Your Guide to Beach Camping in Southern California

categories: Southern California

Spend the summer channeling your inner beach bum. Many beaches in Southern California are day-use only but several offer the best camping in Southern California and this includes RV beach camping. 

Which beaches can you camp at in Southern California?

23 state or county beaches in Southern California allow camping including popular beaches like San Clemente, Carpinteria, El Capitan, Gaviota, Hearst San Simeon, Morro Bay, and Montana de Oro.

Here’s a list of 23 state or county beaches and parks that allow beach camping from San Diego County to Cambria in San Luis Obispo County.

Can you camp on the beach in California for free?

As a rule, no you cannot camp on state or county beaches for free in California. 

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach

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Best Beach Camping in Southern California

Pack the marshmallows and the sand bucket for unforgettable beach camping in Southern California. Though make your plans early, with limited camping facilities, especially for RV beach camping, parks fill up way in advance. And there are even some cottage and retro trailers to rent for your getaway in case you don’t own a tent.

Silver Strand State Beach

Get the best of the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego Bay via pedestrian tunnels. Find traditional beach fun, with a wide beach and lots of space for kites. Silver Strand State Beach offers ranger programs, a seasonal café, an interpretive area, and restrooms.

The Coronado Surfing Academy hosts surfing lessons. Or head to the Crown Cove Beach Aquatic Center with kayak rental.

Silver Strand State Beach offers RV beach camping only. And the campground is basically a paved parking lot and electricity and water hookups. The beachfront sites are $65 and the inland sites are $50. The RV length limit is 40 feet.

Located at 5000 Highway 75, about 4.5 miles south of downtown Coronado.

Nearby: Coronado Beach and Hotel del Coronado

San Elijo State Beach

Enjoy 2 miles of coastline with bluffs and take stairs to get to the ocean. San Elijo State Beach is near Cardiff. Find interpretive programs though the draw is the surfing.

The beachfront campsites are $50 and inland campsites are $35. RV beach camping sites with hookups (electricity, water, and sewer) are $75 and inland sites with hookups are $60. The RV length limit is 35 feet.

Located at 2050 S. Coast Highway 101 in Cardiff. The day-use area is limited.

Nearby: Cardiff State Beach, Moonlight State Beach, and Leucadia State Beach, known as Beacon’s Beach, are all day-use only beaches.

Carlsbad Beach

Carlsbad Beach by nathanhill0070 from Pixabay

South Carlsbad State Beach

Bluffs line this beach that’s popular for swimming and surfing. And several times a week, the park rangers offer interpretive programming, like wildlife viewing and junior ranger programming for the kids.

The beach camping sites are $50 and inland campsites are $35. Beachfront sites with hookups (electricity, water, and sewer) are $75 and inland sites with hookups are $60. The RV length limit is 35 feet.

Campground is located at 7201 Carlsbad Blvd., 3 miles from Carlsbad.

Nearby: Carlsbad State Beach is just north and a day-use only beach.

surfing San Onofre

surfing San Onofre by Dan Stiel from Pixabay

San Onofre State Beach

With 3,000 acres, it’s one of the top five most popular beaches in California. For surfers, it’s the home to the Trestles, a world-renowned surf break. During the winter see migrating whales off-shore.

Primitive camping is $40 a night. Each campsite is a parking spot with a picnic table and a fire ring. This campground provides cold showers and chemical toilets and no RV hook-ups though you will find an RV dump station. The RV length limit is 25 feet.

Campground is located at 5200 S. Pacific Coast Highway.

Nearby: Camp Pendleton Marines Corps Base

San Clemente pier

San Clemente pier by D Thory from Pixabay

San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente is another beach with sandstone bluffs and a popular surf spot. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the visitor center and the park infrastructure.

Tent campsites start at $40 a night with premium sites for $45 a night. RV sites with utilities are $65 a night with electricity, water, and sewer. San Clemente offers three vintage travel trailers for rent with two twins, a bunk, and a full for $189 a night. The RV length limit is 30 feet.

Located at 225 W. Calafia Ave.

Doheny State Beach

This is California’s first state beach and the north end of the park is a popular surfing spot. Find tide pools and the visitor center offers aquariums for a look at marine life. And this beach offers first-come, first-serve fire rings for beach campfires.

Campsites start at $40 a night with premium sites (ocean view) for $60 a night. RVs are welcome although there are no hookups. The RV length limit is 35 feet.

Located at 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr.

Nearby: Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano Mission

Crystal Cove State Park

Located between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, Crystal Cove protects 2,400 acres of wilderness in Southern California. And this includes 3.2 miles of beach with bluffs for scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Crystal Cove State Park features a historic district with 46 cottages from the 1930s and 1940s along Los Trancos Creek available for rent. Prices start at $38 a night for a person dorm to $269 a night for a nine-person cottage. Reservations have a seven-night maximum and reservations fill six months in advance.

