Wondering what are the best places to go camping on Central California Coast? Then you’re in luck as this handy guide covers all the best California Central Coast campgrounds!
With beautiful beachfront hikes, stunning scenery, and lots of fun adventures, the California Coast is the perfect place for outdoor getaways. Ever since my husband and I moved to Ventura County, we have been on many camping trips up and down the coast.
As California locals, we love to go on weekend camping trips to escape into nature, get away from cell reception, work, and all the everyday worries. While we may come back home a little dirty and in need of a long, hot shower, we always feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the week.
If that sounds like something you’re up for, keep reading this guide for all the best campgrounds along the Central California Coast!
The campgrounds that we cover are listed in order starting in Santa Barbara County in the south up to some of our Big Sur favorites in the north. Let’s dive in!
Looking to rent an RV or campervan for camping in California? We recommend using our favorite van rental company Outdoorsy! Outdoorsy offers thousands of recreational vehicle rentals from popular California cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many more!
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!
15 Best Places For Camping On The Central Coast Of California:
1. Carpinteria State Beach
- Location: Carpinteria
- Campsite types: hike, and bike sites, tents, motorhomes, trailers, group sites
- Amenities: fire ring, picnic table, flush toilets, store
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Carpinteria SB’
Carpinteria is a small coastal town tucked away between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Here you can camp right next to the ocean while also being just steps from downtown Carpinteria offering the best of both worlds.
The Carpinteria State Beach Campsites can be reserved up to six months in advance which is great for those who like to plan their camping trips ahead of time. This campground offers a variety of campsites including premium beachside campsites along the Santa Cruz Loop.
Nearby you can enjoy oceanfront hiking trails like the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail & Tar Pits Park. Along the trail be sure to stop by the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary viewpoint where you can observe Harbor Seals lounging on the beach.
Carpinteria itself is a very cute beach city with coffee shops, breweries, and cozy eateries. If you’re looking to check out a few fun places in town during your camping trip, we recommend:
- Brass Bird Coffee & Kitchen – a trendy spot for breakfast & lunch
- Siam Elephant Thai Restaurant – excellent Thai restaurant for dinner
- Island Brewing Company – great for grabbing craft beers
- Apiary Beverage Co. – a cute boho brewery that sells mead, hard kombucha, and other unique drinks.
2. El Capitán State Beach Campground
- Location: Santa Barbara
- Campsite types: tent sites, group sites, hike & bike sites, RVs, trailers (no hookups)
- Amenities: picnic table, fire pit, coin-operated showers, camp store
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘El Capitan SB’
Situated just off Highway 101, El Capitán State Beach Campground offers serene campsites nestled on top of ocean bluffs. This is one of the most popular campgrounds for those residing in both Central and Southern California.
The campground is situated within a short walking distance of the El Capitan Beach. In the area, there are tons of opportunities for outdoor fun including swimming, surfing, hiking, and laying out on the sandy shoreline.
We stayed at El Capitán State Beach Campground on a weekend trip and were very impressed at how secluded the campsites felt. If you’re seeking beach camping on Central Coast in California, this is definitely the place to go!
3. Oceano Campground – Pismo State Beach
- Location: Pismo Beach
- Campsite types: hook-up RV sites and tent sites
- Amenities: restrooms, paid hot showers, picnic table, campfire ring
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Pismo SB’, and then selecting ‘Oceano Camp’.
Pismo Beach is home to several beachfront campgrounds including the Oceano Campground at Pismo State Beach. Located next to the Oceano Dunes, this campground is the ideal place to stay for those who enjoy fun outdoor activities!
From the campground, you can walk over to multiple ATV rental companies along Pier Avenue. If you’re looking for a bit of thrill, we highly recommend renting an ATV and spending an hour or two riding up the giant sand dunes at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
For nature lovers, there are a couple of hiking trails that start at the campground including the Lagoon Trail and the Dune Trail. Within 10 minutes you can also walk down to the shoreline to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the beach.
Oceano Campground is the perfect seaside escape for those who enjoy camping, surfing, fishing, or just want to spend time by the Pacific Ocean during the hot summer months.
4. North Beach Campground
- Location: Pismo Beach
- Campsite types: tent camping and recreational vehicles (no hookup sites)
- Amenities: restrooms, paid hot showers, picnic table, campfire ring
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Pismo SB’, and then selecting ‘North Beach Campground’.
