Note: In the 2020 context, a lot is up the air: businesses are opening and closing, fires are wreaking havoc on our state, and everything is in flux. While I do my best to provide informative content reflecting what is presently open, please use your discretion and call or look on the website of any places you are intending to visit before embarking on a trip. Please mask up, distance, and stay safe!

8 Amazing Campgrounds in Southern California to Wake Up In

With thousands of campgrounds in southern California, you will have plenty of sites from which to choose.  

The hardest part will be choosing where you want to wake up: do you want to wake up on the bluffs of the Pacific, under the stars in the desert or the towering trees, or steps away from the sandy beach? All of those dreams can be a reality in Southern California!

With the glorious weather in Southern California, camping year-round is not a problem. 

In the winter, camp in the deserts of Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Parks when the temperatures are beautiful instead of scorching like they are in the summer.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase using one of these links.

While during the summer months, head to Catalina Island or along the coast at Crystal Cove State Park for Instagram-worthy coastal sites or to the Palomar Mountain to camp under the dense pines.

To plan your next Southern California camping adventure, we’ve done all the research for you!

We hope you enjoy browsing this list of eight terrific Southern California campgrounds, along with useful information to help you plan your SoCal camping escape, such as the number of sites and amenities they each have.

Wherever you choose, stake out your spot and enjoy the starry sky and fresh campfire air. Unplug, unwind, and relax!

A quick disclaimer before enjoying any of these campgrounds in Southern California: The state has been ravaged by forest fires this year, just as it has many years in the past. Be aware of all fire restrictions. Speak to a local ranger and do individual research before planning anything involving fire. Just because a site has fire pits or a grill does not mean that you are allowed to use it, so ask and have a backup plan (i.e., food that does not have to be cooked or heated to eat).

Map of the Best Campgrounds in Southern California

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Moro Campground (Crystal Cove State Park)

Tan cliff bluffs leading to rock-strewn beach with ocean waves and an overcast sky.

Location: 8471 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
Reservations: Make reservations on the website here

When you want to get out of Los Angeles and enjoy camping under the stars, take a short road trip south to Laguna Beach in Orange County for sandy beaches, Pacific Ocean bluffs, and days filled with swimming and hiking. 

After crossing the Pacific Coast Highway, Moro Campgrounds is just a short walk away from the beach.

Many of the sites sit on bluffs beside Moro Canyon and Moro Creek, with stunning views below.

This campground is open year-round and offers coastal terrace family sites.

Types of Sites

  • 57 family sites
    • 27 RV and trailer sites
    • 30 tent, conversion van, and soft-side trailer sites 
  • Hookup sites – 38-foot maximum length
  • Non-hookup sites – 25-foot maximum length

Site Amenities

  • Picnic Table

Campground Amenities

  • Flush toilets and coin-showers
  • Leashed dogs are permitted
  • Hiking trails to the ridgetops and viewpoints

Donane Valley Campground (Palomar Mountain State Park)

Sky at dusk. Coastline off in the distance with mountains edging the photo and some brush in foreground.

Location: 19952 State Park Drive, Palomar Mountain
Reservations: Make reservations on the website here

In San Diego County’s beautiful Cleveland National Forest, this campground is nestled amongst the dense conifer trees and grassy meadows. 

The Palomar Mountain is a great escape from the bustling city, and it’s just a short drive away if you live in San Diego and are aching for a nature escape!

Spend the day hiking trails that begin from the campground, fishing Doane Pond, or head up the road to the Palomar Observatory to check out the 200-inch Hale telescope.

Type of Sites

  • 31 campsites 
  • The maximum length for RVs is 27 feet
  • Note: Some sites are on a slight incline
  • Insider Tip: Sites 8, 9, 16, 26, 29, and 30 are the preferred sites

Campsite Amenities

  • Picnic table
  • Fire ring with grate
  • Grill
  • Food storage cabinet
  • Steps – many of the sites have steps

Campground Amenities

  • Flush toilets and showers
  • Drinking water
  • Campfire Center
  • Amphitheater
  • Overflow parking
  • Pets are permitted

Doheny State Beach Campground (Dana Point)

Pink flowers and cactus in foreground with scene of turquoise beach and buildings around beach in the background.

Location: 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA  92629
Reservations: Make reservations on the website here or call 1 (800) 444-PARK

What can be better than snagging a California beachfront camping site on the sand along a mile-long protected beach?

Located at Dana Point, this Southern California campground is one of California’s most popular state beaches.

Along the southern coast of Doheny State Beach, enjoy camping just steps away from the beach.

Note: The campgrounds will be temporarily closed from November 1, 2020, through May 30, 2021.

