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Jonathan Stull | 08.30.2016

The beaches of Southern California have long drawn crowds to their shores, and for those who visit for the golden sand and the sun and the carefree atmosphere, there’s little better than the notion that you don’t really have to leave. Fortunately, there are plenty of camping options along California’s southern coast, whether you’re pitching a tent or parking an RV. Spend your days riding the waves, lay out in the sun, toss a frisbee or smack a volleyball around—there’s so much to do on the beach—and when you’re done, build a campfire above the Pacific and fall asleep to the exhalations of the ocean.

Two coastal corridors along the southern coast of California are nestled between the sprawling metropolises of Los Angeles and San Diego, from San Clemente to Encinitas and Malibu to the Gaviota Coast. Each has its own character, but both have a standard of comfort (showers! camp stores!) that you’d only find in the dappled spotlight near the City of Angels. Likewise, camping on the Southern California coast can be expensive—but think of the amenities you'd otherwise find in a hotel.

San Clemente-Oceanside-Encinitas

When you think of a beach, you likely think of a place like San Onofre, where wide white sands are licked by tongues of bright blue waters. World-renowned surfing conditions characterize the beaches between L.A. and San Diego, and they are a must-visit destination along the Southern California coast.

  • To the north of Trestles Beach, San Clemente State Beach Campground is ideally located for surfers looking to ride the world-class waves. The campground boasts showers, easy access to nearby San Clemente, and is positioned atop the sandstone bluffs at the foot of the Santa Anas for beautiful views over the Pacific.
  • A few miles from San Onofre State Beach, still another break famous for its longboard surfing, San Mateo Campground has hot showers that are well worth the long walk at the end of the day. Like San Clemente, the fee is pretty high, and there’s an associated day use fee you’ll have to pay. San Onofre State Beach also has a lengthy row of campsites called San Onofre Bluffs Campground within the park, located adjacent to the Old Pacfic Coast Highway. 
  • Farther south, San Elijo State Beach Campground brings you close to San Elijo State Beach, Swamis Beach and Cardiff-by-the-Sea and its eclectic collecton of shops, restaurants, and food carts.

Malibu-Gaviota Coast

The beaches west of L.A. offer a different vibe than those found farther to the south, nestled beneath the wilderness of the Santa Monica mountains. Whereas the focus is firmly set on the water in the south, camping here gives visitors the option of turning inland toward the mountains and the hiking and climbing opportunities they offer. Still, you can’t beat a night near the waves—and these campgrounds have the amenities to make it more than worthwhile.

Here are some great camping options if you're spending more of your time on the Northern California coast

Comments

If you get the chance to venture a little bit further North, I HIGHLY recommend spending a night or 2 at Morro Strand State Beach Campground. If you get lucky you can even score a spot on the beach side and pitch your tent right there in the sand. We woke up to a view of the Morro Rock and the sound of waves, its epic!
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