The northern California coastline is home to the majestic redwoods and several national parks. It’s no surprise that camping is a favorite summer activity for people who live in and around the Bay Area. San Francisco is a beautiful city bursting with culture, but when you feel the need to unplug and reconnect with nature, you’re just hours away from a sprawling natural paradise. Northern California is home to so many scenic campgrounds, your biggest camping problem is probably which one to choose. From beloved national favorites to hidden gems tucked away in the redwood groves, we’ve prepared a list of campgrounds located within one hundred fifty miles of the Bay Area.
1. Bodega Dunes Campground
Located on the Sonoma Coast in the Napa Area We love Bodega Dunes Campground because it combines a beachy getaway with an authentic camping experience. With its scenic coastal views and salt air drifting on a warm breeze, Bodega offers one of the most ambient camping tips in northern California. There is beach access, and for campers who prefer quieter afternoons languishing in the sand, the campground is within walking distance from South Salmon Creek Beach. If your camping trips are all about oneness with nature, you’ll fall in love with the tranquility of this sandswept oasis. There is plenty of wide-open space, and campers don’t have to worry about overcrowded beach fronts, campgrounds, or rest areas.
It’s also the perfect spot for families with children of all ages. Bodega is ideal for both beach and camping activities- hiking, kite flying, swimming, surfing, roasting marshmallows around a crackling firepit- you name it. The campground is dog-friendly, so you won’t have to find boarding for furry family members. All of the campsites are shaded, so there are cooler places to sit- something to consider if you are bringing small babies, children, elderly people, or just want to escape the heat on a midsummer day. There is a picnic area with tables within the campground, and close to the beach. The area is also really breathtaking in the fall. The campgrounds have a quiet, rustic charm as the leaves turn ripe colors and a crisp chill permeates the air.
The only considerable drawback is that although campsites accommodate large RVs and tents, there are no RV hookups. But there are restrooms with multiple showers (even though you probably won’t have to compete for one), and water available for boiling.
Oh, and we almost forgot- it’s very reasonably priced. The camping fee is only $35, and there’s no day use or parking pass required.
2. Sky Camp at Point Reyes National Seashore
This Marin, CA 70,000-acre park is a veritable paradise for hikers and wildlife explorers (big or small). Surrounded by beaches, rain forests, and rough-hewn cliffs overlooking the Pacific, Sky Camp is scattered with trails for hikers of all skill levels. So if you want to explore the wild elements of nature without doing too much vigorous activity, this camping trip offers more than just your garden variety walk through the park. This is also a huge benefit for people who can’t physically tolerate overly strenuous activity but still want to experience nature in the rough. This sprawling campground is located at a high elevation of 1,024 feet, but all four of its campgrounds are easily accessible by car or foot.
Speaking of which, Sky Camp has four large campgrounds: Coast, Glen, Wildcat, and (you guessed it) Sky. The bathrooms are solar powered (how awesome is that?), which is a draw if environmental consciousness is important to you. We appreciate Sky Camp’s efforts to preserve the ecosystems that keep their beautiful campgrounds in business!
If you’re camping with a large group, consider the fact that there is only one large group site available. All of the others accommodate one to two tents. Furry friends are welcome, and if you’re coming from the city, this Sky Camp probably has more open space than your dog has ever seen. Each site is complete with a grill for cooking, one picnic table, and food storage lockers.
Taking a romantic trip for two, or just prefer seclusion on your camping trips? Then you’ll want to keep in mind that the most secluded sites are furthest from the main trail. You’ll want to reserve any of Sky’s campsites months in advance because they tend to sell early. This is not a spur-of-the-moment getaway, and there’s usually a moderately sized crowd.
3. Live Oak Campground in Mount Diablo State Park
Live Oak Campground is known for its enormous live oaks spanning the campsites, and its access to unique sandstorm formations in the Rock City area. Mount Diablo features a Summit Trail that wends its way through the campgrounds and leads directly to Rock City. The campsites themselves are lovely, complete with old-style Diablo fire grills and picnic tables.
There is a covered picnic area conveniently nearby the restroom. This way, in the event of an unexpected sunshower, you don’t have to lug your lunch coolers- and kids- back to your campsite to eat. Raccoons are prominent in the area, but Live Oak Campground has that covered, too- each campsite comes with raccoon boxes to help keep them from sniffing around your dinner. As for your own critters, dogs are allowed, but with a few ground rules- they must be kept on 6-foot leashes, and they can’t join you on the trails, which are a little too adventurous for their safety.
We wouldn’t call the circular shady campground secluded, but perimeter sites offer a bit more privacy. Crowds are usually moderate, but not congested.
4. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Another Napa Area/ Sonoma Coast favorite. This lovely, historic park is nestled into the enchanted redwoods, surrounded by towering trees that seem to graze the sky at over 200 feet tall. There are no campgrounds within the park, but they are It will come as no surprise that this is one of the most popular campsites for locals and tourists who love the redwoods. Children and grown-ups alike will be awed by Colonel Armstrong Tree, the parks oldest coast redwood. Parson Jones Tree stands at over 300 feet and is the tallest tree in the park. Both trees are within only half a mile of the entrance station- just a short hike away.