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Types of Sites

  • 118 Campsites
    • 33 premium ocean-front sites
    • 16 RV or trailer only (with a maximum length of 25 feet)
  • Group campsites
  • Hike & bike campsites

Site Amenities

  • Picnic tables
  • Campfire ring

 Campground Amenities

  • Flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers
  • No hook-ups
  • Dogs permitted in the campgrounds
  • Amphitheater

 Park Amenities:

  • Day use surfing beach
  • Picnic facilities
  • Volleyball courts
  • Visitor Center

Insider Tip: If you stay during a full moon June through August, watch the silver grunion fish lay their eggs in the wet beach sand!

Fern Basin Campground (San Bernardino National Forest)

Yellow flowers in foreground with pine trees with ridged green mountains in background and clear blue sky.

Address: 25905 Highway 243, Idyllwild, California 92549
Reservations: Make reservations on the website here.

Break away from the hustle and bustle of your daily life and pitch your tent or pull in your camper to one of Fern Basin’s picturesque sites among the mature cedar and pine trees at this rustic campground just outside Idyllwild.

Getting back to nature is easy here as you will find the mountains peaceful and quiet. Put your hiking shoes on and head up the 11.8-mile Marion Mountain Trail to the peak of Mount San Jacinto or enjoy one of the less stressful nearby hiking and biking trails in the area.

Before you leave, make sure you bottle up some of the fresh mountain air and take it home with you until your next visit.

Note: The Campgrounds is open from late May to early November

Site Types

  • 22 sites
    • 20 feet is the maximum length for RV and trailer

Site Amenities

  • Picnic table
  • Fire ring with grate

Campground Amenities

  • Dogs permitted
  • Marion Mountain Trailhead
  • Drinking water
  • Vaulted toilets
  • No firewood on site
  • Equestrian trail

Insider Tip: There is a 50% off campsite fee for holders of Golden Age, Golden Access, America the Beautiful Senior or Access Passports.

Green Valley Campground (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Large rock in foreground with view from higher elevation of the plains and trees below.

Location: 13652 Highway 79, Julian, California 92036
ReservationsMake reservations on the website here. You may book up to 7 months in advance.

Just 50 miles west of San Diego near the cute getaway of Julian, The Green Valley Campgrounds along the Sweetwater River makes a fabulous summer getaway.  

At 4,000 feet in elevation, the temperature under the lush oak and conifer trees make the nearby meandering streams inviting.

Spend the day hiking two miles to the Stonewall Peak or visiting the Stonewall Mine before relaxing at one of the popular swimming holes the creek provides.

Note: The campgrounds are open from May 1 – October 31

Site Types

  • 81 sites
    • 58 campsites for trailers, tents, and RVs (maximum length of 30 feet)
    • 15 equestrian campsites (with corrals for your horse!)
  • No hookups
  • If you want a more secluded, quiet site, choose sites 6 or 7 since they are more kept to themselves.

Site Amenities

  • Table
  • Fire ring/grill

Campground Amenities

  • Pine Ridge Trail nearby for easy hiking
  • Coin-operated showers and flush toilets
  • Dark night skies for Milky Way viewing
  • Dump station
  • Firewood and ice available for sale
  • Leashed pets are permitted

San Onofre Bluffs Campground (San Onofre State Park)

Cliffs with view of blue Pacific ocean int he background with a long sandy beach with no people

Location: Old Pacific Highway, San Clemente, California
ReservationsMake reservations on the website here.

Along the Pacific Ocean coast north of Camp Pendleton, this Southern California campground offers campers some of the best surfing waves, fishing, and sand for sunbathing along the 3 ½ mile-long beach.

What could be better than waking up to the sound of crashing waves as you call this pad along old US Route 101’s sandstone bluffs home?

Site Type

  • 157 sites 
    • About half is designated for RVs and half is for tents
    • 3 group campsites
  • No RV hookups

Site Amenities

  • Picnic table
  • Firepit

Campground Amenities

  • Sites 1 to 23 and 105 to 112 have ocean views 
  • Potable water
  • Cold outdoor showers
  • Chemical toilets
  • RV dump station
  • Firewood available
  • Pets allowed
  • Six trails leading to the beach
  • Nature programs and geocaching

South Carlsbad State Beach Campground (South Carlsbad State Beach)

Wooden curving staircase leading to beach with cerulean blue ocean waves lapping calming on shore.

Location: 7201 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008
ReservationsMake reservations on the website here.

This linear bluff campground offers sites on the edge of the ocean-front bluff, so all you have to do is walk down the famous staircase to the State Beach below.

A stay here means a low-key, relaxing time to unwind and enjoy the outdoors.

Enjoy easy beach access and a wonderful ocean views as you stretch out at the very popular and beautiful South Carlsbad State Beach Campground.

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The wooden stairs and ramps to the lifeguarded beach make this a great family campground.