North Beach Campground is another one of our favorite campgrounds on the Central Coast of California.
North Beach Campground is also situated in Pismo Beach. And as the name suggests, it’s located in the northern part of town.
This campground offers spacious campsites within walking distance of downtown Pismo Beach and the Pismo Pier. From the campground, you can go on a beachfront walk along the scenic Meadow Creek Trail or take a stroll through the Monarch Butterfly Grove where you can observe migrating Monarch butterflies in the winter season.
Within a short drive of the North Beach Campground, you can reach Spring to Spring Trail which offers excellent views of the ocean. Overall, this campground is in a great location for visiting the beach, the city and heading out into nature!
5. Islay Creek Campground
- Location: Montaña de Oro State Park
- Campsite types: primitive campsites for tent camping and recreational vehicles
- Amenities: picnic table, campfire ring, water spigots, vault restrooms (no showers)
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Montana De Oro SP’, and then selecting ‘Islay Creek Campground’.
Tucked away in a beautiful setting south of Morro Bay, Islay Creek Campground is a hidden gem for camping along Central California Coast. This campground is an ideal place to stay for individuals, friends, and families who are looking for a peaceful camping getaway near mountains, rugged ocean cliffs, beaches, and nature.
Islay Creek Campground is located within Montaña de Oro State Park which is one of the largest State Parks in California. Despite its size, this State Park is not well known outside of Central California so here you can enjoy crowdless hiking and mountain biking trails near the ocean.
Islay Creek is a simple campground with very limited amenities. Each campsite comes with the basics like a picnic table and a campfire ring, but no hot showers or running water in the bathrooms.
During our stay, most people that we saw camping at Islay Creek Campground were bikers, trail runners, and families. This is a secluded campground with very little car traffic so it’s a great place to stay for families with little kids.
6. Morro Bay State Park Campground
- Location: Morro Bay
- Campsite types: tent camping, group camping, recreational vehicles (electrical hookups are available in some sites)
- Amenities: picnic table, fire ring, hot showers, bathrooms, running water
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Morro Bay SP’.
Morro Bay is a small beach town on the Central California Coast that has two beachfront campgrounds – Morro Bay State Park Campground and Morro Strand State Beach Campground. We have stayed at both campgrounds before and they are both pretty great!
Choose Morro Bay State Park if you prefer more of a secluded, woodsy feel. This campground is also very close to popular hiking areas including the Black Hill Trail, Morro Bay State Park Boardwalk, and The Elfin Forest Natural Area.
Morro Bay State Park Campground has excellent amenities including paid hot showers, bathrooms, and running water. When you start feeling tired of eating camp meals, you can easily walk over to the nearby Bayside Cafe and enjoy lunch on a patio overlooking the marina.
7. Morro Strand State Beach
- Location: Morro Bay
- Campsite types: tent camping and recreational vehicles
- Amenities: fire ring, picnic table, flush toilets
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Morro Strand SB’.
Book Morro Strand State Beach Campground if you want to wake up to the sounds of the ocean! This is one of the best oceanfront campgrounds on Central California Coast that is just steps away from the sandy shoreline.
Morro Strand State Beach Campground is located right off Highway 1 and offers excellent views of Morro Rock in the distance. From the campground, you can go on a walk along the Morro Strand State Beach for an up-close view of this towering volcanic plug.
Due to the campground’s convenient location, you can easily go and explore nearby towns such as Cayucos, Cambria, and San Luis Obispo. If you’d rather stick around Morro Bay, it is such a cute beach town with lots of delicious cafes, seafood eateries, and wildlife viewing opportunities along the Embarcadero oceanfront boardwalk!
While you can have your pup at the campground, dogs are not allowed on the Morro Strand State Beach. If you plan to bring your furry friend, you can head over to the Morro Bay Dog Beach just five minutes north, or take them for a walk at Cloisters Community Park in Morro Bay.
8. Washburn Campground
- Location: Cambria
- Campsite types: tent camping, recreational vehicles (no RV electrical hookups)
- Amenities: fire ring, picnic table, chemical toilets, water spigots
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Hearst San Simeon SP’, and then selecting ‘Washburn Campground’.
