California Camping: 10 of the Best Southern Spots to Choose from

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Everyone needs a city break every now and then. Whether it’s an escape to the coast or inland to the mountains, nothing beats that change of scenery.

Southern California offers a plethora of beautiful, untouched places to pitch your tent and take in the region’s natural phenomenon.

From seaside to mountainside and desert scapes, Southern California is an outdoor lover’s paradise.

Here’s a guide to California camping and where you should set your sights for exploring.

California Camping: Where to Pitch Your Tent

Southern California is one of the United States’ most richly diverse regions where you can splash in the ocean one day and explore hiking trails the next.

To make it easy to explore, the state is dotted with numerous camping grounds for the ultimate city escape.

Here are the top 10 places to visit in Southern California and pitch your tent for a night or two:

1. San Onofre Bluffs

Located north of Camp Pendleton, here you have the opportunity to camp just beside the ocean, with the sound of crashing waves as your lullaby.

From this campground, you have easy access to the beach via a short path, while there are a number of family-friendly activities on offer. Some of these include nature programs, geocaching, swimming, surfing and more.

Find this camp spot just 60 miles outside San Diego for $40 a night per campsite. Make sure to reserve your campsite a few months in advance!

2. South Carlsbad State Beach

This low-key, family-friendly campground is located just outside Carlsbad and San Diego and is ideal for a quick city escape.

Camp just beside the seaside, with the beach a short walk away down a well-guided path. From this campground, you have the option of swimming, surfing, fishing and skin diving.

Onsite amenities include picnic tables, fire pits, bathrooms with shower facilities and a small camp store selling wood and ice.

You’ll have to travel just 30 miles outside San Diego to reach this wonderful spot, for $50 per night. Make sure to book 3-6 months in advance.

3. San Elijo State Beach

As one of the most popular campsites in the area, San Elijo is great for socializing for both parents and kids.

The beach is just a short distance away down a wooden staircase where you can spend time fishing, swimming, surfing or sunbathing. Across the street from the campground, you’ll find the popular Seaside Market.

Travel just 27 miles outside San Diego to reach this heavenly spot for a mere $35 per night. Make your reservation at least 3-6 months in advance!

4. Silver Strand State Beach

One of the final beach campgrounds on this list has to be Silver Strand for its RV and motorhome facilities.

If tented camping is not your speed, then this campsite caters to those with RVs, motorhomes, and trailers with the perfect oceanfront setting.

Make use of the popular Bayshore Bikeway during your stay for seaside walks, runs or bike rides. Located just 11 miles from San Diego, make the most of your seaside stay for $50 per night.

Make sure to reserve your RV site a few months in advance, especially during summer.

5. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

From seaside to State Park, make your way 5,000 feet above sea level to the beautiful Cuyamaca State Park for secluded camping.

You can expect to find rolling green meadows, thick oak forests and glistening creeks, not to mention, Lake Cuyamaca for fishing and boating.

Pasa Picacho Campground offers functional toilets and pay showers as well as fire rings and wood cabins if tenting is not up-your-alley!

You’ll have to travel 50 miles outside of San Diego for $30 per night. Reservations are essential for weekends.

6. Idyllwild Park

For something a little further removed from city life, travel 110 miles outside of San Diego to the picturesque Idyllwild Park campground.

The campsites are a stone’s throw from the quaint town which is great for exploring, shopping and eating during the day.

Idyllwild Park is a hiker’s delight, offering numerous trails- both challenging and simple. Make sure to acclimatize for a day or two before hitting these trails though.

Stay for a steal at just $25 per night, with an additional $8 fee. Make sure to reserve your spot from April-October and always over weekends.

7. Mount Laguna

Experience the rolling mountainscapes of Mount Laguna while following one of the popular hiking trails through the region.

Some of these include Noble Canyon, Pine Mountain, Cutca and Wildhorse trails. The region allows hikers to camp for 14 days out of 30 for just $5 per day.

While there aren’t any designated campsites as such, you can pitch your tent anywhere and get a true feel for the great outdoors.

Travel 54 miles outside of San Diego to reach this incredible region. No booking is needed!

8. Indian Cove Campground

No list of campgrounds in Southern California would be complete without the addition of Joshua Tree National Park.

You’ll need to travel a fair whack out of San Diego, 170 miles to be exact, but it’s most certainly worth the glorious scenery.

Indian Cove campground is surrounded by the park’s signature boulder and rock formations which make you feel like you’re on another planet.

The campsite itself offers fire pits, picnic tables, and outhouses but no running water. If you’re willing to enjoy a real, rustic camping experience, the views are truly worth it.

Make your reservation for $50 per night from October through to May.

9. Bow Willow Campground

Located in the southern region of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you’ll need to travel 105 miles to find this spectacular desert scape campground.

For some of the best stargazing and vast, open landscapes juxtaposed beside rugged mountains, this campsite offers both.

Choose a campsite against the rocky hillside and soak in the serenity and silence of this region for just $15 per night.

Make sure to visit in the spring for wildflower season- there’s no need to reserve your spot.

10. Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Hot Springs and Nature Reserve

This campground nestled between the mountains of Baja is a real treat, with each campsite offered its very own hot spring pool.

To add to this, you can also find a palapa, grill, tent sites, flush toilets, hot showers and a camp store within the reserve.

This campground is ideal for large groups, accommodating up to 14 people at a time. Spend your time hiking and exploring ancient caves, wallowing in mud baths, rock climbing, swimming or rock jumping.

You’ll need to travel 140 miles from San Diego and shell out just $40 per night for a regular site and up to $125 for larger sites. Make sure to book well in advance!

Looking to For Expert Camping Advice?

Ramp up your camping experience with our expert advice on the best tents, comms, and navigation equipment, camping accessories and more.

At All Camping Stuff, we not only offer advice on California camping but are here to make your experience all-the-more comfortable.

Looking to upgrade your tents? Here’s what you should know!

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