UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
California is an outdoor playground ripe with hikes, amazing views, and beautiful places to pitch a tent. Jumpstart your next adventure with this guide to some of the best camping spots nearby.
If you’ve ever wished you could just sleep in the redwoods, you’re in luck. Make the trip to California’s oldest state park (just south of Santa Cruz) for pure giant tree magic. Hike it’s 80 miles of trails, and set up camp in one of the many walk-in campgrounds. At the end of the day, this peaceful spot makes our list for its amazing pathways that take you past redwood groves all the way to the coastline for sweeping ocean views. We guess that’s cool.
If you really want to escape the crowds, look no further than Lassen. A four-hour drive north, this national park gives campers the option to backpack the trails around its lakes, or settle into a waterside campsite and enjoy some serious hammock game. For a multi-day backpacking trip, start by Summit Lake and head toward Echo Lake. If you’ve got the legs, follow the figure-eight trail loop and pass the park’s famous Cinder Cone. Otherwise, hang by Echo Lake for a few days out in the wild, minus the miles.
You can ride your bike to a campsite? Sure can. This nifty little spot is the perfect overnight for San Franciscans who travel light. We hope you splurged on that backpacking tent because it will come in handy when riding to your campsite just outside the city. Tucked in San Rafael, this coastal nook has both hiking trails and beach access. It also has drinking water on-site (that’s big), helping you to pack even lighter for your trek across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ditch the car and take a ferry to this island campsite in the Bay. Because of its close proximity to the city, Angel Island is prime SF camping territory. So plan on booking way in advance (several months at least) for this one, as it's a very popular spot to pitch a tent. Once off the ferry, campers will just have a short hike to the campsites. The best part? Incredible views of the San Francisco skyline along the way and once you reach your destination.
Another great hike-in campsite can be found just one hour north of the city. So much more than just its grassy pastures, Point Reyes also has the area’s coziest seaside campgrounds. Take note: The park service is strict (be good), and all campgrounds require reservations (no car-camping, unfortunately). But with a bit of planning, you can have your cake and eat it by the ocean, too.
Clear Lake? Oh, it's just your traditional campground — with an enormous bright blue, crystal clear lake behind it. This camping area doesn’t require a hike in, but no worries, the park is teeming with woodsy trails and walking paths. With facilities on-site and towns nearby, guests can relax in this campground with no need to rough it. Fitt tip: Be sure to bring your inner tubes for this one because the best part of hiking up a mountain is definitely staring up at it from the water afterward.
Drinking wine in your sleeping bag? Yes, please! Pick up a bottle (or two) on your way to one of Napa’s many campgrounds. Before you head out, make sure you check whether campfires are allowed, many of these places prohibit them. But what they lack in s’mores, they make up for in vineyards, as campers can bring a portable stove to cook an epic dinner with the perfect vintage pairing. If you want to camp pinkies up — head here.
If you like rocks (and even if you’re neutral on them), this is a great place to spend the night. Campers will find climbers and hikers galore in these easily accessible, hike-in campgrounds. Dense, fragrant shrubbery and both ocean and mountain views make Castle Rock perfect for last-minute camping not far from the city. Plus, nothing beats unrolling your sleeping bag under the stars while surrounded by towering pines, redwoods, and rocky cliffs.
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge lie San Francisco’s most sought-after campgrounds. With only five campsites and one public day-use site, book this one way in advance (campsites are released three months in advance). Not unlike Angel Island, Kirby Cove is so close to the city that its sparkling skyline will be your outdoor backdrop. If you spend your time behind a camera lens or consider yourself a stargazer (and don’t mind the occasional foghorn), camp Kirby.
To see epic views of San Fran and then some, all of our friends flock here during the camping season. With steep hiking and biking trails as well as clear views of the Farallon Islands, Marin Headlands, and East Bay’s Mount Diablo, Mt. Tam is a magical peak of a campsite. Just as with any campsite within throwing distance of the city, book ahead! Plus, if it’s clear when you visit, you may even see the snowcapped mountains of the Sierra from 150 miles away. This 2,500-foot peak sure isn’t Everest, but it’s still pretty mighty.
San Francisco’s only official campground, this Presidio hot spot may at first seem like a reservation nightmare. But the loophole at Rob Hill is that each of the two campsites can accommodate up to the 30 people. Cue the overnight BBQ party you’ve been planning. Campsites are open from April to October, so notify your crew in advance and plan on being one of the first to call in early February when the reservation phone lines open.
This campground is a perfect, tiny spot for those who need a complete break from city life. It’s a bit of a ways up north on Highway 1 in Salt Pointe Park in Sonoma County, but the secluded 30 campsites in are well worth the drive. It also has beautiful coastal views, 20 miles of hiking trails, opportunities for scuba diving (yes, you read that right), and all the amenities you need for a weekend in your tent. Book it well in advance, though — campsites get reserved rather quickly.
Bodega Dunes Campground is also on the Sonoma Coast but has a completely different, beachy vibe than some of its forested neighbors. It’s a (kind of) short walk to the beach nearby, but trust us — you'll be glad you made the trek once you get there. On your way up to the campground, be sure to stop at some of the famous oyster-shucking stands along the way. BYOB (and picnic blanket!). Oh, and this site has hot showers AND flushing toilets.
For all you East Bay folks, there’s beautiful camping right in your backyard. Most of us know Mount Diablo State Park for all the crazy bike rides it holds, but who ever thought of camping out there? This spot has a bunch of different campgrounds — make a point to check out the Fitt-favorite Juniper Campground. It’s close to the top of the mountain and has amazing views to take in those SF sunsets after a day of hard work.
Pescadero is one of the cutest towns in the Bay Area. With its laid-back, classic California vibes, it is sure to be a weekend well spent. And Costanoa is a beautiful lodge along the Pacific Ocean with campgrounds and RV sites for campers like us. And hey, if you realize halfway through that camping just isn’t your thing, there are cabins, bungalows, and a spa available right next door!
It’s a little further away, but this is one of the most quintessential camping spots in driving distance from SF. There are many, many options for camping around this beautiful site along Highway 1 (even in your car on the side of the road). Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is the biggest and the best, with 189 campsites, it has quick access to scenic hikes (including one with a waterfall!). If Pfeiffer is full—and it does get packed during summer months—there are plenty of other spots along the way on Highway 1.
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