Not all beach campgrounds are on the beach. They range from on the beach (there are not that many sites directly on the beach) to back from the beach, to on the bluffs above the beach, to in a canyon near the beach. Many people don't realize this when they book their sites. Only a small portion of campsites are truly on the sand next to the waves. Sometimes you have an ocean view and sometimes you don't. The ocean though is loud and you most likely will be able to hear the waves crashing, which I love to listen to at night as I fall asleep. Still, you are close enough to the water and usually only a short walk away.
Depending on the city, some campgrounds are closer to amenities than others and each beach is unique and worthy of exploring.
Need to know: the railroad runs next to all the beach campgrounds from south Orange County to San Diego so you will hear the train horn daily and into the early night. Your kids will love it and so will you if you're a train buff.
With a few exceptions beach campsites in Southern California are small. Some are darn right teeny. It is helpful to ask around or know the campgrounds ahead of time, because each has different options for sites and you'll want to do your best to reserve the one you want. Do you need a RV hookup, tent only, or an ocean view? Study ahead and take notes for easier reservation making.
Check the weather
Pack and wear layers. It's not always sunny and hot at the beach regardless of what you see in the movies. Depending on the time of year you may get some "May gray" or "June gloom". In the winter it may be quite cool, especially in the morning and evenings. Wind is common throughout the year.
Do be sure to bring shade cover (pop-up) as you may not have much in camp and on the beach there is none. Absolutely, bring skin cover clothing items and sunscreen. Don't forget your hat.
Campsite reservations can be made seven months in advance and almost always are booked within minutes of opening up on the reservation system. To get the days and sites you are looking for one must plan ahead and act quickly.
No time to book ahead or wanting to camp last-minute? Learn the cancellation policies and monitor the website for open sites or call the rangers and ask if the park has a walk-up option on the day you arrive for a chance to get a site. Almost all beach camping in Southern California is at state beaches and can be reserved through reserveamerica.com.
It may surprise you that a one night stay in a campground along the coast may cost $30-$60 a night. This may seem steep, but the demand is high and when you look at what it costs to stay in a nearby hotel you'll think camping is a darn good bargain.
Camping at the beach is supposed to be fun and restful. This is not desolate wilderness, however it is still fun! Throw yourself into the beach lifestyle of surf, sand, and endless summers.
Unwind on the coast. Beach camping is all about scenic views, water play, sandcastles, beach walks, campfires, BBQ, and laughter!
Ways to spend your time at the beach:
- Ride bikes within camp or along a bike route
- Roast s'mores
- Play a game of Frisbee on the beach
- Bocce ball is perfect for beach life
- Explore tide pool areas. Make sure to practice conservation though as most tide pools in Southern California are marine protected areas.
- Explore the shore: look for shells, driftwood, and rocks
- Walk morning, noon, and night on the beach at the water's edge
- Learn to surf
- Search for pelican, seagulls, and other marine birds
- Dig sand holes and tunnels
- Scan off shore for marine life: dolphins, whales, and sea lions
- Fall asleep listening to the waves
- Of course, don't forget to suit up, get wet, and swim.
- You can't miss the sunsets over the Pacific. They are one of the best landscape/waterscape views ever.
More beach camping tips:
- Sand, sand, and more sand. It will be everywhere. Bring a small broom for sweeping it out of your tent.
- It's okay to live in flip-flops at the beach.
- There is no firewood collecting. Buy it at the park.
- Bring binoculars to better spot whales and dolphins and other coastal wildlife.
- Pack ear plugs
- Forget cooking: go search for some killer fish tacos or a burrito instead.
Beach camping is an adventure surely to please each family member. There is something for everyone to do at the beach and with a little planning and flexibility you can have a Southern California beach camping experience of a lifetime.
**Editor's note: Traci is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. You can learn more about her Southern California adventures on her blog: Walk Simply.**