first-serve means you could gear up and miss out
- Poison oak, mountain lions, and ticks
This might be obvious, but you’re not going to be driving all the way to this island. If you’ve got a private boat, then you’re obstacle-free. If not, you’re still in luck since there’s a rather accessible ferry. Once you make it ashore the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll feel truly transported. Say goodbye to San Francisco.
Angel Island has a vast and dense history. From being a cattle ranch in the Civil War to providing safe harbor and supplies to Spanish explorers. This little island is the perfect place to poke around to experience the rich hidden history of America.
Feel free to bring a bike, but if you’re under 18, you’re required to bring a helmet. Charcoal grills and camp stoves are welcome as well, but keep your wits about you, so no open wood fires are allowed out here.
- Beautiful secluded island
- Lots of unique history
- You have to get to an island
- No wood fires
19. Coast Camp
We find ourselves back in Point Reyes. This time we’re by the coast. The coast campground is situated amid a large swath of protected California coastline, near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. If you want to take a shot at some grey whale watching, then this is the spot for you.
Be sure to read the directions on their website closely, as there is a little bit of mislabeling of the trails. There are also several routes of approach. You can bike or bring a wagon by following the Coast Trail for a breezy 4.3-kilometer trek, you can make your way up through the beach by heading through Limantour beach, or you can take a leisurely hike through the Sky Trailhead.
- Whale watching nearby
- Access for bikes and wagons
- Mislabeled trails
- Hiking to the site is required
20. Sunset Camp
Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got Sunset State Beach. This campground has it all:
- If you’ve got the license for it, there’s fishing
- There’s picnicking if you’d like to reserve a ramada
- There’s a glider port for you remote control fans
- Dogs (on the campgrounds, not on the beach)!
- Bird watching! Keep your binoculars peeled for the western snowy plovers
The Sunset camp is an easy pick. If you don’t know quite what you’re looking for, maybe just point your car in this direction, and see how you like it.
- Bird watching
- Ample fishing
- No alcohol allowed
- No horses or dogs on the beach
You don’t have to go far from home to find some choice of camping. The state maintains several national parks and beaches, and that means there are acres and acres of land, and miles of the Pacific Ocean to pitch your tents in, gaze upon or give your RV some respite. You don’t have to comb all the way through Northern California.
There are a couple of great campgrounds that didn’t make the list like Mount Diablo State Park or Big Sur. Not because they’re not great, only because we only had room for twenty of these beautiful campgrounds, and some of them are a little far for a day trip. If you make your way through all of these, there are even more for you to branch out to. The campgrounds in Juniper and the Muir Woods await.
The Bicentennial Campground is, by far the coziest spot, almost handcrafted for tent camping and what are you looking for in the best camping it’s not the warm embrace of personal space and the majesty of nature?
Be safe out there, and make sure you check your lists twice, and don’t forget to check out our guide for the best hiking trails in California while you’re at it!
Bonus tip: Check out this video on camping Portola Redwoods State Park!