Campsites are $55 without hook-ups and the RV limit is 25 feet for dry camping. RV sites with electricity and water are $75 with an RV limit of 38 feet.

Located at 8471 N. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.

Crowd At Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach, California

Bolsa Chica State Beach

Once called Tin Can Beach this beach offers fire rings and camping.

Self-contained RVs only so no tent camping. RV campsites with electricity and water start at $55 a night with premium ocean-view sites for $65 a night. The RV length limit is 40 feet.

Located at 17851 Pacific Coast Highway.

Nearby: Huntington Beach

Dockweiler State Beach RV Park

Camp while jumbo jets fly overhead at LA county’s only camping beach.

Self-contained RVs only so no tent camping. Three rows of RV spaces with full hookups. RV sites are $75 a night for premium ocean view sites $70 a night for the middle row and $65 for the back row.

Located at 12001 Vista del Mar.

Nearby: LAX – Lost Angeles International Airport

Leo Carrillo State Park

With 1.5 miles of beach, Leo Carrillo is a favorite. It also features tide pools, coastal caves, and reefs to explore. Park rangers hold Junior Ranger programming and campfire talks. And find backcountry hiking.

Campsites are tree-shaded and tent sites are $45 a night. RV sites with electricity only are $65 a night. The RV length limit is 31 feet.

Located at 3500 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

Point Mugu State Park

Further north, Point Mugu offers 5 miles of shoreline along with beach camping in Southern California. This park is in the Santa Monica Mountains and features rocky bluffs along with river canyons.

Point Mugu offers two campgrounds, Thornhill Broome Campground on the beach can have flooding issues due to storms and tides. Sycamore Campground is across the highway from the beach. Both campgrounds don’t offer RV hook-ups though you will find showers. Thornhill Broome’s beach camping is $35 a night and camping in the Sycamore Campground is $45.

Located at 9000 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

Emma Wood State Beach

For WWII buffs, this park features the remnants of a WWII coastal artillery site. You can see the Channel Islands offshore. The train tracks with the Amtrak coastal trains are within this park.

Limited camping is available for self-contained RVs only and it’s $40 a night. You will find primitive, dry camping so no restrooms, showers, hook-ups, or dump station available.

Located 2 miles west of Ventura off U.S. Route 101.

Carpinteria State Beach

Originally donated in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park. Carpinteria features one mile of beach and at low tide a number of tide pools. Carpinteria is a quaint beach town and offers convenient beach camping in Southern California.

Beach Row sites in the San Miquel Loop at Carpinteria State Beach have size restrictions and vehicles over 19 feet aren’t permitted. Carpinteria features bathhouses with showers. Campsites start at $45 a night and $60 for premium beachfront sites. It’s $70 a night for RV hookups. The RV size limit for all campsites is 35 feet.

Located at 205 Palm Ave in Carpinteria.

El Capitan State Beach (0057)

El Capitan State Beach

West of Santa Barbara, El Capitan State Park lies on both sides of U.S. Route 101. You can also find El Capitan Creek in the park so it features lots of trees, particularly sycamores, and oaks.

El Capitan has a sandy beach along with bluffs and tide pools. Park rangers offer interpretive programming as well.

The campground doesn’t off any RV hook-ups although you will find showers. The campsites are $45 a night. The RV limit is a generous 42 feet.

Located at exit #117 off U.S. Route 101, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara.

Refugio State Beach

The palm trees lining the white sand make Refugio a popular beach. And lifeguards man the towers during the summer months from Memorial Day until August. The lifeguards also take kayakers out for tours during the summer months.

Camping at Refugio is dry camping so no RV hook-ups although it offers showers. All sites are $45, even the sites with beach views. RV limit is 27 feet. Refugio State Beach also features primitive hike-in camping.

Located at 10 Refugio Beach Rd. about 2 miles west of El Capitan State Beach.

Gaviota State Beach

Find lots of interesting features along the beach at Gaviota, like a railroad trestle over Gaviota Creek and a pier. While visiting, go fossil hunting on the Monterrey rock formations found on the beach. You will also find a boat hoist at Gaviota State Beach.

Camping at Gaviota doesn’t offer RV hook-ups although you will find showers. All sites are $45 and this park has primitive hike-in camping too.

Located at 17620 Gaviota Beach Rd.

Nearby: Solvang, the Danish-influenced town in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Jalama Beach County Park

If you pine for a hidden beach with amazing sunsets over the Pacific, Jalama is it, and some of the best beach camping in Southern California. Since it’s surrounded by private property and Vanderberg Air Force Base, it’s secluded. Don’t miss the Amtrak’s Surfliner train chugging up and down the coast on the tracks just outside the park.

Find tent camping sites, RV sites, and day-use sites along with one and two-bedroom cabins for rent. Basic sites start at $30 a night and premier sites are $50 a night. The cabins start at $190 a night. Jalama Beach features a bathhouse with hot showers ($) along with flush toilets. You will find a stocked store with camping necessities or grab a bite at the Jalama Beach Grill.

