With a soundtrack of steady surf, a starry canvas of stars, sea breezes wafting through camp, and driftwood campfires, beach camping can be an unforgettable experience. Watching the sunset with your toes in the sand and your tent just steps away is a piece of luxury every outdoor enthusiast should enjoy...especially if you can enhance the experience with a little seafood local to you.
And yet, for all of the beautiful beach spots that entice the camper within, finding a legal opportunity takes a little work and planning. Beachgoers will quickly discover that a bevy of laws and regulations limit overnight stays of any kind (tent or otherwise) on many beaches in the West. While camping on the beach is never illegal at a state level, per se, there are still plenty of local regulations that need to be heeded. For instance, many ocean cities, towns, and communities prohibit camping within the city limits, and that can often include some of the most popular beaches in an area. Likewise, many beaches within state parks are also off limits to campers. Individual sites may have additional restrictions that come into effect even in areas that are outside of cities and state parks, as well. As frustrating the reality may be, consider for a moment what some of your favorite beaches would look like if there were an open season on camping there.
And that doesn't mean that camping opportunities don't exist. Far from it! You just may have to put a little distance between your tent and the beach by staying in a nearby campground or, alternately, commit to a longer trip that treats the experience as a backcountry site. In either case, impact is the story. Given the heavy traffic that popular and accessible beach areas receive, established campgrounds that are near to the beach are easily the best way to protect the scene for everyone. On the other hand, if you are willing and able to hike or boat in to a more remote beach, your chances of finding a legal option that doesn't suffer from the same kinds of visitor pressures are greatly increased. The upshot is that it is imperative to research your opportunities before planning your night on the sand.
When you do find a beach where it is legal to set up a camp for the night (or two, or three), there are a few things to keep in mind. Your site selection process will obviously have to incorporate tidal fluctuations, and finding landforms or natural features that provide some wind protection can also be key. If you do find an area with a freshwater source, camp at least 200 feet away (approximately 70 paces). Campfires are frequently legal on beaches, even when camping isn't, but don't let that permission stoke your enthusiasm beyond reason! Bonfires are unnecessary and leave charred waste. Use smaller pieces of wood, and choose a spot away from other vegetation.
Below you'll find a host of campgrounds that are a stone's throw from the beach for those who prefer easily accessible camping opportunities. We've also included several of our favorite adventures that incorporate beach camping into hiking or boating trips. Regulations at individual beaches are also worth researching, and you can find a list of ideas here.