September 14, 2015 4 min read
California is for camping. Thanks to the nearly perfect weather, stunning coastline, and wide array of campsite options, taking a drive up or down the California coast with a tent in tow is a beautiful, and affordable, way to see this stunning part of the world.
Beginning from the north and heading south on Pacific Coast Highway 1, as the best views are on the right side of the highway, here are five top picks for camping as you make your way down the coast:
Patrick’s Point State Park, Eureka
Situated roughly two hours south of the Oregon border near Eureka, California, Patrick’s Point State Park is an excellent starting point for your coastal road trip. Located in what is called California’s “Lost Coast” the area is amongst the sparsest populated in the state, though coincidentally the most beautiful.
Famous for coastal Redwood trees—the oldest and tallest trees in the world—that grow right along the water’s edge along with wild, rocky beaches, you’re likely to easily get a stretch of sand all to yourself in this area.
If you’re lucky enough to have a mist-less sunset, get ready for some spectacular colors and feelings of isolation as you prepare to head south into the populated Bay Area. Camp sites run $35/night for a tent spot.
Kirby Cove, San Francisco
For a spot in the city with views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, look no further than Kirby Cove. Reservations are available up to three months in advance—and given there are only five sites that go for only $25 per night, they tend to book up quickly.
This is the perfect jumping off point to explore San Francisco, located just eight miles from the city center. There are several hiking trails that shoot off from the camping sites as well.
Ventana Campgrounds, Big Sur
The drive from the Bay Area down to Big Sur is amongst the most famous on Pacific Coast Highway, passing through famous Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Carmel, and the Bixby Bridge—the newest selfie hot spot.
Leave plenty of time to make photo stops on this drive, and get ready to see wales if passing through in the summer months. They’re easily spotted from several viewpoints along the drive.
Ventana is nestled in a Redwood grove and is reserved for tents only, adding to the peace and quiet of the beautiful surroundings. Spots go for $55 per night and tend to book up less quickly than the surrounding state parks. The bathrooms are surprisingly clean and well-kempt as campgrounds go, offering showers for $2 per 5 minutes.
Several coastal trails depart from the campground and run through the trees and along the coast, leading to beach vistas and warm, sunny walks.
El Capitan, Santa Barbara
Jack Kerouac enthusiasts will recall this stretch of coastline from the author’s 1958 novel, Dharma Bums. He describes neighboring Gaviota as a wild beach that he has all to himself as he dances barefoot in the light of his bonfire whilst swigging wine.
These days, campers at El Capitan can enjoy the grounds from the cliffs above the ocean, with beach access, and practically guaranteed dolphin sightings from the bluffs above the sand. Camping spots start at $55/night and book up quickly.
Still situated in what is considered the central coast, the landscape begins to change as you leave the Redwood trees behind to greet bougainvillea flowers, Eucalyptus trees, and dry brush. It’s beautiful in its own way as the lush landscapes of the north make way for the warm, desert environment of Southern California.
San Onofre, San Diego
Make an early or late departure from El Capitan and snake through Los Angeles and down towards San Diego, considering that rush hour traffic lasts from roughly 4am to 9:30am, and from 2pm to 6:30pm in greater Los Angeles.
Located roughly 45 minutes north of San Diego, which sits at the bottom of the state of California, San Onofre is full of palm trees and surfers. Prepare for warmer temperatures, much less shade, increased availability of excellent Mexican food, and Southern California surf vibes.
If you’ve been avoiding the frigid waters of the north, this is your best bet for swimming in warmer waters, but watch out! The surf and undercurrents are strong here.
California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous road trips in the world for a reason. The natural beauty, friendly locals, and ever-changing landscape from the north to the south provide the perfect holiday. Whether you’re a local or hail from the other side of the world, this stretch of coastline is impressive, and party to dry, warm weather all summer long.
Kristin Addis is the solo female traveler behind BeMyTravelMuse.com, a website for off the beaten path adventures! She is also the author of solo female traveler guidebook, Conquering Mountains and How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly.
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