5 Best Places to Camp in California (With Camping Checklist)

California boasts some of the best camping spots for a fun-filled adventure.  You can find beautiful camping sites in California in the mountains, at the beach, at a river or in a forest. When it comes to spending quality family time, you can choose from a range of venues to play and explore year-round. Camping allows us to strengthen the bond with friends and family, a chance to decompress, connect with nature, and a much-needed escape from routine life.

Camping in California is a bucket list item for many and below are five of the best places to camp in California. 

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5 Best Places to Camp in California

Camping with your family or friends can be adventurous and would remain one of your most cherished memories. Working together to set up camp, cook food in a natural setting, and spend an enjoyable moment with your family or friends can be the perfect getaway you need from a stressful routine.

There are hundreds of places to camp in California which makes choosing where to camp a bit of work. Here are the top five camping spots in California you need to explore today.

Best Camping in Southern California

Campgrounds in Southern California include beach locations along the coast in locations like Carlsbad and Leo Carillo State Park, mountain vacations in Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, deserts like Joshua Tree National Park, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as well as lakes such as Lake Cuyamaca near Julian. 

Big Bear Lake

If you are looking for a real adventure all year round, then Big Bear Lake is a great option. Big Bear is perfect for camping from late spring, through summer and into fall. The lake and mountain offer a range of activities to give you a memorable camping vacation.

Located in Southern California, Big Bear Lake makes a perfect spot for skiing during the winter. However, during summers, there is a plethora of activities and wildlife viewing in the region. You can bring in your RV or camp on the ground.

The mountain camping site is ideal for fishing during summers with a range of other sporting activities such as kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking. If that is not enough, then stay tuned to see coyotes, black bears, mountain lions, snakes, and other wildlife.

When it comes to fishing, you can be rewarded by nature’s bounties as the lake is home to trout, catfish, bass, and other species. During the night, build up a campfire and engage in a live cookout session, grilling fresh fish for a nutritious meal.

  • Big Bear Lake from San Diego: 145 miles | 3 hours 15 minutes by car
  • Big Bear Lake from Los Angeles: 96 miles | 2 hours by car
  • Big Bear Lake from San Francisco: 470 miles | 7 hours 30 minutes by car

Camping California Coast 

Some of the best camping in California can be found along the Pacific Ocean. Bodega Bay, Goleta, San Clemente, and Pismo State beach are just a few of the many gorgeous beach campgrounds. 

Pismo State Beach

Camping in Pismo Beach, CA

Who doesn’t love vast sandy beaches and the soothing sound of water? When it comes to beating the heat with fun and pleasure, Pismo State Beach is a prime destination.

The vast shoreline can accommodate many campers at once without being overcrowded, which means you can have your privacy even during peak seasons.

There are tons of fun-filled water activities for the entire family so no one feels left out.

You can also engage your family in other sporting activities such as horseback riding, surf fishing, riding ATVs, and clam hunting for a perfect family adventure.  

Location: 555 Pier Ave, Oceano, CA 93445

  • Pismo State Beach from San Diego: 300 miles | 5 hours
  • Pismo State Beach from Los Angeles: 177 miles | 3 hours
  • Pismo State Beach from San Francisco 245 miles | 4 hours

California State Parks Camping

camp fire

There are over 110 state parks campgrounds in California, so the options are vast. State parks offer some of the most beautiful spots to camp in California. Below find two of our favorite California State Parks camping options for beautiful landscapes and natural beauty. 

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

As one of the oldest state parks in California, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is one of the most sought-after destinations for camping. It’s a great option for a family camping trip with over 18,000 acres making it a perfect spot for protecting your privacy while enjoying a family vacation.

The venue has over 146 camping sites for an exclusive venture into nature. You will be mesmerized by the spectacular waterfalls while exploring the lush canyons for a perfect family adventure. The camping sites are organized with picnic tables and fire rings for added convenience, along with drinking water facilities and a washroom.

