10 Beautiful Beach Campgrounds (and How to Prepare)
From sunset to sunrise, beach camping can be a spectacular experience. During the day, there are shorelines to explore and waves to ride; at night, there’s a beautiful sky to gaze at the stars.There are many different types of beaches to camp on, from the secluded, rocky coves of northern California to the white sand tropical beaches of Florida. Stay close to the city, or adventure a little further to those remote, wild shorelines – you won’t be disappointed. Read below for some great spots to camp by the beach and tips and tricks to help you as you plan.
10 Amazing Spots to Camp on the Beach
There are so many places to camp on the beach, and it would take a lifetime to explore them all. Here are a few great places to get you started as you plan a trip to the ocean.
1. Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California
Sonoma Coast State Park is two hours north of San Francisco and offers beachfront camping on an undeveloped coastline. Explore sandy coves, hunt for seashells, or go tide pooling on one of the most scenic shorelines in California. However, swimming is not advised due to the strong and unpredictable nature of the ocean currents. Stay at the Wright’s Beach campground for $35 a night, or $45 for a premium campsite. Showers and drinking water are not included but can be found at the Bodega Dunes Campground five miles away. The campground and park are open year-round, although the most popular time to visit is during the summer.
2. Crystal Cove State Park in southern California
Watch the sunset from your tent or enjoy the surf in this classic sandy southern California beach. Crystal Cove State Park is only a few hours south of Los Angeles and is a great weekend destination for families or newer campers. The park also features 18 miles of backcountry trails through coastal forests with ocean vistas. Stay at Moro campground for access to drinking water and restrooms. The climate here is mild enough to camp year-round, although reservations in this popular and scenic park are recommended. Family sites or RV sites are $55 a night.
- Refugio State Beach in southern California
Refugio State Beach is just 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, California, and offers beach camping on a sandy beach with shallow water perfect for swimming. The State Park Lifeguards watch over the swimming area from May through September, and even offer kayak tours. This family-friendly camping destination has 66 tenting and RV spots, and camping is possible year-round, although online reservations are recommended. Camping is $45 a night and includes drinking water and restrooms.
4. Mattole Beach Campground in northern California
The Mattole Beach Campground is one of the most secluded beach campgrounds on the California coast, only reachable by driving down a long, winding road from the small town of Petrolia. The beach is wild and often windy, with stunning ocean vistas and remote scenery. Enjoy beach-combing, swimming, or fishing, as well as the 7-mile out-and-back hike to the abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse. Wildlife is abundant here, as are hikers – backpackers come to begin their hike of the 35-mile Lost Coast Trail, California’s longest and most rugged coastal trail. Campsites cost $8 a night, with seasonal drinking water and vault toilets. There are 14 sites that are first-come, first-served. Camping here is best during the summer months.
5. Tillicum Beach Campground in Oregon
Experience the solitude and beauty of the Oregon coast, with miles of sand dunes and long stretches of undeveloped sandy beaches. Tillicum Beach Campground is right on the beach, with mountain views on sunny days, and a beach perfect for swimming or surfing. Newport, Oregon, is a half hour away, with amenities and the amazing Oregon Coast Aquarium, the ideal spot for a rainy day. The campground provides drinking water and bathrooms, as well as a few RV hook-up sites that are not on the beach. The best time to camp is the summer or early fall, when there is likely to be less rain and fog. Families, solo adventurers or anyone wanting a way to sleep on the beach in a more remote area will love this campground. Campsites range from $20 to $30.
6. Biscayne National Park, southern Florida
Sleep under the stars on a tropical island in the company of swaying palm trees and hardwood forests in one of Florida’s most unique national parks. Over 90 percent of the park is underwater, and there are no bridges to get here – campers must ferry over via boat. Bring a kayak and snorkel gear to explore the vibrant underwater jungle of coral reefs and mangrove forests, and a pair of lightweight hiking boots to trek through the hardwood forests on Elliot Key. It is hard to believe this campground is off the coast of the bustling city of Miami! Beach camping is available on both Boca Chita Key and Elliot Key, although Elliot Key is larger and offers amenities like showers and running water. Boca Chita Key provides only restrooms, and campers must bring their own drinking water. Camping costs $15 a night, a round-trip ferry shuttle is $60, and a kayak shuttle is $20. The campground is open year-round, but the ferry system is weather-dependent. You do not need a camping reservation, but should check-in with the park for ferry times and availability.
