The Best Places to Go Camping in California

J Tree Boulder Garden boasts an outhouse with some seriously enviable views
J Tree Boulder Garden boasts an outhouse with some seriously enviable views | Courtesy of J Tree Boulder Garden / Tentrr
Photo of Mandi Keighran
3 June 2021

California’s famously varied landscape makes for some pretty special campsites – from historic desert towns that evoke the Wild West and romantic glampsites on eco-farms, to secluded sites in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the dramatic Pacific coast. Whether you’re searching for a family-friendly getaway or a luxurious couples-only escape, this is our pick of the best places to camp in the Golden State.

Beckwourth

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Redwood trees in the Peters Grove area of Portola Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Redwood trees in the Portola Redwoods State Park | © Spring Images / Alamy
The small town of Beckwourth is located on the Middle Fork Feather River just east of the city of Portola – which is home to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum – and is named for the nearby Beckwourth Peak. The mountain is part of the northern extension of the Sierra Nevada Range and is best hiked in dry weather during spring and fall. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views of the surrounding mountains and valley. Planning an action-packed trip to Beckwourth? Book into the nearby Hidden Trails Campsite, which boasts more than 30mi (48km) of bike trails.

Hidden Trails Campsite

Camping
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Hidden Trails Campsite | Courtesy of Hidden Trails Campsite / Tentrr
If exploring on two wheels is your thing, head to Hidden Trails Campsite, where you’ll find mountain bikes, electric bikes and more – with trails to match. There’s 30mi of trail on the 1,800-acre (728ha) private ranch, as well as the nearby Downieville Downhill and Mills Peak. When you’ve had enough of riding, stretch your legs with a hike to Beckwourth Peak. The comfortable campsite features Tentrr signature kit, including a canvas tent with queen-size bed and timber deck.

Santa Rosa

Architectural Landmark
Map View
tourist, adult woman, Pinot noir grapevine vineyard, Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery, Santa Rosa, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California
Pinot noir vineyard, Santa Rosa | © Robert Fried / Alamy
Combine an urban escape with world-class vineyards in Santa Rosa, a city at the heart of Sonoma County’s wine country, just 55mi (89km) from San Francisco. Discover the local produce and wine at restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Inn or Willi’s Wine Bar, and explore the great outdoors – the city boasts an extensive trail system, 66 parks, six lakes and is just moments from the dramatic Pacific coastline. Immerse yourself in the local food and wine scene by pitching a tent at Mystic Mountain Tent Camp, a working farm surrounded by vineyards.

Mystic Mountain Tent Camp

Camping
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Mystic Mountain Tent Camp | Courtesy of Mystic Mountain Tent Camp / Tentrr
There’s certainly something magical about the hills that rise above Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley – and the appropriately named Mystic Mountain Tent Camp is the ideal spot to experience them. This campsite is tucked away on a working farm, located just down the road from some of the region’s most popular wineries, including Safari West and Linked Vineyard. In summer, the farm produces an abundance of zucchini, corn, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes, all available to self-pick for just $2 per pound.

Los Gatos

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Los Gatos, Corner Drug
Los Gatos | © B. David Cathell / Alamy
While the town of Los Gatos, in the San Francisco Bay Area, might be best known as part of Silicon Valley (it’s where Netflix is headquartered), it also sits in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This expanse of wilderness offers the perfect antidote to city life, and boasts beautiful campsites, such as Sunrise Point. In Los Gatos itself, you’ll find everything from hiking and biking to wine tasting and yoga. Make sure to visit Vasona Lake County Park, which hosts free concerts every Saturday in June and July.

Sunrise Point

Camping
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Sunrise Point_T
Sunrise Point | Courtesy of Sunrise Point / Tentrr
Pitch a tent above the fog and clouds at this campsite in the Santa Cruz Mountains set 2,000ft (610m) above sea level. This site, among majestic mature trees, is notable as the location where Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translated the religious text Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu between 1968 and 1972. It’s also where the San Lorenzo River originates as a slight trickle during heavy rains. Take in the sunrise or listen to the sounds of birdsong from one of the benches on the surrounding hiking trails.

