Growing up in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, we had no shortage of camping locations to choose from. But sometimes we just wanted to escape the cold mountain nights and head to the coast for waves and seaside cliffs. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of camping locations on the Pacific Coast either.
Over the years, I’ve camped in many locations on the Pacific Coast. This list is an overview of five of my favorite spots for campfires near the beach, hiking under ocean side trees, and catching some beautiful Pacific waves. If you’re traveling through California, be sure to check out some of these awesome camping locations on the Pacific Coast.
South Carlsbad State Beach
Located just south of Carlsbad, California (surprise, surprise!) this state beach is an epic spot for camping right on the ocean cliffs. From the campground, the cliffs drop quickly to the sand beach below, but access is fairly easy via conveniently placed staircases throughout the campground. The campground on the bluff boasts a maximum trailer and camper/motorhome length of 35 feet.
Park hours are from dawn to sunset and check-in time starts at 2 pm. Campsite reservations are available as far as six months in advance and the campground does include an RV dump station. There are family campsites and RV sites with hookups, as well as a number of day-use facilities, including the beach area, visitor center, picnic areas, and family programs.
Leo Carrillo State Park
This state park is located on the shores of beautiful Malibu, CA, about 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica. It is part of the larger Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and offers 1.5 miles of beach in addition to parklands that stretch up into the mountains. This park is named for actor and conservationist Leo Carrillo, who served on the State Parks Commission. It can accommodate trailers, campers, and motorhomes up to 31 feet long.
The state park offers a number of campsites without electrical hookups. However, the park does offer a central RV dump station. The sites can be reserved up to six months in advance and options include en route campsites, family campsites, group campsites, and hike or bike campsites. Park hours run from 10 pm to 8 am and visitors can also enjoy various day-use facilities, including the visitor’s center, interpretive exhibits, and nature and wildlife viewing area.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Camping on the Pacific Coast doesn’t get much better than in the Big Sur region. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is well known for the waterfall that comes cascading out of the cliffs directly into the ocean, but it also offers excellent camping and miles of hiking trails. The park is located 26 miles south of Carmel and one of its highlights is walking through the redwood forests to the Big Sur River. It accommodates trailers up to 27 feet and campers/motorhomes up to 32 feet long.
The campground offers a number of different site types, including en route campsites, family sites, group sites, and hike or bike sites. There is a central RV dump station available to all guests, as well as several lodging options for those not interested in camping. In addition to the overnight camping facilities, the park also features a historical/cultural site, guided tours, interpretive exhibits, and family programs.
Andrew Molera State Park
A little further north from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you’ll find what is arguably my favorite camping location on the Pacific Coast. Andrew Molera State Park is a walk-in only campsite, which means you’ll have to pack your gear in about ¼ of a mile to the open prairie campground area. Once you’re there, pick a site, write it down on the ticket, and return to the Ranger Station to pay the overnight parking and lodging fee.
In the prairie, many of the campsites are outfit with a fire ring so that you can cook and stay warm, depending on current fire restrictions. Once your camp is all set-up, hiking another mile or so out to the coast will bring you to a long, secluded section of the beach where the Big Sur River meets the Pacific Ocean. For surfers or bodyboarders, the point break off the beach at Andrew Molera offers excellent rights at the right times of the year.
Elk Prairie Campground
If you want to get deep into the heart of the redwoods in Northern California, it’s tough to beat Elk Prairie Campground. True to its name, you’re likely to see a number of elk grazing in the meadow just to the east of the campground every morning and evening. The campground is within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is located 50 miles north of Eureka, CA.
The campground offers a total of 69 car camping sites and 4 cabins. It can accommodate trailers up to 24 feet and campers/motorhomes up to 27 feet. The campground’s best sites are located right along Prairie Creek, with views of the rushing creek and an old growth spruce grove just a few yards away. From the campground, hike through the forest and, eventually, out to the beach for a truly magical reminder of the diversity that exists all along the Pacific Coast.
These camping locations on the Pacific Coast offer excellent hiking, biking, trail running, surfing, kayaking, and much more. Some require a bit more effort to get to, but they are all well worth the trouble! Where have you camped on the Pacific Coast?