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Camping California’s Central Coast: The Best Spots to Pitch a Tent on the Pacific

Empty beach in Big Sur, California.

The Central Coast of California usually includes all the destinations located along the Pacific Ocean on Highway 1 between San Francisco and the Los Angeles area. Dotted across the state’s scenic shores travelers will find breathtaking ocean views, vibrant tidepools, and ever shifting legions of sand dunes. In addition to hiking trails and hot springs, the Central California Coast is a great place to enjoy rare pleasures you won’t find anywhere else, like beachfront horseback riding and world-class whale watching opportunities.

Camping on the Central Coast of California

Campers will be happy to know that California’s Central Coast has a ton of places you can stay overnight, including California State parks and beaches, national parks, and all kinds of private campgrounds. Starting in the North and heading south, here are some of the most popular sites to choose from:

San Francisco Area Camping

Halfmoon Bay: Campgrounds here include Sweetwood Camp and Francis Beach, which are both good for tent camping. In the same stretch, RV camping options include Half Moon Bay, Pillar Point, and and Pelican Point RV Parks, all of which have amenities like Wifi.

Santa Cruz Area Camping

North of Santa Cruz: In this area, you’ll find a few campsites like Costanoa KOA, Twin Redwoods Trail Camp, and Rancho Del Oso Horse Camp.

Santa Cruz: Both New Brighton and Seacliff State Beach Campgrounds are excellent destinations if you want to sleep and walk among redwoods, not to mention Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campground. Other great beach camping spots in the area include Manresa Uplands, Sunset, and South Campgrounds.

Monterey Area Camping

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North of Monterey: North of Monterey you have Moss Landing KOA for tent camping, and RV resorts like Marina Dunes and Monterey Pines.

Monterey: While there are a lot of outdoor areas and parks in this Monterey region, not all are open to camping. Overnighting spots we can vouch for include the Laguna Seca Recretion Area campgrounds, Carmel By the River RV Park, and Saddle Mountain Ranch RV and Campground.

Big Sur Area Camping

Big Sur is a very popular camping destination with a lot of sites to choose from. Some of the best are as follows:

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
  • Big Sur Campground & Cabins
  • Santa Lucia Campground & Chapel
  • Riverside Campground & Cabins
  • Fernwood Campground & Resort
  • Ventana Campground

Limekiln State Park Area Camping

In this isolated region of CA’s Central Coast you can try either the Limekiln or Kirk Creek Campgrounds. A little further south there’s also the Plaskett Creek Campground, which has RV sites, but no utility hookups. Further inland, there are quite a few mountain and forest campgrounds.

San Luis Obispo County Area Camping

Hearst Castle: The famous Hearst Castle is located in San Simeon State Park. If you make reservations well in advance, you can stay just a short walk away in the San Simeon Creek or Washburn Campgrounds. There’s also a load of hotels and resorts just north of the park.

Cambria: This tiny oceanfront city is known for its downtown beach community and famous Moonstone Beach Park. The nearest campground is located on the edge of town and called The Flat in Cambria. Other than that, there’s mostly hotels and resorts to choose from.

Morro Bay: This is another of the most popular spots on the California Coast thanks to destinations like Morro Rock, Morro Strand State Beach, and Morro Bay State Park. Overnighting opportunities include names like Rancho Recreation Vehicle Park, as well as Morro Dunes and Morro Strand RV Parks. Where tent camping is concerned, choices are limited to the Morro Bay State Park campground. If you don’t mind driving a little south, there’s Islay Creek Campground near Montana de Oro State Park, which is good for both tents and RVs.

Santa Maria Area

Pismo State Beach: The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is located in Pismo and allows camping. Where other accommodations are concerned, there’re are quite a few, so we’ve divided them below:

  • Traditional Campgrounds: North Beach Campground, Oceano Campground, and Oceano Memorial Campground.
  • RV exclusive sites: Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Le Sage Riviera RV Park, Coastal Dunes RV Park, and Pacific Dunes Ranch RV Resort.

Santa Barbara Area

Our final stop is the Santa Barbara area, since, if you go any further, you’ll get to Ventura and the beginning of the Los Angeles area. Campgrounds here include destinations like Gaviota, Refugio, El Capitan, and Carpinteria, all of which are state beaches with campgrounds.

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READ MORE: 25 Cities, Parks, Forests & Attractions to Customize Your California Road Trip

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