Washburn Campground is where we like to stay for a night on a Big Sur road trip to break up the drive. This campground is situated within Hearst San Simeon State Park, just south of Big Sur.
Washburn Campground is a primitive campground with limited amenities. If you want to take a shower, you can head to the nearby San Simeon Creek Campground which has coin-operated showers.
This is one of the best places to go camping on Central Coast if you want to feel secluded in nature away from major cities. Nearby you can visit Moonstone Beach in Cambria, go for a hike at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, and marvel at elaborate architecture at the unique Hearst Castle.
9. Kirk Creek Campground
- Location: Big Sur
- Campsite types: bicycle & walk-in tent camping, tent camping, camping trailer
- Amenities: picnic tables, fire ring, vault toilets (no showers)
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Recreation.gov here 6 months in advance.
Being one of the most sought-after campgrounds on Central Coast in California, this one is quite difficult to reserve. But if you get the chance to stay at Kirk Creek Campground, it will be one of the most memorable camping experiences of your life!
Situated on top of rugged ocean bluffs, Kirk Creek Campground is a great place to camp in southern Big Sur. Here you can wake up to dreamy views of the beautiful Big Sur coastline, relax, reset, and enjoy pristine nature.
We got lucky and were able to get reservations for Kirk Creek Campground in the winter season. With mild, temperate weather year-round, there is no such thing as a ‘bad time’ for a Big Sur camping trip!
10. Limekiln Campground
- Location: Big Sur
- Campsite types: tents and RV sites
- Amenities: fire pits, bathrooms, quarter showers, beach access
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Limekiln SP’
Situated within Limekiln State Park, this campground is an ideal place to stay for those who want to be near the beach and forest trails. At Limekiln State Park you can spend the day hiking through serene redwood trails and return to your campsite to enjoy a sunset by the beach.
The campground sits right next to a bridge within walking distance of the ocean. Some of the campsites have ocean views while others are tucked away in a woodsy forest next to Limekiln Creek.
Camping tip: this is a popular Big Sur campground that can be quite difficult to reserve. The winter campsites are always much easier to reserve than the summer ones.
11. Ventana Campground
- Location: Big Sur
- Campsite types: tent camping only (no RVs or campervans)
- Amenities: fire ring, picnic table, water faucets, bath houses, firewood for sale
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Hyatt.com here
Situated near Alila Ventana Big Sur Resort, this is a private campground where campers can stay in a 40-acre redwood forest surrounded by some of the tallest trees in the world!
Ventana Campground is more expensive than other California State Park campgrounds, but private campgrounds usually are. Ventana Campground offers standard tent sites that cost $80 per night along with glamping sites that go for $240 per night. This is a great alternative place to stay in Big Sur if other campgrounds are booked up.
The Ventana glamping tents come with beds, towels, electrical outlets, a propane fire pit, and other excellent amenities to make your camping experience as comfortable as possible. The standard campsites feature regular and hike-in sites that come with a fire ring, picnic table, and a space to pitch your tent.
12. Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
- Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- Campsite types: tent and RV sites
- Amenities: restrooms, showers, onsite restaurant, camp store, campfire center, laundromat, river access
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Pfeiffer Big Sur SP’
Big Sur is home to some of the most beautiful central coast campsites in California! Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a secluded campground tucked away in a serene redwood forest along the rugged Big Sur coastline.
With limited campground and hotel options in this region, Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is a great place to stay if you’re planning a getaway in Big Sur. There are also onsite laundry facilities which is so convenient for those on a longer road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
This is a very popular campground so we recommend booking reservations well in advance. If you don’t mind traveling in the off-season like spring, winter, and fall, you can often book campsites much easier than during the busy summer months.
13. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campground
- Location: Felton
- Campsite types: bicycle camping, tents, campers, trailers (no sewer or water hookups)
- Amenities: picnic table, fire pit, grill, food lockers, quarter-operated showers, flush toilets, potable water. Firewood can be purchased for $10 per bundle.
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Henry Cowell Redwoods SP’
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of my favorite redwood parks near Santa Cruz. Here you can enjoy serene hiking trails through preserved old-growth redwood forests with trees that are over 270 feet tall and 1500 years old!