Armstrong Redwoods is quiet, tranquil, and ADA accessible. There are plenty of picnic tables throughout the park and the nearby campgrounds. No parking or day-use pass is required.
This lush natural reserve lends itself more to experiencing the beauty of nature than hiking for sport. Hiking trails are relatively easy, so accomplished hikers won’t find a challenge here- although the old growth park is so gorgeous that most people enjoy just passing through. The only other big drawback is that no dogs are allowed.
5. Wastahi Campground at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Located in Santa Cruz near the San Francisco Peninsula, Wastahi Campground is ideal for families hiking through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Although some hikers enjoy a somewhat off-the-grid experience, many explorers of the park trails prefer a few amenities. Wastahi Campground has a very practical setup with a large parking lot that connects to five walk-in trails. Each of the trails hold five or more individual campsites. Conveniently, rest rooms and showers are also easily accessible from the parking lot. Despite its popularity and accessibility, the campground has a spacious design and offers more privacy than many others.
The cozy campsites are equipped with healthy food boxes, picnic tables, and fire pits to warm by on chilly nights. Wastahi has something for hardcore campers and “glampers”, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. Hiking enthusiasts won’t be disappointed by trails that wind through the Sequoia Trail and offer breathtaking views of the Sempervirens Falls.
Before you ask, yes, there are picnic tables at the campsites. Yes, you can bring your dog. The camping fee is reasonable at $35, but there is one caveat: There’s an $8 reservation fee. Still, that’s not too bad for access to an impressive 27 tent and walk-in sites.
6. Rob Hill, San Francisco
Searching for a great camping experience without leaving the city? (Yes, you read that right). Look no further than Rob Hill in the heart of San Francisco. The perfect spot for beginners embarking on their first camping adventure, Rob Hill won’t lead you far from home- but the campground takes hikers straight to the scenic Bay Area Ridge Trail. Also, the sand ladder on Lincoln Boulevard leads to Baker Beach, making this campground ideal for both woodsy and beachy people (although most San Fransiscans are both).
The obvious draw is that it doesn’t cost you much time or expense, which makes it doable as a day trip or extended vacay. You can get there by bus or train. But (yes, there’s a but), Rob Hill only has two sites available for public use. Before you stop reading, there’s a saving grace here: Each public site is big enough to accommodate no less than 30 people.
7. China Camp State Park
Attention “glampers” (and everyone else who wants to save time and money by camping near the city)- this is another one for you. Let’s face it, city living isn’t cheap. Not everyone can afford the time off work, travel expenses, and planning required to camp hours from San Francisco. The good news is that if you want to travel light and close to home- or you’re a fan of impromptu camping trips that don’t take a lot of planning- you’ve got options. China Camp is one of our favorites. Not only is it local and super-convenient, but it has both hiking trails and beach access. Nestled in San Rafael, this mini camping trip takes you on a journey across the Golden Gate Bridge, making it as idyllic for tourists as it is for locals who never get tired of their beautiful city. The views at night are even more magical, so plan on some serious star gazing.
8. Gerstle Cove Campground at Salt Point State Park
Open year-round, Gerstle Cove Campground is wildly popular for its close oceanic appeal. Campers with an interest in marine life will dive deep into an exploration of Gerstle Cove, a State Marine Reserve with a flourishing underwater kelp forest. Naturally, the campground attracts divers all year around. Located in the Sonoma Coast/ Napa Area, Gerstle Cove is uniquely tenable for campers in the winter as well as the other, more popular camping seasons. The location is convenient, too- the campground has 30 drive-in sites on the oceanic side of Highway 1.
Possible drawbacks? This is one of those camping trips that should be booked ahead of time. Without a reservation, it’s hard to secure a spot. There are no showers (although there is access to potable water). The campground’s popularity means the congestion level is also on the higher side. But to end on a positive note, dogs are allowed!
9. Reef Campground at Fort Ross State Historic Park
Here’s another one for marine life lovers. It’s located within the park, and a gulch leads to the ocean coves near Fort Ross. The coves are teeming with rich marine life, which is the main attraction for many coastal campers.
The 21 tent/vehicle sites are available without reservations, although making them to be safe is never a bad idea. But here’s the thing- only half of the campsites are heavily shaded by redwood trees. The other half are for those who don’t mind braving the elements, which are changeable along the coast. Potable water is usually available, but a drought might change things. Your safest bet is to come prepared before you reach the entrance of Fort Ross State Park. Park workers will always inform you as to whether water is available, but if it’s not and you’re already there, you’ll have to do some backtracking. There are no hookups, but each site can accommodate RVs.
10. Doran Beach Campground at Doran Regional Park
This campground is surrounded on all sides by Bodega Bay and Bodega Harbor, giving it an island feel despite its drive-in accessibility. Swimmers, kayakers, and boaters love camping at Doran for obvious reasons. Tent/RV sites are available throughout the campground, but there are no hookups (a common theme among coastal and other campsites). There’s the added convenience of a walk-in tent area as well as a group camping area. Potable water is always available throughout each campground section, and
Doran Beach has four campground loops: Shell Campground, Cove Campground, Gull Campground, and Getty Campground. Dogs are allowed on each one, but they’ve got to be kept on a leash. All of the campgrounds can get a little crowded on the weekends during in-season, but not overly so.