7. Bahia Honda State Park, southern Florida
This park is another gem of the Florida Keys, with blue-green water and white sand beaches rimmed with palm trees. The park straddles both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, offering plenty of opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and beach-combing. This is a family-friendly campground, with RV sites and tent sites and even a hammock camping area. Camping is possible year-round, although conditions will be hot in the summer. Pricing varies but is usually $40 for a tent or RV site. Amenities include showers, drinking water and RV hook-ups. Reservations are recommended.
8. Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, central Florida
An hour south of St. Augustine lies this sandy beach, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway along a barrier island. Beach fishing is popular here, as is sunbathing, swimming, or viewing the park’s diverse wildlife and plant life. There are 68 campsites, some along the beach and a few along the river. Amenities include showers, water, and restrooms, as well as RV hook-ups. Reserve a campsite online for around $30 a night, depending on the season and site. Camping is possible year-round.
9. Grayton Beach State Park, northwest Florida
Grayton Beach campground offers a quiet alternative to some of the busier campgrounds in California and Florida. Grayton Beach is one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches, known for its incredibly soft and smooth white sand and coastal forests. There is abundant wildlife here, too, as the park straddles Grayton Beach and Western Lake – a lake with salt marshes and plenty of fishing opportunities. This park is only an hour and a half east of Pensacola, and has full amenities with water, hookups and restrooms. Camping is $25 a night and is possible year-round.
10. Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, lie barrier islands – long, low stretches of sand over 50 miles long. Here you will find sand dunes, beach grasses, and low forest – the perfect spot for those seeking solitude to swim, birdwatch or fish. Camping at Cape Lookout is in tents, with a few cabins available seasonally. Bring your own water and food, and pack out all your trash. The only way onto the island is by personal boat or a park-authorized ferry. The park is open year-round, with ferry operation dependent on weather. There is no park entrance fee, but there is a fee for the ferry. Prices depend on which part of the barrier islands you travel to but is around $17 a person.
Preparing for a Beach Camping Trip
Camping on the beach is similar to camping in other environments – you still need equipment like your tent, sleeping bag, and the Ten Essentials. However, there are a few things you should know before you hit the sand. Here’s a list to help you prepare for a beach camping trip:
1. Be prepared for wet and windy conditions
A warm, sunny day on the beach can turn chilly in the evening, as cool, wet air from the ocean rolls off the sea. Bring anything inside your tent that you do not want to get wet with condensation, and always pack layers and a rain jacket. Even if it does not rain, a good rain jacket will also provide wind protection, which will keep you warm.
2. Bring your own firewood and camp stove
Some beaches follow no-impact policies and do not allow the harvesting of driftwood, which is part of the natural ecosystem. Check to see if fires are allowed and bring your own firewood, or choose to go low-impact and do not have a fire. If you are cooking on a camp stove, bring one that has a windshield and will not clog easily if it gets sand in it.
3. Use sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes
Hiking along the beach in soft sand or along rocky, uneven shores can be difficult on your feet, so invest in durable hiking shoes with proper support. Waterproof footwear is especially desirable, as you may need to navigate tidepools, creeks, or wetlands.
4. Know the tides
If you are camping at a developed campground, chances are that the tides will not be an issue. But if you plan to go hiking or to camp in a more remote area, check tide charts and know when the high and low tides occur. High tides can rise quickly and suddenly, even if an area does not appear to regularly be underwater. This can leave hikers stranded, or wash tents away. And be safe by staying out of the water after dark – save it for the daylight hours, when you and your swimsuit can dry out in the sun.
5. Follow leave-no-trace ethics
If you pack it in, then pack it out – even food waste, which attracts animals and negatively affects the environment. When available, use garbage and waste facilities provided, and be careful not to trample or camp on fragile sand dunes or plants. With care, these beautiful beach ecosystems will remain for future generations to enjoy.
6. Bring water and hydrate
Between the sun, wind and salty ocean air, it is easy to get dehydrated quickly. Hydrate often and early and bring lots of extra water with you. Do not rely solely on the water sources at the campground, but bring along an extra gallon or two just in case.