Summer is right around the corner and that means one thing—camping season! Pack up the tents, s’mores and firewood and head out to these spots from San Juan Bautista to wine country. The Bay Area offers tons of different options from old-growth redwood forests to camping by the beach. So pick your favorite and hit the road for some old-fashioned family fun that the kids will talk about all year.
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
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-Bear 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.
10840 Coyote Reservoir Road
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.
Photo: via Aswin Ajaiy Kumaran M. on Yelp
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.
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.
1500 Cloverdale Rd.
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.
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
888-327-2757 x. 4502
Photo: via Louis C. on Yelp
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 6 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
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).
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
Where is your favorite spot to get down with nature? Let us know in the comments below!
All photos by the author except where noted