Planning a camping trip in southern California? Then this post is for you! Being one of the best regions in the United States for outdoor recreation, camping in southern California is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle that everyday life brings.
With sweeping beaches, dry deserts, and majestic mountains, southern California fulfills the soul of every wanderer and explorer.
Read on to uncover the best places to camp in southern California so that you can start planning your west coast itinerary!
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This is a guest post by Supraja Lakshmi of Viral Vacation Ideas
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Table of Contents
Why camping in Southern California?
Southern California is one of the best states when it comes to having a diverse list of amazing places and campsites to visit and pitch your tent.
The whole state features a large number of campgrounds dotted along the Pacific coastline and scattered across the incredibly varied Californian terrain.
Whether you’re into camping on the sandy beach, parking your RV for a weekend at a luscious forest, or even camping in the mountains – the Golden State has it all.
As a result, this makes it one of the top destinations for nature lovers from all over the globe. To help you save time on planning your next camping trip, I’ve put together a shortlist of the top 5 best camping places in Southern California.
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Best campsites in Southern California
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
As California’s oldest park, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park has a lot to offer when it comes to being able to immerse yourself in nature. You find some of the best hikes in southern California there.
The area is made up of lush ancient forests filled with humongous old-growth redwoods, winding streams, energetic waterfalls, and a plethora of greenery to complete the landscape.
There are 150 campsites to choose from, with lots of modern amenities such as running water, handicap-accessible bathrooms, and even showers on-site.
Whether you’re going for a day trip or a lengthy stay – this park sets the bar high. The large range of amenities, an easy-to-get-to location, and a mild temperate climate year-round make it a great option for campers of all comfort levels.
Whitney Portal Campground (Inyo National Forest)
This campground can be found right at the base of the highest peak of the continental states, Mt. Whitney.
Located up in the High Sierra at an elevation of 8,000 feet, this campground may immediately seem like a more extreme option for some would-be campers.
However, the site serves as a base for lots of people looking to hike or trek the mountain range and conquer the dizzying 14,500-foot high peak of Mt. Whitney.
This means that there are lots of amenities at this campground, along with a fully stocked supply store to boot.
At Whitney Portal Campground, people staying in one of the 43 sites can enjoy gorgeous and unparalleled mountain views, captivating sunsets, and fresh mountain air to re-energize and unwind.
No matter how long you’re planning to stay here, this spot is one of the best campsites in Southern California to put on your list and check out the next time you’re planning to get out of the city.
Campground San Mateo (San Onofre State Beach)
Are you a fan of RV Camping? If so – this is probably one of the best camping places in Southern California for you.
The San Mateo campground stretches along the San Onofre State Beach, where you’ll be able to park right near the water at one of 67 sites.
That gives plenty of options when it comes to pitching a tent or camping out in your RV. Enjoy lots of water fun on the California beaches, camping, wildlife watching in the wetlands, or even take a 1.5-mile-long hike to Trestles Beach for some of California’s best surfing.
This campground is sure to keep you busy and help you de-stress in an engaging west-coast maritime environment.
It’s also an amazing option for campers looking to dive into nature while keeping some of those daily comforts.
It features a plethora of standard amenities, including power sockets and showers. Be sure to keep an eye on the night sky to enjoy some of the best stargazing that California has to offer.
Bow Willow Campground
Located roughly 100 miles out of San Diego, the Bow Willow Campground is a secluded place to camp within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
There are only 16 campsites here, and the amenities are limited to a handful of picnic tables. While this can be a deal-killer for some, the unparalleled night-time stargazing and mesmerizing desert mountain views make it a worthwhile trade-off for adventurers who manage to score one of the 16 spots.
The best time to visit the Bow Willow Campground is in the spring – when wildflowers light up the desert terrain, and the temperature hasn’t quite yet risen to a smoldering heat.
However, make sure that you bring water and enough supplies for your stay, as it’s pretty remote, and there is no running water to be found at the campground.
Los Padres National Forest
Not keen on a long trip to get out to your campsite? Los Padres National Forest is located only a little over an hour out of downtown LA.
That makes it an excellent choice for a day trip with friends, or a quick weekend getaway with your family.
You can enjoy the lush mountainous forest scenery, plenty of hiking, a relaxing soak in the Willett Hot Springs, and even take a dip in some of the natural swimming holes found in the forest.
It’s located very close to Ojai (which is just south of the campground). This allows people to enjoy some wine tasting and citrus grove tours in the town after their nature outings or daily campground activities.
And if you’re thinking of bringing your dog along for the trip – that’s A-OK (as long as they’re on a leash).
Final thoughts on the best camping in Southern California
Whether you only have one day to get out into the wild, or a whole week to yourself – every single one of these sites can make for some of the best camping in Southern California.
You might be into stargazing, hiking, surfing, or even just relaxing by the crackling campfire with a book.
Wherever your interests lie, with such a variety of environments and activities to choose from, you’ll find that each campground has something to offer for every single camper’s preference.
So the next time you’re planning a getaway, flip right back to this list and go visit one of these locations to get a relaxing, memorable, and affordable break from city life. No airplanes, no noisy tourists – just you and the captivating Golden State wilderness.