Join me on a tour as I share with you the best campgrounds I have found in the Bay Area. From the Redwood Forests to the lively Coastal Campgrounds, each of these locations offers something special. I’m sharing my personal experiences and tips in hopes of making your camping adventures around the Bay Area as unforgettable as ours.
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- Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek
- Manresa Uplands Campground, Watsonville
- Fremont Peak State Park, San Juan Bautista
- China Camp State Park, San Rafael
- Point Reyes State Park, Inverness
- American River Resort, Coloma
- Kirby Cove Campground, Sausalito
- Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley
- Rob Hill Campground, San Francisco
- Lake Alpine Campground, Arnold
- Angel Island, Tiburon
- Other Unique Campgrounds Near San Francisco
- Best Hikes in the Bay Area
- FAQs: Best Campgrounds in the Bay Area
- Conclusion: Best Campgrounds in the Bay Area
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek
Big Basin is a wonderland of ancient redwoods, some of the oldest and largest trees on Earth. The park spans over 18,000 acres, encompassing a wide variety of environments from lush canyon bottoms to sparse chaparral-covered slopes. The park’s Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail offers an immersive experience through varied landscapes.
Things to do: Explore over 80 miles of hiking trails, witness the incredible Berry Creek Falls, or enjoy a picnic among the giant redwoods. Wildlife viewing here is a treat, with chances to spot deer, raccoons, and various bird species.
Cost: Standard camping ranges from $20 to $35 per night. Group sites cost between $60 to $100 per night, great for larger gatherings.
Manresa Uplands Campground, Watsonville
This bluff-top campground overlooks the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. The unique ‘walk-in’ campsite setup provides a more secluded and nature-immersed experience. The towering cliffs and unobstructed ocean views create a serene backdrop.
Things to do: Ideal for beach activities like surfing, beachcombing, and fishing. Evening campfires with the backdrop of a coastal sunset are unforgettable. Nearby attractions include the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Cost: Enjoy this beachfront beauty for $35 per night, offering great value for its stunning location.
Fremont Peak State Park, San Juan Bautista
This park is a quiet oasis, offering stunning panoramic views. The Fremont Peak Observatory is a highlight, where the heavens seem just a touch away. The park’s elevation provides a unique microclimate, often above the fog line, offering clear skies for stargazing.
Things to do: Offers excellent stargazing opportunities, hiking trails leading to the historic Fremont Peak Observatory, and bird watching. The park is also a great spot for photography enthusiasts.
Cost: Individual sites are $20, and double sites for larger groups or RVs are $40 per night, making it a budget-friendly choice.
China Camp State Park, San Rafael
This park has a fascinating history as a 19th-century Chinese shrimp-fishing village. The remnants of the village, including the old pier and shrimp-drying racks, add a historical dimension to the natural beauty. The park’s shoreline location provides varied landscapes from marshlands to rocky beaches.
Things to do: Enjoy mountain biking, hiking on the Shoreline Trail, kayaking in the bay, and exploring historic village sites. The park also hosts occasional cultural events and ranger-led programs.
Cost: A night here is $35, combining historical intrigue with natural beauty at an affordable rate.
Point Reyes State Park, Inverness
Point Reyes is a diverse and dynamic landscape. With its rugged coastline, forested ridges, and open grasslands, the park offers a multitude of natural wonders. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse is a must-visit, perched dramatically on a cliff edge.
Things to do: Explore the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse, watch for migrating whales, hike to Alamere Falls, or discover the Tule Elk Reserve. Bird watching and tide pooling are also popular here.
Cost: Charges are $30 per night for small groups (up to 6 people) and go up to $90 for larger groups (15-25 people), accommodating all sizes.
American River Resort, Coloma
Set on the banks of the South Fork of the American River, this resort combines the thrill of outdoor adventures with the comforts of modern amenities. The resort is steeped in the history of the Gold Rush era, providing an educational dimension to your stay.
