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The Ten Best Places To Camp In Southern California – Be My Travel Muse


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Mignon Lussier


Joshua Tree National Park

Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert oasis that offers a unique camping experience. Named after the distinct Joshua Trees that dot the landscape, this national park covers over 790,000 acres of desert terrain.


Camping in Joshua Tree National Park allows visitors to truly connect with nature and experience the stunning beauty of the desert. The park offers several designated campgrounds, including the popular Jumbo Rocks and Hidden Valley campgrounds. These campgrounds provide basic amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets, making it a comfortable place to set up camp.


While exploring Joshua Tree National Park, visitors can engage in a variety of outdoor activities. From hiking through the Cholla Cactus Garden to rock climbing on the famous Joshua Tree granite formations, there is something for everyone. The park also offers stargazing opportunities, as it has been recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, boasting clear night skies free from light pollution.


One of the highlights of camping in Joshua Tree National Park is the opportunity to witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. The combination of the unique desert landscape and the vibrant colors painting the sky create a truly magical experience.


It is important to note that camping in Joshua Tree National Park requires a reservation. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and it is recommended to plan ahead due to the park’s popularity. Additionally, visitors are advised to come prepared with enough water, as the desert heat can be intense.


Overall, camping in Joshua Tree National Park offers a chance to immerse oneself in the beauty and solitude of the desert. Whether you are an avid hiker, rock climber, or simply seeking tranquility, this national park is sure to provide an unforgettable camping experience.


Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake, nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, is a popular destination for camping enthusiasts. Surrounded by picturesque forests and offering a wide range of outdoor activities, Big Bear Lake is a haven for nature lovers.


Camping in Big Bear Lake provides the perfect opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The area offers numerous campgrounds, both public and private, catering to different preferences and needs. Some of the most sought-after campgrounds include Serrano Campground, Pine Knot Campground, and Hanna Flat Campground. These campgrounds feature amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms, ensuring a comfortable camping experience.


Outdoor activities are abundant in Big Bear Lake, catering to both adventurous and laid-back campers. The lake itself is a haven for water sports such as boating, fishing, and kayaking. Hiking enthusiasts will find a plethora of trails to explore, ranging from easy nature walks to challenging summit hikes. During the winter months, Big Bear Lake becomes a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, with the Big Bear Mountain Resort offering excellent slopes for winter sports enthusiasts.


Aside from outdoor activities, Big Bear Lake boasts a charming village with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Visitors can stroll through the village, enjoying the quaint atmosphere and indulging in delicious local cuisine.


Whether it’s fishing on the peaceful lake, embarking on a scenic hike, or simply enjoying the tranquility of nature, camping in Big Bear Lake offers a refreshing retreat for nature enthusiasts. The beauty of the surrounding mountains, the abundance of outdoor activities, and the charming village make it an ideal camping destination in Southern California.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Located in eastern San Diego County, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park, covering approximately 600,000 acres of pristine desert wilderness. This vast and diverse landscape offers a unique camping experience for those seeking solitude and a connection with nature.


When camping in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, visitors are surrounded by rugged beauty and stunning desert vistas. The park offers various camping options, including developed campgrounds with basic amenities and more primitive, backcountry camping areas for those looking to truly get off the beaten path.


Exploring Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a treat for outdoor enthusiasts. The park is known for its dramatic badlands, slot canyons, and vibrant wildflower displays during the spring months. Hiking trails wind through the desert, allowing visitors to discover hidden oases, ancient fossil beds, and stunning panoramic viewpoints. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, making it a prime location for stargazing.


Wildlife enthusiasts will find Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to be a haven. The park is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and a multitude of bird species. It is important to respect the delicate ecosystem and observe wildlife from a distance.


One of the park’s most notable attractions is the stunning slot canyons found in the Borrego Palm Canyon area. These narrow, winding canyons provide a unique hiking experience, with towering walls of rock and hidden waterfalls. It is advisable to check with the park information center for any trail conditions or closures before embarking on a slot canyon hike.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers a truly immersive experience in the beauty and tranquility of the desert. With its diverse landscape, abundant wildlife, and unique geological formations, camping in this desert oasis is a memorable adventure that captures the essence of Southern California’s natural wonders.


