For some, camping in an RV just isn't camping. If you'd rather pitch a tent on a secluded beach than sit in a motor home with air conditioning and cable TV, Southern California is the place to be. From the white sand beaches of Orange County to the rocky shores of the Channel Islands, tent camping is available in numerous locations along the Southern California coast. At many campgrounds, there won't be an RV in sight.
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San Clemente State Beach
Located about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, San Clemente State Beach is home to pristine beaches, rich tidal pools and towering sandstone bluffs that overlook the surf. Swimming, surfing, fishing -- a current California fishing license is required -- wildlife viewing and hiking are just a few of the recreational opportunities available. If you intend to spend the night, you have a few options. San Clemente State Beach includes an RV campground as well as a separate tent area and large group camp that can accommodate up to 50 people. The tent sites are perched atop the bluffs, and each one includes a campfire ring, picnic table and shade ramada. Drinking water and restrooms are nearby. The campsites are generally open and spacious, but each one has at least one shade tree. As with most California state parks and state beaches, reservations are available by phone and online through Reserve America.
El Capitan State Beach
Most of the 130 campsites at El Capitan State Beach are open to both tents and RVs, but the sites are grassy and shaded, making them perfect for tents. The campsites are footsteps away from the beach. Modern restrooms, hot showers and drinking water are available to all campers, and each site comes with a picnic table and campfire ring or stove. Intrepid tent campers can also choose from a handful of hike-and bike campsites, which include many of the same amenities but can be reached only on foot or by bicycle. Lifeguards are on duty at the beach, which is open to swimming, surfing and other activities, and dolphins can often be seen offshore. You can also explore the park's mountainous interior on a 6-mile hiking trail.
Channel Islands National Park
Spanning five rugged islands off the California Coast, Channel Islands National Park is one of the most remote camping destinations in the state. The 250,000-acre park includes at least one developed campground on each island, the largest being a 31-site campground on Santa Cruz Island. Camping is tents-only, and amenities are limited to picnic tables, campfire rings and pit toilets. The campgrounds on Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands include water, but visitors to the other islands must bring their own water. Ferry boats run regularly between the islands and the mainland, and campers are required to secure transportation and campground reservations in advance. You must carry your camping gear from the boat landing to the campground, which may be between 0.25 and 1.5 miles, depending on the site. Dispersed backcountry camping is also permitted in certain areas. Further details and reservation information is available on the National Park Service website.
San Elijo State Beach
San Elijo State Beach includes more than 170 campsites, including both electric and nonelectric sites, for tents and RVs. The amenities are typical of a state beach and include hot showers, modern restrooms and drinking water. Laundry facilities are also provided, and Wi-Fi is available near the camp store. The campsites sit at the top of a steep bluff, with walkways that lead down the slope to the beach. The beach itself is the main attraction at this park, and you can go swimming, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Dangerous rip currents sometimes occur, so be cautious as you enter the water, and always keep an eye on the surf. Lifeguards are posted along the beach.