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10 Best Places to Car Camp on the Beach in California

Before I set out on my car camping journey through California, I knew I wanted to find some spots where I could sleep in my car while having a view of the ocean.

The only problem was that there wasn’t much information out there so I did some exploring myself. After going to these campsites myself, I wrote this post in hopes of saving someone else the hassle.

In this article:

Beach Car Camping in Southern California

Beach Car Camping in Central California

Beach Car Camping in Northern California

Southern California

1. San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach

Amenities: Restrooms, showers, fire pits, camp store, taco shop

Cost: Starting at $15

The campground at San Elijo State Beach is situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean less than half an hour from San Diego.

This spot is one of the most popular campgrounds in San Diego County due to its prime location atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The state beach provides a stairwell straight from the campsites down to the actual beach. The beach also offers swimming, tide pools, surfing, and picnicking.

Reservations: Here

2. South Carlsbad State Beach

South Carlsbad State Beach

Amenities: Fire rings, picnic tables, restroom, camp store, showers, WiFi hotspot

Cost: $50/night on average

30 minutes north of San Diego, South Carlsbad State Beach campground has around 200 campsites and about half are located on a bluff overlooking the beach and Pacific Ocean.

A stairway provides direct access to the beach below where campers can swim, surf, fish, or simply hang out under the sun.

I have been going to this state park since I was little and it’s definitely one of my favorites.

The park even has trails! Coastal Rail Trail offers an opportunity for biking or a leisurely walk.

Reservations: Here

3. Point Mugu State Park Campsites

my photo from Sycamore Campground

Amenities: Fire rings, picnic tables, showers, restrooms, beach-use

Cost: Starting at $45/night

Point Mugu is a State Park located in Malibu and is home to two beautiful campsites: Sycamore Cove Campsite and Thornhill Broome Campground.

My personal favorite campsite in the Los Angeles area, Sycamore Cove Campsite offers 58 sites and a quick walk to the beach.

Sycamore Cove is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, providing a harmonious blend of sandy shores and canopied woodland areas populated by sycamore and oak trees.

Thornhill Broome Campground presents a stretch of sandy beach juxtaposed against rugged rock formations, making it an ideal spot for those seeking a direct ocean view right from their cars.

Reservations: Here

4. Jalama Beach County Park

Amenities: Restrooms, showers, beach store, restaurant, picnic areas, WiFi

Cost: $40/ night

Jalama Beach County Park is located approximately an hour’s drive west of the city of Lompoc in Santa Barbara County.

The road to Jalama Beach, Jalama Road, is a winding 14-mile journey through scenic ranchlands, rolling hills, and finally descends into the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline.

Jalama Beach offers 109 campsites, all overlooking the ocean or beachfront. Due to its popularity, it’s a good idea to make reservations, especially during peak seasons.

Reservations: 805-568-2460

Central California

5. Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria State Beach

Amenities: Picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms

Cost: Starting at $45/night

In between Santa Barbara and Ventura, Carpinteria State Beach offers terraced bluffs, dune areas, a mile of beach for swimming, fishing, tidepool exploring, wildlife viewing, and camping.

Carpinteria State Beach is the most popular campground in the Santa Barbara area, so it definitely has something worth visiting.

Reservations: Here

 6. El Capitan State Beach

El Capitan State Beach

Amenities: Campfire rings, picnic tables, potable water sources, restrooms, and coin-operated hot showers. The beach is also equipped with day-use picnic areas and lifeguard stations during the summer season.

Cost: Starting at $45/night

El Capitán State Beach is a coastal destination located near Santa Barbara, California. Nature-wise, the area is characterized by tall, rugged cliffs, a mix of sandy beaches and rocky tide pools, and sycamore and oak tree forests providing shade in its backcountry.

Nearby hiking trails give visitors an opportunity to explore the coastal terrain and connect to other regional points of interest.

The campground at El Capitán offers a variety of sites, many of which are situated directly adjacent to the shoreline.

Reservations: Here

UPDATE: Temporarily closed due to recent storms.

7. Oceano Campground

My photo from oceano campground

Amenities: Restrooms, coin-operated showers, hiking trails

Cost: Starting at $20/ night

My favorite campground in all of San Luis Obispo, Oceano Campground is a 5-minute walk from the beach!

Oceano Campground has 24 campsites and each site will accommodate up to 8 people.  Each campsite is equipped with full hook-ups (electricity, sewer, and water).

When I went here to car camp, I was amazed at everything this campsite had to offer. Not only could you easily walk to the beach, but they also had trails surrounding the campsite and a visitor center with a little museum.

8. Islay Creek Campground

Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park

Amenities: Restrooms, potable water, picnic areas

Cost:$25/ night

Located inside Montaña de Oro State Park, The Islay Creek Campground offers 47 primitive campsites for tent camping and recreational vehicles. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table with water spigots and toilets nearby. Firewood is for sale from the campground host.

The campground is located in a valley surrounded by many large trees. The State Park itself is located close to Morro Bay and consists of over 8,000 acres of cliffs and seven miles of beaches.

Reservations: Here

Northern California

Bodega Dunes

9. Wright’s Beach Campground at Sonoma Coast State Park

Amenities: Toilets, dump station, fire pits, picnic tables

Cost: $35/ night

Wright’s Beach Campground is located inside of Sonoma Coast State Park on over a mile of beach land. There are 27 available sites that you can reserve and a few first-come, first-served sites. These sites are literally 50 steps from the water.

Reservations: Here

10. Bodega Dunes at Sonoma Coast State Park

Amenities: Toilets, dump station, fire pits, picnic tables

Cost: $35/ night

Also located inside Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Dunes Campground offers campsites where you can car camp situated under trees just steps away from the beach.