Located at 9999 Jalama Road, about 45 minutes from Lompoc.

TIP: Check out the NASA launch schedule for Vanderburg Air Force Base.

Oceano Dunes SVRA

This recreational area is just for off-roading with 1,500 acres of beach and sand dunes with 4×4 driving.

Oceano Dunes has primitive camping with no designated sites and 4WD vehicles are recommended. It’s $10 a night.

Located at 1001 Cabrillo Highway in Oceano.

Pismo State Beach

Pismo State Beach is the winter home (November to February) to the Western Monarch Butterfly that migrates from as far north as Canada. Clamming is popular with Pismo and Pacific Razor Clams. Clamming requires a valid California fishing license.

The park features interpretative programming so check in at the Oceano Dunes Visitor Center.

Tent campsites are $25 a night. RV sites with water and electricity are $40 a night. The RV limit is 31 feet.

Located at 555 Pier Avenue in Oceano.

Montana de Oro State Park

As one of California’s largest state parks, there are 8,000 acres including 7 miles of shoreline to explore. This park was a former dairy ranch.

Montana de Oro State Park offers equestrian camping starting at $50 a night up to $150 a night, depending on the number of stalls. Primitive camping without hook-ups for RVs is $25 a night. The RV limit is 27 feet.

Located 6 miles southwest of Morro Bay at 3550 Pecho Valley Rd. in Los Osos.

Morro Rock

Morro Rock

Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park is in the town of Morro Bay. You will find lots of amenities like an 18-hole golf public course and a marina for boating. The park offers views of Morro Rock and the natural bay.

You will find RV sites with electricity and water hook-ups for $50 a night. Tent sites without hook-ups are $35. The RV limit is 35 feet.

Located at 1 State Park Rd.

Morro Strand State Beach

Located less than five miles away from Morro Bay State Park, Morro Strand is a beach park on the bay. Both parks offer views of the water and Morro Rock. Morro Strand Beach is less developed.

You will find RV sites with electricity, water, and sewer for $50. Tent sites without hook-ups are $35. RV limit is 40 feet for RV sites and 24 feet for tent sites.

Located off the Pacific Coast Highway at the exit for Yerba Buena.

Elephant Seals near San Simeon

Elephant Seals near San Simeon

Hearst San Simeon State Park

Along the central California coast, media mogul William Randolph Hearst built an American icon, Hearst Castle. Set on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, it’s now a state park. This park boasts over 20 miles of beaches.

Head to the Elephant Seal Boardwalk to see a large rookery from a boardwalk. Located along Highway 1, 5 miles north of Hearst Castle Rd. (watch for roadside sign) and free.

San Simeon Creek Campground offers tent and RV sites without hook-ups for $35. The RV size limit for all campsites is 35 feet. The Washburn Campground features primitive sites for $20.

Both campgrounds are located next to each other and the entrance at 5000 San Simeon-Monterey Creek Rd. in Cambria.

Nearby: The Hearst Castle requires a separate timed ticket available online or at the Visitor Center at 750 Hearst Castle Rd.


  • Most campground reservations are made through
  • Each reservation requires a non-refundable $7.99 reservation fee for online reservations.
  • Most campgrounds enforce a 14-day limit on camping.
  • Depending on the campground, at least one vehicle parking fee is included in camping reservations. Additional vehicles might have to pay a parking fee.
  • Consult the individual park for more information.

Best Beach Camping in Southern California | RV Camping in Southern California #travel #trip #vacation #rv #camping #beach

Catherine Parker

by Catherine Parker

Catherine Parker is frequently found behind the wheel of a trusty 4x4 driving the back roads and interstates of North America. To date, she’s traveled to all 50 U.S. States and seven Canadian provinces along with places in Asia and Europe. Though she began her travel career twenty years ago when she earned her flight attendant wings. Find her in guidebooks, magazines, or her website,

5 Responses to “Your Guide to Beach Camping in Southern California”

Malika Daniels


Hi! I used to go camping with my neighbors when I was a teenager when all I had to do was just show up. I have no clue as to where to begin. I do know I would love to give my toddler and teenagers a camping experience on the beach. What would you recommend for the first steps and requirements for a trip to go seamlessly.

Chris Christensen


For a first trip, you might see if you have some friends who camp. Maybe they would go with you or maybe you could borrow some gear. Borrowing seems like a better idea than buying a lot of new stuff before you see if you still like it. Start with the basics: tent, sleeping bags, stove. You can even rent gear.

Catherine Azar


Can I car camp anywhere in the San Luis Obispo area? Can I car camp at Morro Bay State Park?

Chris Christensen


Morro Strand State Beach offers tent sites.

Judy Pond


I am trying to find ANY beach in Southern California that still has available tent camp sights for July 15-18

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