San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente State Beach, located in Orange County, is a picturesque coastal destination offering the perfect blend of camping and beach relaxation. This popular state beach is known for its beautiful sandy shores, panoramic ocean views, and vibrant surf culture.


Camping at San Clemente State Beach provides campers with a unique opportunity to wake up to the sound of crashing waves and enjoy stunning sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. The campground offers sites for tents, trailers, and RVs, all within walking distance to the beach. It features amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms with hot showers, ensuring a comfortable camping experience for visitors.


San Clemente State Beach is a paradise for beach lovers. The wide, sandy shoreline stretches for miles, perfect for sunbathing, beachcombing, and building sandcastles. Surfers flock to the beach to catch waves throughout the year, and there are even designated areas for swimming and bodyboarding.


The beach is also surrounded by stunning coastal bluffs, offering scenic hiking trails with sweeping ocean views. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the trails, spotting seabirds and maybe even dolphins or whales offshore.


San Clemente Pier is a must-visit attraction in the area. Stretching into the Pacific Ocean, it provides a picturesque spot for fishing, walking, or simply enjoying the ocean breeze. The pier is also lined with restaurants and cafes, offering delicious seafood and refreshing drinks.


In addition to beach activities, the nearby town of San Clemente has a vibrant downtown area filled with shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Visitors can explore the charming Spanish-style architecture and indulge in local cuisine.


Camping at San Clemente State Beach offers a coastal getaway, combining the tranquility of nature with the excitement of a beach vacation. Whether you’re looking to relax on the sandy shores, catch some waves, or explore the charming town, this beachside camping destination is a gem along the Southern California coastline.


Catalina Island

Catalina Island, located off the coast of Southern California, is a hidden gem that offers a unique camping experience surrounded by natural beauty and stunning ocean views. With its pristine beaches, rugged interior, and charming town of Avalon, Catalina Island is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.


When camping on Catalina Island, visitors have a range of options to choose from. The island offers several campgrounds, including Two Harbors Campground and Hermit Gulch Campground. These campgrounds provide facilities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and restroom facilities, ensuring a comfortable stay for campers. In addition to traditional camping, there are also unique options such as tent cabins and beachside campsites.


Exploring Catalina Island offers a wealth of outdoor activities. The crystal-clear waters around the island are perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Hiking trails crisscross the island, giving visitors the opportunity to discover hidden coves, breathtaking vistas, and diverse wildlife. One popular hike is the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 37.2-mile trail that takes you through the heart of the island’s wilderness.


Catalina Island is also home to a variety of unique wildlife. The waters surrounding the island are teeming with marine life, offering opportunities for snorkelers and scuba divers to encounter colorful fish, playful seals, and even the occasional dolphin or whale. Land dwellers may spot the island’s native foxes, bison, and a wide array of bird species.


For those seeking a more relaxed experience, the town of Avalon provides a charming escape. Explore the boutique shops, dine at waterfront restaurants, or simply stroll along the picturesque harbor. Don’t forget to take a ride on the historic Catalina Island Casino, which offers breathtaking views of the island and hosts various events throughout the year.


Camping on Catalina Island is truly an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in outdoor adventures or simply unwind on a pristine beach, this island oasis is a perfect destination for camping enthusiasts and nature lovers.


Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, is a world-renowned destination for camping and outdoor enthusiasts. Famous for its towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and pristine wilderness, Yosemite offers a camping experience like no other.


There are numerous campgrounds in Yosemite National Park that cater to both tent camping and RV camping. From the popular Yosemite Valley Campground to the more secluded Tuolumne Meadows Campground, visitors have a range of options to choose from. These campgrounds offer amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and access to restrooms and potable water.


One of the highlights of camping in Yosemite National Park is the opportunity to explore its breathtaking natural wonders. The park is home to iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. Hiking trails wind through the park, allowing visitors to experience the awe-inspiring beauty up close. For the more adventurous, rock climbing, backpacking, and even winter sports are popular activities in Yosemite.