Things to do: Whitewater rafting is a must-do here. Enjoy guided tours, gold panning, fishing, or simply relax by the river. The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is a short drive away.
Cost: A stay starts at $50 per night for 2 guests (Sep-Apr $40), with additional guests at $20 per night (Sep-Apr $15), offering both adventure and affordability.
Kirby Cove Campground, Sausalito
Nestled in a wooded grove, Kirby Cove offers a secluded retreat with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline. The small, intimate campground on the beach provides a unique experience with its proximity to San Francisco, yet a world away in atmosphere. Have a look at this blog to see more of the Best Beach Camping Spots in Northern California.
Things to do: The beach access is perfect for a day of relaxation or a picnic. Hike the Kirby Cove Trail, and don’t miss the chance to capture breathtaking photos of the bridge and the city.
Cost: Prices range from $40 to $75 per night, providing a unique experience near the Golden Gate at a reasonable cost.
Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley
‘Mount Tam’ is a beloved landmark of the Bay Area, known for its stunning vistas and diverse ecosystems. The park’s varied terrain includes redwood groves, oak woodlands, and open grasslands. The East Peak summit provides some of the most breathtaking views of the Bay Area.
Things to do: The park is a haven for hikers and cyclists, with numerous trails including the Steep Ravine and Matt Davis Trails. On clear days, you can see as far as the Farallon Islands.
Cost: Enjoy the breathtaking views for $25.00 per night, a great deal for such stunning scenery.
Rob Hill Campground, San Francisco
Rob Hill, the only campground within the city limits of San Francisco, offers an urban camping experience unlike any other. Located in the Presidio, it provides a blend of natural beauty and historical significance. The campsite offers views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Things to do: Explore nearby Presidio’s trails and beaches, visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, or enjoy a guided nature walk. Evening campfires here are a must.
Cost: On the more expensive side at $92 per site per night, but perfect for those looking to explore San Francisco’s natural side.
Lake Alpine Campground, Arnold
Situated at an elevation of 7,400 feet in the Sierra Nevada, Lake Alpine Campground is surrounded by a picturesque alpine landscape. The campground, set near the shores of Lake Alpine, offers a serene setting amidst tall pines and granite peaks.
Things to do: Enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming in the lake. Hiking trails around the lake offer stunning views and opportunities for wildlife sightings. The nearby town of Arnold has charming shops and restaurants.
Cost: Priced at $30 per night, this campground offers a serene alpine experience without breaking the bank.
Angel Island, Tiburon
Accessible only by boat, Angel Island is a unique island camping experience. With panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, it’s a place rich in natural beauty and history. The island has been used as a military base, immigration station, and now a state park.
Things to do: Hike or bike around the island, explore historic sites like the Immigration Station, or simply enjoy the panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.
Cost: Experience island camping for $35/night plus an $8 reservation fee, a small price for such a unique location.
Other Unique Campgrounds Near San Francisco
Here are a couple of honorable mentions for other unique campgrounds near San Francisco, each offering its own charm and outdoor experience:
- Rob Hill Campground, San Francisco: The only campground within San Francisco’s city limits, Rob Hill offers an urban camping experience with a natural twist, nestled in the Presidio with views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.
- Pantoll Campground, Mount Tamalpais State Park: Located in the heart of Mount Tamalpais State Park, Pantoll Campground serves as a perfect base for exploring the park’s extensive trail network, including the famous Dipsea Trail.
- Steep Ravine Environmental Campground, Mount Tamalpais State Park: This campground offers a unique experience with its rustic cabins and campsites perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, providing stunning views and a serene atmosphere.
- Butano State Park, Pescadero: Situated in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Butano State Park features a peaceful campground surrounded by redwoods, offering a secluded retreat with miles of hiking trails through diverse ecosystems.
- Francis Beach Campground (Half Moon Bay State Beach): Located on the San Mateo Coast, Francis Beach Campground offers beachfront camping with easy access to the sandy shores of Half Moon Bay, ideal for beachcombing, surfing, and enjoying spectacular sunsets.
