Pitch a Tent at These 18 Bay Area Camping Spots

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Summer is here and our gorgeous weather makes camping a breeze. Whether you snag a spot by the beach or head to the redwoods, the kids will come home dirty and full of stories for years to come. Check out some of our favorite spots below for family camping!

Portola Redwoods State Park
Located in the Santa Cruz mountains between Saratoga to the east and Pescadero to the west is Portola Redwoods State Park. This lesser-known stepsister to nearby Big Basin offers 55 great camping spots that are perfect for getting a number of families together for a weekend of fun. Many of the campsites have downed redwoods, guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment for the shorter set. Head over to the visitors center to learn about the area’s history and set off from there on a hike in search of Tiptoe Falls and the famous Shell Tree.

9000 Portola State Park Road
La Honda, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

Plaskett Creek Campground
With the road to Big Sur open, Plaskett Creek is the spot to be. The campground is small and draws surfers, families and those with a chill vibe. Walk 10 minutes and down some stairs and you can spend the day at the pristine Sand Dollar Beach. Head to the bluffs at sunset for some gorgeous sunset views. Bonus: because this is a National Park site, you can book up to a year in advance.

69345 CA-1
Big Sur, CA

Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park
If all the state parks are booked for your chosen weekend, take a gander at the county parks as they tend to not book up quite as fast. Coyote Lake is a 4,595-acre regional recreation area nestled in the hills east of Gilroy, which features a 635-acre lake for fishing and boating (no swimming, unfortunately). 73 campsites are available and there’s tons of wildlife in the park from black-tailed deer to turkeys to the rare western pond turtle. Make sure to bring your hiking boots so you can check out the 35 miles of hiking trails. Bonus: the rangers here run an awesome evening program for families.

10840 Coyote Reservoir Road
Gilroy, CA

Santa Cruz/Monterey KOA
For a pretty sweet camping experience, spend the weekend at the Santa Cruz/Monterey KOA. Here you’ll be just a short drive from the beach and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. However, once you see all the activities and on-site amenities that are available, you might have a hard time getting the kids to leave the property. The campground recently completed an activity park renovation that includes an outdoor ping pong table, climbing statues, KOA jumping pillow and a new pool. Choose from tent sites, RV sites, cabins and newly-added glamping cabins. The campground even has an in-depth activities program staffed by counselors who hold scavenger hunts and other kid-friendly group activities so that parents can enjoy their time there!

1186 San Andreas Road
Watsonville, CA
Online: koa.com


Sunset State Beach
Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sunset State Beach is an idyllic location for anyone looking to camp by the coast. Campsites are on the top of a bluff overlooking the beach, which you can reach by walking down a hundred or so steps from the campground (or you can drive your car and beach gear down to the parking lot below). Pick a campsite that faces the waves, or on the opposite side you can get a view of strawberry fields as far as the eye can see. The majority of the sites at this location allow you to park your car right by your campsite—minimizing the amount of time you have to spend lugging your belongings from the car. Spots here fill up fast so you’ll want to reserve your preferred dates as soon as they are released (up to 7 months in advance).

201 Sunset Beach Rd.
Watsonville, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Step into the redwoods and away from your hectic life at Big Basin State Park. The oldest state park in California, Big Basin has miles of hiking for seasoned hikers and the smaller explorers as well. Waterfalls, banana slugs and giant redwoods are guaranteed to delight all visitors. Over a hundred tent camping spots can be found at Big Basin, but many of them require a short walk from your car to reach them. Those looking for less of a DIY experience can reserve one of the tent cabins. Tent cabins come with two double platform beds that sleep four, and you can pitch your tent next to the cabin to accommodate four additional people.

21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

Butano State Park

Butano State Park
Tucked in the mountains just 15 minutes from downtown Pescadero is Butano State Park. This park features 21 drive-in and 18 walk-in campsites. If you come during the summer months you can find guided nature walks and weekend campfire programs. Kids will enjoy exploring the many trails, or have them bring their bikes for riding around the campgrounds. Drinking water is available at the campground but there are no showers at this location. A plus to being close to Pescadero is that you can take day trips to check out the Harley Goat Farm or pick some berries at nearby Swanton Berry Farm. Read the full scoop here.

1500 Cloverdale Rd.
Pescadero, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

Sonoma Coast State Park
Just north of Bodega Bay is Sonoma Coast State Park. This campground offers access to the beautiful Sonoma Coast State Beach which is a big draw for camping families. The park has two campgrounds—Wright’s Beach, which has reservable campsites, and Bodega Dunes where you make a reservation and then your specific campsite is assigned when you arrive at the park. Mornings can be cool and foggy so pack accordingly. The beach is very close to the campgrounds but be aware of posted signs as the water currents can be dangerous.

Jenner, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

fremont peak state park

Anthony Chabot Regional Park
Just 20 minutes outside of Oakland is the 5,000-plus-acre Anthony Chabot Regional Park. A year-round destination for campers in the East Bay, Chabot offers miles of hiking and biking trails along the shores of Lake Chabot. Car camping sites can get a little crowded but the walk-in campsites offer more room between you and the next campground over. As with any campground, choosing your campsite can be a big decision—with little kids it is good to be close to the bathrooms but not so close that the bathroom traffic (and smell!) invades your space. The marina at Lake Chabot offers boat rentals and fishing. It even has a café if you want to opt out of campfire cooking (don’t worry, your secret is safe with us).