Yosemite National Park is also renowned for its diverse wildlife and rich ecosystem. Keep an eye out for black bears, bobcats, and mule deer as you explore. Bird enthusiasts will be delighted by the variety of species that call the park home.


Photography enthusiasts flock to Yosemite to capture its stunning landscapes and dramatic scenery. Whether it’s capturing the grandeur of Yosemite Valley or finding hidden gems in the high country, every turn offers a picturesque scene waiting to be immortalized.


It is important to note that camping in Yosemite National Park requires a reservation, as the park is extremely popular and campgrounds fill up quickly. It’s recommended to plan ahead and secure your spot early.


With its awe-inspiring beauty and abundant outdoor activities, camping in Yosemite National Park is a dream come true for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. From gazing at star-filled skies to hiking majestic trails, Yosemite offers an unforgettable camping experience in the heart of California’s wilderness.


San Elijo State Beach

Located in the coastal town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea in San Diego County, San Elijo State Beach is a picturesque camping destination that offers a perfect blend of seaside relaxation and outdoor adventures. With its pristine sandy beach, stunning ocean views, and proximity to local attractions, San Elijo State Beach is a favorite among camping enthusiasts.


Camping at San Elijo State Beach allows visitors to wake up to the sound of crashing waves and enjoy the beauty of the California coast. The campground offers both RV and tent camping options, with sites located just steps away from the beach. Amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, showers, and electric hookups provide convenience and comfort for campers.


The beach at San Elijo State Beach is a haven for water lovers. Whether you want to swim, sunbathe, or try your hand at surfing, the sandy shores offer endless opportunities for fun and relaxation. The beach is also great for beachcombing, building sandcastles, or simply taking a scenic stroll along the water’s edge.


Adjacent to the campground is a popular reef, making it a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers. The clear waters allow for excellent visibility and the chance to encounter a variety of marine life, including colorful fish, turtles, and even the occasional dolphin.


San Elijo State Beach is also conveniently located near local attractions. Just a short drive away is the charming town of Encinitas, known for its eclectic shops, vibrant art scene, and delicious dining options. Visitors can explore the historic downtown area, browse boutique shops, and indulge in fresh seafood from local restaurants.


Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the nearby San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, a coastal wetland that provides habitat for various bird species, as well as a tranquil place for hiking and birdwatching.


With its stunning coastal views, beachside camping, and proximity to local attractions, San Elijo State Beach offers a delightful camping experience for those seeking a coastal getaway in Southern California. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach or partake in water activities, this beautiful stretch of coastline has something for everyone.


Santa Barbara

Nestled along the central coast of California, Santa Barbara is a picturesque coastal city that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, cultural charm, and outdoor adventures. Camping in Santa Barbara provides an enticing opportunity to explore its stunning beaches, scenic hiking trails, and vibrant downtown area.


There are several campgrounds in and around Santa Barbara that cater to different camping preferences. From beachfront campgrounds like El Capitan State Beach and Refugio State Beach to scenic mountain campgrounds like Lake Cachuma Recreation Area, visitors have a range of options to choose from. These campgrounds offer a variety of amenities, including picnic areas, fire rings, and access to hiking trails and water activities.


One of the highlights of camping in Santa Barbara is the opportunity to enjoy its beautiful beaches. Relax on the sandy shores, swim in the clear blue waters, or try your hand at surfing or paddleboarding. Refugio State Beach, in particular, offers excellent opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking.


For those who love hiking and exploring nature, Santa Barbara won’t disappoint. The nearby Santa Ynez Mountains offer numerous trails, including the popular Douglas Family Preserve and the Inspiration Point Trail. These trails provide stunning views of the coastline and the city, as well as opportunities to spot native wildlife such as deer and hawks.


Aside from outdoor activities, Santa Barbara boasts a vibrant downtown area known as State Street. Explore the shops, art galleries, and restaurants that line this bustling street. Visit the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse with its beautiful Spanish architecture and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the city from the clock tower.


