Trees, fresh air, and a firepit are at the pinnacle of a camping locale checklist, but when you add a beach, a whole new element of outdoor indulgence enters the fold. And with sandy alcoves from Santa Barbara County to the border and mild year-round weather, Southern California beaches solidify themselves in the ranks of a camper’s haven.
Beach camping in Southern California affords the best of both worlds. It’s where the trees meet the sea; you still get the freshness of forested surroundings, but greenery intersects with a big blue expanse.
Follow along for some of our favorite beach camping destinations in Southern California. Pick one, or make your way up the coast and visit them all.
Best Beaches to Camp at in SoCal
Jalama Beach Campground
Down a long winding road from highway one in Santa Barbara County, you’ll find Jalama, a picturesque seaside campground that offers a quiet shelter that diverges from your typically lively state park campground.
The campgrounds at Jalama are enclosed by nature, and it’s a popular destination for birdwatchers. If you’re a surfer looking for solitude, Jalama is a top-shelf, usually uncrowded wave.
The best thing to do after a day of fishing, surfing, or hiking around Jalama’s county park is cap the day with a world-famous “Jalama Burger” at the Jalama Beach County Store and Grill. The common consensus is that it's better than In-N-Out (we’re serious).
It can get pretty windy around this area! Bring clothes for all occasions, and plan ahead for breezy afternoons.
Point Mugu State Park - Thornhill Broome Campground
Unplug, breathe in some ocean air, and dig your stakes right into the sand at Point Mugu’s primitive beach camping at Thornhill Broome Campground. Two major rivers, five miles of beach, and over 70 miles of hiking trails make up this expansive, lightly-trodden coastal scene.
The campsite itself is up close and personal with the beach (the picnic tables and fire rings are right on the sand -- parking is paved). Winter months are scant, but summers at Thornhill Broome fill up lightning fast.
With Ventura to your north and Malibu to your south, you’re sandwiched between world-class surf breaks. Fancy a scenic hike instead? Voyage out on the Mugu Peak Trail. It won’t disappoint.
Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Unzip your tent, skip across PCH, and explore 1.5 miles of scenic cliffs, caves, and waterfront around Leo Carrillo campground. Oh, and one of the most beloved waves in Malibu county is a few steps from your tent.
Sitting at the north end of Malibu, this destination is one of the more popular campsites in Southern California (so it fills up pretty fast).
After the devastating Woolsey fire and a seven-month cleanup, beloved Leo Carrillo campground reopened its doors and is back in action. As of October 2019, some campsites are still unavailable, but park staff is working hard to get the entire campsite back into commission.
Crystal Cove State Park Moro Campground
Of all of the beach campgrounds in Southern California, Crystal Cove’s Moro Campground may be the most pristine. The expansive state park is a compilation of six different beaches, all housing tidepools, rocky points, biking and hiking trails, and more. If you’re an intermediate or experienced surfer, check out Crystal Cove’s best wave, Abalone point.
The shoreline also hosts a historic district that features a cafe and bar, as well as adorable renovated cottages from the 1920s that you can rent from the state park. These little homes fill up really fast, so try to snag yours 3-6 months in advance.
Doheny State Beach Campground
Doheny state beach is a bustling family beach with friendly beginner waves, but if you cross a river and drive a short way down the road to the campgrounds, you emerge into a gorgeous and secluded hideaway only steps from the ocean.
Swim in front of the campgrounds and explore the tide pools, or backtrack to Doheny State Beach for volleyball and a treat from Boneyard cafe. Dana point harbor is a 10-minute walk from the campground, and if you’re visiting from May to November, you may be able to hop on a boat and see some blue whales.
San Elijo State Beach Campground
The dreamy seaside town of Cardiff rests in North County, San Diego, and we think it’s one of the best places to live in the world (we may be a little biased, but it’s why we chose to put down roots here).
Within the bounds of Cardiff is San Elijo Campgrounds, a humming but hidden campground atop a scenic cliff that overlooks the mighty pacific. If you’re a surfer, you’ll be delighted to find yourself walking distance from an iconic world-class surf break, Cardiff State Beach. And if you like swimming, snorkeling, or relaxing by a firepit in a scenic area, you’ll be happier than a clam at San Elijo Campgrounds.
Insider tip: Pop into Seaside Market to try some North-County-famous “Cardiff Crack.” It’s the market’s specialty tri-tip complete with secret sauces that’ll have you hooked after the first bite.
If you’re not prepared, camping in Southern California can be startlingly crisp. Wrap up with a handmade Mexican blanket, perfect for chilly nights around the fire.
Written by Morgan Sliff follow her noseriding shenanigans at her at @jahmorgan
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