Best Hikes in the Bay Area
The Bay Area is not just famous for its diverse campgrounds but we also found many spectacular hiking trails. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking to enjoy a leisurely walk in nature, these trails offer breathtaking views and landscapes. Here are some of the best hikes that we found while camping in the Bay Area:
Muir Woods National Monument Trails: Known for its towering redwoods, Muir Woods offers several trails ranging from easy to moderate, where you can immerse yourself in ancient forest vibes.
Mount Diablo Summit Trails: Offering panoramic views of the Bay Area, Mount Diablo’s summit trails are a must for those who love challenging hikes and rewarding vistas.
Lands End Trail, San Francisco: This trail provides stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. It’s perfect for a scenic and historic walk.
Tomales Point Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore: Ideal for wildlife enthusiasts, this trail offers the chance to see tule elk, birds, and spectacular coastal views.
Alamere Falls Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore: A moderately challenging hike that leads to a rare tidefall, where the waterfall meets the ocean.
Dipsea Trail, Mill Valley: A historic trail that runs from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, offering a mix of forest and ocean views.
Skyline to the Sea Trail, Santa Cruz Mountains: This famous trail traverses from the mountain ridge down to the Pacific coast, showcasing the diversity of the Bay Area landscapes.
Angel Island Perimeter Trail: A moderate hike that circles Angel Island, offering panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate.
Castle Rock State Park Trails: Known for its unique rock formations and lush forested areas, these trails are a paradise for rock climbers and nature lovers alike.
FAQs: Best Campgrounds in the Bay Area
When planning a camping trip in the Bay Area, you may have some questions in mind. Here are some questions that we were frequently asked during our trip that could help you prepare for your outdoor adventure.
Is there free camping in the Bay Area?
Yes, there are options for free camping in the Bay Area, though they are limited and often come with fewer amenities. Places like dispersed camping areas in national forests or certain wilderness areas offer free camping spots. However, it’s important to check current regulations and availability before heading out, as these areas can have restrictions. Checking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a good place to start.
What is the best lake camping near the Bay Area?
For lake camping enthusiasts, the Bay Area has several great options. Lake Del Valle in Livermore is popular for its beautiful setting and water activities. Another excellent choice is Lake Berryessa in Napa County, known for its fishing, boating, and scenic views.
Can you live in a van in the Bay Area?
Residing in a van within the Bay Area is not only possible but a reality we have personally experienced. You will need to know how to find legal parking, camping, and manage basic necessities. For detailed insights and tips on living in a van, including the Bay Area, check out
Van Life in California | A Complete Guide. This guide covers everything from legal considerations to daily living tips for van dwellers.
Is there dog-friendly camping in the Bay Area?
Yes, the Bay Area is quite accommodating for campers with dogs. Many campgrounds, such as Samuel P. Taylor State Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, allow dogs in specific areas. It’s always a good idea to check the campground’s pet policy beforehand and be prepared with supplies for your furry friend.
How much do most campgrounds cost in the Bay Area?
The cost of campgrounds in the Bay Area varies widely depending on the location, amenities, and type of camping spot. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per night. State parks and more popular destinations tend to be on the higher end, while more rustic and less developed sites may be cheaper. Always check current prices and reservation policies as they can change from season to season.
Conclusion: Best Campgrounds in the Bay Area
Thinking about my camping adventures across the Bay Area, I’m left with amazing memories. Each campground, from the redwood canopies of Big Basin to the coastal views at Manresa Uplands, has offered a unique slice of paradise.
Whether it’s the thrill of hiking new trails, the peace of seaside sunsets, or the joy of sharing stories around a campfire, the Bay Area’s campgrounds have provided experiences that resonate deeply with the soul. I hope this has helped you find some new campgrounds in the Bay Area and create adventures that stay with you long after you’ve packed up your tent and headed home