Santa Barbara is also home to an array of cultural attractions, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Wine enthusiasts will appreciate the region’s many vineyards and wineries, offering tastings and tours of their award-winning wines.


Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, explore scenic trails, or immerse yourself in the local culture, camping in Santa Barbara offers a diverse and memorable experience. The combination of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and cultural charm make it an ideal camping destination along the central coast of California.


Point Mugu State Park

Located in Ventura County, Point Mugu State Park is a coastal gem that offers a serene and scenic camping experience. With its miles of pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and rolling hills, Point Mugu State Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.


Camping at Point Mugu State Park provides an escape into nature, with several campgrounds to choose from. Sycamore Canyon Campground is a popular choice, nestled among a grove of sycamore trees and just a short walk away from the beach. Thornhill Broome Beach Campground offers beachside camping, allowing campers to fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Both campgrounds offer amenities such as drinking water, restrooms, and picnic tables.


The park is a haven for outdoor activities, with an extensive network of hiking trails that meander through diverse landscapes, from coastal bluffs to lush canyons. The Chumash Trail takes hikers up to breathtaking viewpoints, where they can marvel at panoramic ocean vistas. For a longer adventure, the Backbone Trail offers a 67-mile trek through the Santa Monica Mountains, showcasing the park’s diverse ecosystems.


Point Mugu State Park is also a prime destination for beach lovers. With miles of sandy shoreline, visitors can swim, sunbathe, or simply relax by the Pacific Ocean. The park’s beaches are known for their natural beauty and solitude, offering a more peaceful and uncrowded experience compared to other popular coastal areas.


Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s diverse birdlife, with the chance to spot pelicans, herons, and even majestic bald eagles. Wildlife enthusiasts may also encounter rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals as they explore the park’s trails.


For those seeking an adrenaline rush, Point Mugu State Park offers opportunities for rock climbing, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. The scenic backdrop of cliffs and canyons provides a thrilling and unique setting for these activities.


Whether you’re pitching a tent among the sycamore trees, hiking along breathtaking trails, or basking in the sun on a secluded beach, camping in Point Mugu State Park allows for a tranquil and rejuvenating retreat in the midst of nature’s beauty.


Crystal Cove State Park

Located along the stunning coastline of Orange County, Crystal Cove State Park offers a coastal camping experience that combines natural beauty, coastal charm, and a rich historical past. Camping at Crystal Cove State Park allows visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean while enjoying a range of outdoor activities.


The park offers three different campgrounds, each providing a unique camping experience. The Moro Campground offers ocean-view campsites, while the other two campgrounds, El Moro and the Lower Moro Campground, are nestled in the canyon. The campsites include amenities such as picnic tables, fire pits, and access to restrooms and showers, ensuring a comfortable stay for campers.


Crystal Cove State Park is known for its pristine sandy beaches, perfect for sunbathing, beachcombing, and building sandcastles. The park is also a haven for water activities, including swimming, snorkeling, and bodyboarding. The crystal-clear waters teem with diverse marine life, making it a prime spot for underwater exploration.


The park offers scenic hiking trails that wind through coastal bluffs, canyons, and lush landscapes. The El Moro Canyon Loop Trail is a popular choice, providing breathtaking ocean views and an opportunity to spot native wildlife such as deer, rabbits, and a variety of bird species. For a longer and more challenging hike, visitors can explore the Moro Ridge Trail, which offers panoramic views of the coastline.


Crystal Cove State Park is not just known for its natural beauty; it also has a rich historical past. The park is home to a historic district, where visitors can explore the Crystal Cove Historic District, a preserved section of beach cottages dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. These nostalgic cottages and the surrounding area provide a glimpse into the park’s past and offer a unique cultural experience.


In addition to camping and outdoor activities, Crystal Cove State Park is conveniently located near the vibrant city of Newport Beach. Visitors can enjoy shopping, dining, and exploring the Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Fun Zone.


With its breathtaking coastal views, diverse outdoor activities, and historical charm, camping in Crystal Cove State Park offers a memorable experience for nature lovers, beach enthusiasts, and those seeking a peaceful coastal escape.