Morgan Hill

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Large house and vineyard in Morgan Hill California
Large house and vineyard in Morgan Hill | © Bernard Barcos / Alamy
Located at the southern tip of Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, Morgan Hill is one of the most exclusive cities in the country. Not only is it home to some rather palatial residences and the headquarters of several high-tech companies, but also Michelin-starred restaurants, wineries and nature parks – making it an ideal destination for a luxurious romantic getaway. Book a table at Odeum, where chef Sal Calisi serves up Roman and Greek cuisine with a Spanish twist, and try local wines at one of the 15 wineries within 15 minutes of downtown. Then, get back to nature at a nearby glampsite, such as Tule Ranch Deluxe Campsite – think chandeliers, queen-size beds and sun showers.

Tule Ranch Deluxe Campsite

Camping
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Tule Ranch Deluxe Campsite 1_T
Tule Ranch Deluxe Campsite | Courtesy of Tule Ranch Deluxe Campsite / Tentrr
Seeking a campsite for couples? This glampsite, overlooking a pristine 50 acre eco-ranch on the tip of the San Francisco Bay peninsula, has everything you need for a romantic getaway – a wine-barrel sun shower, running water, an antique picnic table, a swinging chair and a queen-size bed in a palatial canvas tent lit by a chandelier. Find adventure on the adjacent 1,000-acre (405ha) open-space preserve and visit the nearby city of Morgan Hill for wineries, breweries and restaurants.

Paso Robles

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Wine tasting room in downtown Paso Robles, California.
Wine tasting room in downtown Paso Robles | © Jayme Burrows / Alamy
This city, with small-town vibes, has been known for its wine – particularly reds – since the late 1800s, and today is an epicurean’s paradise, with wineries, breweries and some of the region’s best restaurants. And there’s no better way to experience this wine region than glamping in a vineyard. Grab a cold brew at Spearhead Coffee then head to Los Robles Cafe for a breakfast burrito; for dinner, check out the hot skillet cornbread at the Hatch Rotisserie and Bar. There’s plenty more besides food and drink to keep visitors busy, though, including Franklin Hot Springs and Charles Paddock Zoo.

Vineyard Glamping

Camping
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Vineyard Glamping T
Vineyard Glamping | Courtesy of Vineyard Glamping / Tentrr
Pair a spacious canvas tent – equipped with a queen-size bed and timber deck – with views over a working vineyard in the rolling hills of Paso Robles, and you have the perfect recipe for a luxury glamping getaway. Paso Robles downtown is just 20 minutes away, while the beautiful coastal beaches of Moonstone Park are just half an hour’s drive. Fancy getting active on the water? Take a day trip to Morro Bay to rent kayaks at Rock Kayak. Back at the campsite, you might even meet the friendly camp dog, Reina.

Lancaster

Architectural Landmark
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Antelope-Valley-California-Poppy-Reserve_TA7DGF
Antelope Valley, near Lancaster, California | © America / Alamy
This creative community lies in Antelope Valley at the western edge of the Mojave Desert, some 80mi (129km) from Los Angeles. It’s perhaps best known for hosting the annual California Poppy Festival each April, a two-day celebration of the state’s flower. Just west of Lancaster, you’ll find the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a protected area of more than 1,700 acres planted with native wildflowers. Head 25 minutes west and you’ll find Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles, a protected Joshua tree camping site in front of the snowy Tehachapi Mountains.

Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles

Camping
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Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles_T 2
Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles | Courtesy of Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles / Tentrr
In search of the legendary Joshua trees but don’t want to make the trek from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park? This protected 2.5 acre (1ha) site in the Antelope Valley, between the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains, is 50mi (80km) closer – but still feels like the Wild West. You’ll find long dirt roads, tumbleweed and sun-bleached bones, alongside epic landscapes. The quaint town of Neenach is just 20 minutes away and has a general store and cafe that makes a mean breakfast burrito.

Buellton

Architectural Landmark
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Industrial Eats is a quality-centered dining experience tucked away in a re-purposed warehouse on Industrial Way in Buellton, California.It?s tattooe
Industrial Eats is tucked away in a re-purposed warehouse in Buellton | © David Litschel / Alamy
Hidden away in the Santa Ynez Valley is this small city known as the “home of split pea soup” thanks to Pea Soup Andersen’s, a popular restaurant for travellers taking Highway 101. As well as some seriously tasty pea soup, Buellton is home to vineyards growing world-class pinot noir and chardonnay – made possible thanks to the region’s year-round sunshine – a botanic garden at River View Park, and countless hiking, biking and horse-riding trails. Camping at the nearby Cactus Flower Ranch is the ideal way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region.

