If pitching your tent where you can see the sun setting over the Pacific is your idea of a memorable family trip, then the Bay Area definitely delivers. This summer head to one of these camping spots where tall trees and banana slugs are replaced by sun and waves. You may end up with a little sand in your sleeping bag, but it’ll be well worth it. Scroll down to see our faves!

photo: Kate Loweth

Points South

Sunset State Beach
This campsite offers a real authentic California feel with beach on one side and miles and miles of strawberry fields on the other. It has 90 sites for car camping, some able to accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length (no hook-ups). The shade is minimal in some of the sites so bring a pop-up sunshade for the afternoon. The beach is just a short walk away (down about 100 steps) or if you are lugging lots of beach gear, you can drive your car from your campsite and park in the lot below. Campsites are pretty close together and don’t offer a ton of privacy but you’ll be spending your time flying kites so that won’t be too much of an issue.

201 Sunset Beach Rd.
Watsonville, CA

Manresa State Beach
Manresa is smaller than its neighboring state beach campgrounds with only 64 sites. All the sites here are walk-in which means you can park in the unloading zone to get your gear to your site but then you need to move your car to the upper lot for the remainder of your stay. Keep that in mind and bring a folding wagon for your gear. The campsites are on a bluff overlooking the ocean. As with any beach campsite, the temperature dips at night and it can be very chilly in the mornings until the fog burns off so make sure you wear layers and bundle the kids up at nighttime.

Sand Dollar Lane
Watsonville, CA

photo: Kate Loweth

New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton is between Manresa and downtown Capitola. The campground offers 109 campsite including nine premium sites that overlook the ocean. Ten sites include RV hook-ups and they even have one bike/hike campsite that’s reserved for those who arrive via their own two legs. Paths lead you down to the beach and you can even walk along the train tracks to get to downtown Capitola if you need to run to Village Creamery for a scoop of mint chip. Shade is sparse in some of the sites and make sure you bring quarters for the showers.

1500 Park Ave.
Capitola, CA

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 views. Because this is a National Park site, you can book up to a year in advance.

69345 CA-1
Big Sur, CA
Online: recreation.gov

photo: Meghna via yelp

Kirk Creek Campground
Located within Los Padres National Forest, this campground sits on a bluff 100 feet above the ocean. The campground offers 33 single-family sites for tent and RV camping (no utility hook-ups). Each site enjoys a fantastic view of the water and is equipped with a table and campfire ring with grill. Vault toilets are provided throughout the campground and there’s no showers or running water. You can book sites here up to six months in advance. There’s a trail to the beach (watch for poison oak) and hiking along the Vicente Trail nearby.

Big Sur, CA

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

photo: Sheri G. via Yelp

Points North

Anchor Bay Campground
Head north to Mendocino County and you will be rewarded by the beauty of this small, six-acre, privately-owned campground. It lies in a narrow gulch filled with native redwood trees and other coastal flora and has been a family-friendly destination of choice since 1925. The campground’s 27 site include 4 in the redwoods and 23 along the beach. Each camp spot has a water hook up, picnic table and fire pit. A short trail from the campground takes you into the small town where you can get coffee and pastries at White Cap.

35400 CA-1
Gualala, CA

Kirby Cove Campground
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
Online: recreation.gov

Sonoma Coast State Park
Two separate campgrounds make up Sonoma Coast – 25 sites at Wright’s Beach and 98 sites at Bodega Dunes. Beach access is easier from Wright’s Beach but both offer paths to the water where you can spot whales if you are lucky. You may hear the foghorn throughout the night so keep that in mind for light sleepers. Hot showers and flush toilets are available.

Bodega Bay, CA

—Kate Loweth

Featured photo: Terranea


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