We have been asked a few times about nice places to camp in southern California. We spent a lot of time on the road so we actually don’t have a ton of experience locally. That said, we do have some favorite spots we’d like to share from this part of the country. Some of these places we regularly visit while others we have only been once or twice. Nonetheless, we can not wait to go again whenever we get a chance. Here is a run down of a few of our favorite local camping spots.
(Yes, these are Yoda’s favorites too. )
1. Rincon Parkway – Ventura, CA
This is a spot right on the Pacific ocean next to the 101 freeway right up the road from our home. It is first-come, first-serve only and it has no hookups of any kind. Being along the frontage road of the freeway, there can be some car traffic as well as an occasional train or two. But, you are not going to get closer to the beach than this. With nice weather year round, there is no slow season here. The price is reasonable (for California standards) at under $30 a night and it is self-serve only with payment boxes throughout.
2. Thornhill Broome State Beach – Port Hueneme, CA
This is another dry-camp only spot along the Pacific ocean. Unlike Rincon Parkway, there are more facilities here which can accommodate tarps and tent campers as well. It is located just north of Malibu and south of Oxnard along Highway 1 in a stretch of the Pacific Coast nicknamed ‘the California Riviera’. It is more protected from the highway noise and reservations are allowed although your site is only assigned when you show up. It is a managed campground with rangers at the gate so expect to pay a bit more than Rincon Parkway.
3. Malibu Creek State Park – Calabasas, CA
Even though Malibu is in the name of this park, don’t expect celebrities and ocean views at this park. This park is in a great spot in the mountains north of Malibu. There is no electricity but there are water faucets shared by several camp sites. They only allow RVs with a maximum overall length of 24 feet. Being a 25-footer, not counting the hitch and bumper, we conveniently did not disclose our actual size during check in and took our chances with the site they gave us. Make sure you are ready to do some careful maneuvering to get into your assigned spot if you are oversized but it is worth the risk. There is great hiking and sightseeing around the park for a place right in the outskirts of Los Angeles. At the end of one trail is the famous site where the TV show M*A*SH was filmed and there are still a few deterioting film props left for a photo op.
4. San Onofre State Beach – San Clemente, CA
This is another beach side campground with no hookups. Are you seeing a trend here? Some of the best spots in California come with sacrifices. San Onofre State Beach is a series of bluff-side asphalt campsites along the frontage road of the Interstate 5 freeway. It is right on the border of Orange and San Diego county. Although it borders the ocean, it is on top of the bluffs so beach access is not as great as Rincon Parkway or Thornhill Broome. There are some of the best surf spots right along this stretch of coast so if that is your thing, or you want to give it a shot, this would fit the bill perfectly. The road that takes you to the campground has no through access so anyone driving down here is either staying here or visiting someone. That makes traffic lighter than either of the 2 previous beach front campgrounds and much safer for little ones to play and roam.
5. Lake Cahuilla County Park – La Quinta, CA
Aside from camping near the beach, one of our favorite places to go in California is the desert. Too hot to visit in the summer, Lake Cahuilla is a great spot to visit in any of the other 3 seasons. The lake is a man-made reservoir used as a local water source so swimming is a no-go. However fishing and row boating is good to go if that is your thing. There is a boat rental facility but it does not operate year round. And if you have your own boat, you can buy a trolling motor properly sized for your boat. Being near the Palm Springs / Palm Desert area, there are lots of other activities like golfing, shopping and sightseeing in the area. This is our go-to spot when visiting the Coachella Valley. Equipped with electricity and water in all of their sites, it is very easy to get comfortable. A handful of them even provide sewer hookups if you are willing to pay a few bucks more a night. County parks are often diamonds in the rough as they are typically cheaper than state parks and can offer more to the visitor.
6. Palm Canyon at Anza Borrego State Park – Borrego Springs, CA
Another great place to visit in the desert is going to take you pretty far out of civilization and into the heart of the desert. Anza Borrego State Park. It is in the Colorado Desert of Southern California and is the largest state park in California and second largest state park in the entire country. Named after the big horn sheeps that inhabits the region, it is a great geological preservation of the Colorado Desert that once was underwater as the Colorado river drained into the Sea of Cortez. With the state park visitor center within a mile walk down a desert path, there is lots of hiking and exploring to do here. Bring a nice, comfortable pair of walking shoes and don’t come here during the summer as it is closed due to the dangerous heat. Every site has full hookups and has newly paved asphalt that is mostly level. Some major renovations were done around 2006 so all of the bathrooms and showers are clean and nice. We have only been here once but we can’t wait to go back.
You might noticed that we prefer State and County Parks more than commercial campgrounds. That is not to say that we don’t enjoy the occasional stay at a KOA as they are very kid friendly with nice facilities. 4 of the 6 campgrounds mentioned here also do not provide any hookups so a full freshwater tank, generators or solar power would be necessary if you are planning on staying more than a couple of nights comfortably. After all, traveling is less about staying in the RV watching their cable TV and more about getting the most out of where you are. At least that is what keeps us going back out there time after time.
over and out,