On the east side of this Redwood State Park, you can stay in spacious wooded campsites surrounded by a lush pine and oak forest. From the campground, you can go on several day hikes including the Observation Deck which is the highest point in the park.
For a longer day hike, head over to the Redwood Grove Loop Trail which is home to some of the largest and oldest redwoods in California.
14. Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort
- Location: Felton
- Campsite types: RV sites with hookups, tent pavilions, tent sites
- Amenities: picnic tables, hot showers, clubhouse, outdoor grills, river access. Fire rings can be rented for an additional fee.
- Reservations: reservations can be made on campspot.com here
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort is a private campground in Felton just north of Santa Cruz. This is one of our top choices for where to stay when visiting the Redwood State Parks on the Central Coast. This RV park offers a variety of campsite options including RV sites with hookups, tent sites, and glamping tent pavilions.
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort has excellent amenities to make your camping experience enjoyable and stress free. During our stay, we especially enjoyed the hot showers, outdoor grilling stations, and private trail access to the adjacent San Lorenzo River.
If you’re new to camping and don’t have all the necessary camping gear, I recommend booking a tent pavilion that comes with sleeping cots, water, electricity, a grill, and a picnic table. This is a very popular choice for traveling friends or families with little kids who are seeking a bit more comfort during their camping trips.
15. Portola Redwoods State Park Campground
- Location: La Honda
- Campsite types: group campsites, trail camp for backpackers, family campground (no hookups)
- Amenities: picnic table, fire ring, bear lockers, bathrooms with flush toilets, quarter-operated showers, dishwashing stations
- Reservations: campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Portola Redwoods SP’
Located just an hour’s drive from San Francisco and San Jose, Portola Redwoods State Park is a wonderful camping destination for Bay Area locals. This State Park offers beautiful campsites scattered in between towering redwood trees with plenty of shade and privacy.
If you’re up for a bit of hiking, there are several short-day hikes that pass along ancient redwoods. A few of my favorite trails include the Sequoia Nature Trail, the Old Tree Trail, and Tiptoe Falls.
Overall, this is one of the best campgrounds on California Central Coast for families and larger friend groups seeking a getaway from busy city life.
California Coast Camping Map
To help make your trip planning easier, I have created this handy map of the best places to go camping on Central California Coast.
Map Tip: Click on each location to see more details!
What To Bring Camping On The Central Coast
Here are a few things that I recommend bringing for a camping trip along the Central Coast:
- Helinox Chair Zero. Foldable chairs are great for eating, hanging out, and sitting around a campfire. We have a couple of foldable chairs that we can easily put together when we’re stopped at a campsite or store at the back of our car when not in use.
- REI Camp Foldable Table. We also have a small camping table that we can prop up for eating meals outdoors. This table has foldable legs and is made of aluminum material that lasts a long time.
- AeroPress Travel Coffee Press. Do you love coffee as much as we do? Using an AeroPress is one of the easiest ways to make coffee while camping. We love this coffee press because it can fit into small storage spaces and it won’t break if you accidentally drop it.
- Travel Towel. A travel towel is great for outdoor trips because this type of towel is light and dries quickly. It’s also very compact so it’s easy to store in small spaces like a tent or a car.
- Packing Cubes. Staying organized while camping can be a challenge. These travel packing cubes will keep everything nice & tidy and save a ton of space!
- Down Hoody. The Central Coast evenings tend to stay cool all year long. I have a lightweight jacket that I can easily bring along on road trips. This jacket comes in handy on cooler mornings and while enjoying a campfire at night.
- Headlamp. Having a headlamp is a must for camping in nature. A headlamp is essential in case you need to find your way to the restroom at night (or check out strange wildlife noises outside your tent).
Whether you’re a casual weekend camper or looking for somewhere to stay on a longer road trip, there are so many incredible campgrounds in Central California!
We hope that this list of 15 best places to go camping on Central Coast of California has helped you narrow down some choices. If you have any questions about these campgrounds, leave me a comment below!
Looking for more things to do in California? Be sure to check out some of our other popular posts below:
- 15 Best Muir Woods Tours From San Francisco
- 20 Best Waterfalls In Central California (By a Local)
- 25 Best Beaches On The Central Coast In California
- 16 Amazing Places To See Big Trees In California
- 15 Best Places For Viewing Wildlife In California
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