Camping by the Beach in the Southland

Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Noah Albert on March 29, 2010 at 5:04 am

The heat has already shown up and summer lies ahead of us. It’s time to start figuring out how to head to the beach when we can. If you are on a limited budget and enjoy the great outdoors then camping is a great option. Nothing helps to put it all in perspective like a little BBQ and beer by the ocean, followed by a walk along the coast. There are a number of camping options up and down the coast from LA to choose from; the list below covers the state parks.

Be aware that these parks below have reserved campsites! You have to plan your trip ahead of time based on what sites are available and reserve your sites in advance (I have always done this via the internet). Because of the popularity of these places, they are often booked for large blocks of time. During the summer it is very likely that the whole campsite will be booked and anyone who just shows up without a reservation will be out of luck.


Leo Carrillo State Park

This is the first state campground heading north from Los Angeles, just 30 miles from Santa Monica. The campground is in a valley close to a nice beach with tidepools to explore.

Point Mugu State Park

This park is just slightly farther north past Leo Carrillo. At Point Mugu there are two campgrounds: Sycamore Canyon is in a valley close to the shore; it is a little more down-home. The other locale is Thornhill Broome, which is immediately on the beach (and also on the highway). Its often inhabited by a line of RVs, with some tents sprinkled in for good measure. The sound of the waves so close is definitely a plus.

Looking north from Thornhill Broome campground at Point Mugu

Looking north from Thornhill Broome campground at Point Mugu

El Capitan State Beach

This park is considerably farther up the coast, past Santa Barbara. It is a large campground located on a bluff above the ocean; it is a really nice site. The Amtrack route and the Pacific Crest Highway are nearby; I found the vehicle noises oddly comforting. A path from here along the coast stretches north to the Refugio (below), although you may have to recourse to beach occasionally to complete the trip. There are private campgrounds across the highway in the El Capitan Canyon as well, with more amenities but a higher price point.

The beach at El Capitan

The beach at El Capitan

Refugio State Beach

This place is a real gem, like a little piece of the Mediterranean here in California. The protected bay, replete with palm trees, is a nice beach for day visits as well.

The bay at Refugio State Beach

The bay at Refugio State Beach

Gaviota State Park

This park is just past El Refugio, right where the 101 veers away from the ocean. I haven’t visited here yet but I know I surely will soon. Getting reservations at these parks can be tough and you really have to be flexible to get on the schedule.


Doheny State Beach

This is another one that I don’t know much about. It is really close to Los Angeles and it is mentioned in two Beach Boys songs (Surfin’ USA and Surfin’ Safari) so it makes this list. It seems like this place is more expensive than others here.

Crystal Cove State Park

This super neat place is a relic from back when coastal property was open to everyone and not a multi-million dollar investment. The beach front is a Historic Distric with 46 rustic beach cottages. 13 cottages are available for overnight use: studios, one and two-bedroom buildings and dormitory accommodations are all available. You better plan way ahead though as the overnight facilities are well-booked. If you are hungry, there is the popular Beachcomber Cafe right in the park as well as Ruby’s Shake Shack next to the Pacific Coast Highway (this Ruby’s has date milkshake and a great view). There is no RV camping at Crystal Cove. For the intrepid, there is a tent only campground here that is accessible via an uphill 3 mile hike away from the beach.

Historic Crystal Cove buildings in the background

Historic Crystal Cove buildings in the background

Well that’s it folks, ingredients to get your feet sandy. Be aware that the norm for most of the sites listed above is RV camping and car campers with tents are often in the minority. The going fee for camping at these places seems to be $25 a night, though some are more expensive (private campground also tend to be more than $25). Again, the competition for getting camping reservations in the summer is fierce, so you better plan ahead. But it’s worth it! As soon as you arrive, set-up camp, and start taking in the sound of the ocean, you know for sure that everything is gonna work out fine.

[Photos courtesy of lorelei, Art Pet Photography, and Noah Albert]

Tags: 101, beach, camping, Crystal Cove, Doheny, El Capitan, Gaviota, Leo Carrillo, Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Ocean, Point Mugu, Refugio


  • Geoff Hanzell says:

    Just need to dig out my trusty old raised pillow-top air mattress, throw it into my RV and hit the road!

  • Florencio Felkner says:

    I delight in Camping! i 1st went began last year at a festival but i observed its a very good approach to holiday about the cheap, capable to just pack up and move on, me and some outstanding camped within the south of france this spring and it was actually remarkable.i truly the atmosphere you get camping its like getting back and close with nature as well wildlife, its a extremely basic pleasure that i guess we typically take for granted in this contemporary world Anyway wonderful web page may have i will bookmark it 😀

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