9999 Redwood Rd.
Castro Valley, CA
Reservations: ebparks.org

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park 
This spot in Big Sur boasts open meadows, hiking trails, plentiful wildlife and even a grocery store (the Camp Store) helps prevent the toddler tears when you inevitably forget the marshmallows. Like many campgrounds tucked into the trees, it’s best to bring layers as the temperature can be a little cool even in summer months. If you want to snag a spot during the weekday and (ahem) work from home, you can head over to the vicinity of the Camp Store where you’ll find wireless access.

Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd.
Big Sur, CA
: parks.ca.gov

Little Basin
This little sister to Big Basin is right down the road and perfect for families. A mixture of cabins and tent spots, there’s something for everyone. The cabins have enough bunk beds to sleep eight campers. You’ll get an electric heater to keep your warm during cool nights and a table and fire ring outside. The campground offers campfire programs and stargazing on the weekends. They also have a playground and swings! Bonus—they sell ice cream at the building where you check in. Double bonus—your parking pass will also get you into Big Basin if you want to head over there during the day.

21700 Little Basin Road
Boulder Creek, CA

Camp Campbell YMCA
Would you like to camp without bringing your tent? Go back to the basics at the family camps offered by Camp Campbell YMCA in Boulder Creek. They have treetop cabins and tent cabins still available for their Labor Day weekend family camp as well as rustic and treetop cabins available for the Thanksgiving weekend family camp. Participate in traditional camping activities from ceramics to orienteering to archery. All of your meals are prepared for you (hooray!) and the nights end with a campfire gathering and flashlight hike.

16275 CA-9
Boulder Creek, CA
: ymcasv.org

photo: Tarah Beavens

Lake Camanche
Lake Camanche is a jump, skip and a hop outside of the Bay Area in San Joaquin Valley—about 30 minutes east of Lodi. Its 7,700 surface acres of water and 54 miles of shoreline will make you feel like you have all the space in the world to dip in the water, fish, play games at camp or rent a boat for water fun. For lake boating, book a boat of your choice and head out to explore. There are many mini islands/sand bars that pop-up all over the lake. Dock the boat and climb around an island or anchor in the water for swimming fun. Don’t forget to boat to the dam so you can see it up close and personal. You may even spot cows lounging near the shoreline cooling off! Read more about Lake Camanche here.

2000 Camanche Road
Ione, CA
Reservations: lakecamancheresort.com

Del Valle Regional Park
If Tahoe seems like too much of a trek, get your lakeside kicks closer to home. Del Valle Regional Park is centered around a sparkling (and warm!) 5-mile long lake, and offers swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and camping—just ten miles south of Livermore. The warm weather and kid-friendly beaches, complete with lifeguards, make this a haven for Bay Area families, so the kids are sure to make fast friends. The campground has plenty of weekday availability and even a handful of weekends through September. Bonus: they now have five cabins available to reserve!

7000 De Valle Rd.
Livermore, CA
: reserveamerica.com

bothe-napa yurt

Photo: via Louis C. oYelp 

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Head up to wine country to check out some beautiful camping at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Here you can reserve one of 30 tent/RV campsites or check out one of the 10 yurts on-site. The yurts sleep up to six people and include a queen size bed with additional cots available—great for those who want to try camping but don’t want to have to deal with tent set up. Bothe-Napa offers some of the most picturesque hiking in the area and also a spring-fed swimming pool to cool off after a day on the trails.

3801 St. Helena Way
Calistoga, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

Kirby Cove
Just eight miles north of downtown San Francisco, Kirby Cove is a camping destination that is popular with city families who want to experience camping without the long drive into the mountains. Four campsites are available and campers can enjoy the nearby coarse sand beach and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fog is prevalent so make sure you bring clothes that you can layer during cooler times of the day. Campers must provide their own water and foghorns may disturb your sleep (so pack the earplugs).

Conzelman Road
Sausalito, CA
Reservations: recreation.gov

Half Moon Bay State Beach
52 campsites sit just steps from the four miles of sandy beach that makes up Half Moon Bay State Beach. The benefit of this campground is definitely its proximity to the sand. You only have lug the gear a short distance to set up shop for a day in the California sun. Need provisions or don’t feel like cooking? Downtown Half Moon Bay is just a short walk away (we recommend the sandwiches at the San Benito Deli—massive and delicious). Coin-operated hot showers are available if you need to hose the sand off the kids before bed.

95 Kelly Ave.
Half Moon Bay, CA

Fremont Peak State Park
Tiny stargazers will enjoy a road trip to Fremont Peak State Park in San Juan Bautista for camping under the stars. On weekends that do not have a full moon, walk over to the Fremont Peak Observatory for some astronomical education and stargazing with their 30-inch telescope. Campgrounds at Fremont Peak are “rustic”—they do not have showers and only pit toilets are available (once you are are dirty you won’t miss the shower anyway). Hike along the Peak Trail to the top and you will be rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree view. If you need some emergency provisions, San Juan Bautista has tons to offer.

San Juan Canyon Road
San Juan Bautista, CA
Reservations: parks.ca.gov

—Kate Loweth

Photos by the author except where noted.


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