Spending a day or two at the campsite will give you a breakthrough you need from the hectic routine and will serve as a bonding agent for your family. Head out to Big Basin Redwoods State Park if you enjoy horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and campfires.

  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park from San Diego: 480 miles | 8 hours 15 minutes by car
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park from Los Angeles: 366 miles | 6 hours by car
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park from San Francisco: 75 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes by car

D.L. Bliss State Park

Last but not least, D.L. Bliss State Park is a favorite destination for many families. You would be lucky if you can find a spot as the venue is high in demand. However, the well-maintained grounds never cease to offer a memorable experience. They have hot showers and spacious campsites that enrich your family camping experience. Some major attractions in the region include the historic lighthouse and the Balancing Rock.

  • D.L. Bliss State Park from San Diego: 545 miles | 9 hours by car 
  • D.L. Bliss State Park from Los Angeles:  458 miles | 7 hours 30 minutes by car
  • D.L. Bliss State Park from San Francisco: 197 miles | 3 hours 30 minutes by car 

Big Lagoon County Park

Another great spot for camping with your family is the Big Lagoon, County Park. The lagoon is a three-mile conservatory that borders the Pacific Ocean and is home to a range of fish species, making it an ideal fishing arena. You can easily come across trout, which is in abundance in the region along with shorebirds, and river otters.

With a close shoreline, campers can enjoy a wide range of water activities such as kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, swimming, boating, and more. That is not all; Big Lagoon County Park is also famous for its whale watching, so stay tuned for some thrilling experiences once to decide to camp at the conservatory park.

The area is neatly organized to facilitate campers; expect to see picnic tables, flush toilets, fire rings, which make the entire camping experience more enjoyable.

Location: 510 Big Lagoon Park Rd, Trinidad, CA 95570

  • Big Lagoon County Park from San Diego: 765 miles | 12 hours 45 minutes by car 
  • Big Lagoon County Park from Los Angeles: 675 miles | 10 hours 30 minutes by car
  • Big Lagoon County Park from San Francisco: 302 miles | 5 hours by car

Bonus tip: when you head out to overnight camping in one of these destinations, always pack bug sprays, first aid kits, sleeping backs, and of course, your trusted adventure gear.

Check out Reserve California to make your camping reservation. 

Important Camping Gear

After you’ve decided on the best places to camp in California, you’ll need to start thinking of gear and your camping checklist. Camping is one of the few types of travel where it is really important to bring everything you need. Some campgrounds are close to stores or have a camp store, but some are much more remote. Print out our camping checklist so you don’t forget anything! 

best places to camp in California
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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Important Camping Gear

Printable Camping Check List

Simply click below for our free camping checklist printable pdf! It will help you organize and not forget anything on your next camping trip! 





Camping Checklist


Most important items for your camping checklist:
  • Small trash Can



Tools & Repair Items



Camping Gear for the Kitchen

Many campgrounds have drinkable water. If not, bring your own, or be prepared to treat water if there’s a water source. 
  • Potholder



Campsite Extras

Most of the following items are optional, though depending on how remote your campsite is, navigation tools such as a map, compass and/or GPS may be required (for more info, read about the Ten Essentials).


Outdoor Fun:

  • Raft

Clothing & Footwear

Additional items for rainy and/or cold weather:


Health & Hygiene

Sun and bug protection:


Personal Items

  • The campsite

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5 Best Places to Camp in California
Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels

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  1. Brought back memories of camping with friends as a teenager and staying up all night because some critter was trying to break in. That was my last adventure with camping. It’s funny now! I’m inspired to try again with my kids, they would love it.

  2. I love your practical and interactive packing list. It is also green as well as I do not need any paper to list up my stuff 🙂 Great idea!

  3. Awesome post – love Pismo Beach got to go in 2006 def thinking of some state parks & places like Siskiyou in CA learned about from EveryDayWanderer in the group

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