Camp Out Cactus Flower Ranch 6

Camping
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Camp Out Cactus Flower Ranch 6 T
Camp Out Cactus Flower Ranch 6 | © Camp Out Cactus Flower Ranch 6 / Tentrr
Escape the everyday at this 43-acre (17ha) site, which has lots of private spots hidden amid the rolling hills to pitch your own tent or park a small trailer or RV. You’ll need to bring everything you need for your trip – including drinking and washing water, chairs, tables and shade – but you’ll also find a communal campfire pit and BBQ, outdoor shower, outhouse and games room, as well as propane fire pits for hire. For the best and quietest sites, however, head away from the communal areas to the backcountry.

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  • New Cuyama

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    new crops under irrigation in the dry Cuyama Valley of California
    Cuyama Valley | © Timothy Swope / Alamy
    This tiny town in the Cuyama Valley, Santa Barbara County, is just off the historic Route 166, nestled amid mountain ranges, national forests and wildlife refuges. Go hiking in the pristine Los Padres National Forest, discover the cave paintings of Carrizo Plains National Monument, birdwatch at Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge – where you might even spot an endangered California Condor – or spend the night under the stars at the Ojai Backcountry campsite.

    Ojai Backcountry

    Camping
    Map View
    Ojai back country T
    Ojai back country | Courtesy of Ojai back country / Tentrr
    There’s plenty of options for campers of all kinds at this mountain hideaway, nestled between farming communities and Los Padres National Forest. Choose from four different types of tipi, or bring your own tent or RV, and enjoy the remote surroundings, which are home to mountain lions, bobcats, wild horses and coyotes. Hikers will love Los Padres National Forest, which is home to more than 200 different trails, as well as four hot springs open to visitors.

    Valley Center

    Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
    Map View
    Oct. 13, 2014 - San Diego, California, United States - October 13, 2014_Valley Center, California_USA_| Pumpkin Explorers- Annlie Nelson, 4, at left of Vista, and friend Elizabeth Entzminger, 3, at right of Oceanside, climb through the available pumpkins
    The annual pumpkin patch at Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center is a popular attraction | © ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy
    Valley Center, one of San Diego County’s oldest towns, is known today for its wineries, breweries and organic farms. Discover the town’s rich past – and the smallest post office in the world – at the Valley Center History Museum; learn all about otters at Nurtured by Nature, which also offers a close-up swimming encounter with otters; and stock up on nuts from around the world at Bates Nut Farm. There’s also a wide choice of campgrounds in and around the town, including the secluded Chandelier Springs Creekview.

    Chandelier Springs Creekview

    Camping
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    Chandelier Springs Creekview_T
    Chandelier Springs Creekview | Courtesy of Chandelier Springs Creekview / Tentrr
    The Campkeeper of this forested backcountry site is Doug, a musician who believes in the power of camping to inspire creativity – and it doesn’t get much more inspiring than Chandelier Springs Creekview. The seriously secluded campsite overlooks a year-round stream and you’ll need to bring everything you need with you. Enjoy hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as a number of wineries and farmer’s markets within 15mi (24km) of the site.

    Joshua Tree

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    General store in the town of Joshua Tree California USA
    General store in Joshua Tree | © agefotostock / Alamy
    The artsy town of Joshua Tree is located just outside the famous Joshua Tree National Park, which spans the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and is dotted with its namesake trees. The area has been attracting creatives and musicians since the Sixties and is still a haven for live music – check out Pappy & Harriet’s in nearby Pioneertown. The real highlight here, however, is the spectacular landscape, which is dotted with plenty of inspiring camping sites set among dramatic rock formations. Take J Tree Boulder Garden, set on a boulder-studded hillside just outside the park. Just make sure to book in advance, as camping is a popular option here.

    J Tree Boulder Garden

    Camping
    Map View
    J Tree Boulder Garden_T
    J Tree Boulder Garden | Courtesy of J Tree Boulder Garden / Tentrr
    Sleep under the stars at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park at this 2.5-acre (1ha) kid- and pet-friendly campsite. The boulder-dotted hillside site features several natural terraces that make perfect flat sleeping surfaces, and it boasts an outhouse with some seriously enviable views. Keep in mind that cars aren’t able to reach the campsite itself so you’ll need to hike the rest of the way – gear included. Just follow the cairns (rock stacks) and you’ll be there in about five minutes.
    These recommendations were updated on June 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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