Site Types

  • 223 bluff-top campsites
    • RV maximum length is 35 feet
    • 13 Full hook-ups
    • Group tent sites
  • Sites 36 to 53 and 183 to 205 are right on the ocean

Site Amenities

  • Picnic tables
  • Fire rings with grill

Campground Amenities

  • Flush toilets and coin-operated showers
  • Beach for swimming, surfing, and fishing
  • The camp store has firewood and ice
  • Wi-Fi hotspot at the campground office
  • Amphitheater
  • Dump Station for RVs

Indian Cove Campground (Joshua Tree National Park)

Giant boulders in foreground in shot of Indian Cove, one of the most famous Southern California campgrounds in Joshua Tree, with desert landscape behind it and more rocks.

Location: Joshua Tree National Park
ReservationsMake winter reservations on the website here.

Among the signature boulders and rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park, this is the perfect location to start your incredible journey through the park. 

A stay here means no wasted time in the car getting to and from all the incredible things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. There are many rock climbing routes near the campground.

After an adventurous day, return to your home away from home and fall asleep under the stars.

Indian Cove is the largest of the four campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park, so it has some of the best of the park’s amenities!

Insider Tip: Choose sites 4, 6, 7, 20, or 46 to be surrounded by giant rock formations.

 

Type of Sites

  • 104 total camping sites (91 individual campsites and 13 tent-only group sites)
  • Camping sites are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis from June 10 through August 30

 

Site Amenities

  • PIcnic table
  • Fire ring with grate

 

Campground Amenities

  • Massive granite boulders for climbing and photographing
  • Interpretive nature trail nearby
  • No water, so bring a lot of your own! This is the desert.
  • Vault toilets
  • Campfire Center / Amphitheater
  • Leashed pets are permitted 

What to Pack for Staying at Campgrounds in Southern California

Lightweight tent: This lightweight North Face Stormbreak 2-person tent weighs only 5 pounds 5 ounces, which is a nice low weight given the cost. It’s a good 3-season tent with loads of headroom, easy pitching design for fuss-free set-up, and there’s plenty of room for two people to share.

Sleeping bag (30 degree or colder): While you may be camping in California, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold at night — especially on the California coast or in the desert in the winter! You can spend a fortune on a sleeping bag, but you don’t have to.

For a comfortable sleeping bag that won’t break the budget, I recommend the REI Trailbreak 30 (men’s version) and (women’s version). You can go more high-tech, but then you’re looking around the $300 range. Great if you camp a lot, but for beginners, you may want to start with a more affordable version until you decide you really are a camping person.

Sleeping pad: This is what takes you from cold, uncomfortable nights on rocky ground to tent comfort! You can buy a cheaper version like the REI Trailbreak Self-Inflating Pad, but I’d recommend going with the Flash Thermal if hiking the trail in spring or fall, when the nights can get really cold!

Note: Some Southern California campgrounds do have tent pads you can use, so this may not be necessary — check the site amenities above for each potential campground.

First aid kit: You’ll want to pack a small kit with the things you need — but in my opinion, it’s better to buy a pre-made first aid kit as it’ll likely cover things you might forget. I recommend this HART Weekend First Aid kit, which has all you need for 2 people for 2-3 days of camping.

Water Filter: There are a wide variety of water filtration systems and treatments, but I have two preferred brands: LifeStraw and GRAYL. The LifeStraw set-up I recommend is this one: LifeStraw Flex. It has a 2-stage filter that removes over 99.999% of bacteria, parasites, and microplastics.

It can be used as a personal straw (its original iteration), but it also can attach to a gravity bag (included), a water bottle, or a typical hydration bladder. Each filter can be used for filtering up to 1,000 L of water. If you just want a water filter/water bottle set-up, I recommend the GRAYL Geopress. It’s compact and easy to use!

I recommend the LifeStraw Flex if your water sources are fewer and far between, and the GRAYL Geopress if you have an easy water source and just need to filter it between refills.

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Cup: For water at the campsite if you don’t want to use your water bottle — or for a celebratory glass of wine if you’re the kind of person brings a bottle of California red on your camping adventures to celebrate the end of a long day’s camp! I like this Hydroflask cup.

Mug: You’ll want a mug for morning coffee or tea! Bonus points if it has a cute design for morning campsite snaps, too.

Spork or similar utensil: You can’t forget a spork while you’re backpacking!

Bear canister: Keep your food away from bears with this bear-resistant canister! Yes, it’s heavy, yes, it’s bulky, and yes, it’s absolutely necessary if you’re in bear country.

Day pack: An easy to zip-away day pack is helpful to have when camping so you can easily put small things that you want more accessible and handy when you leave your campsite to do some nearby adventures.

Food: I recommend freeze-dried meals! AlpineAire is a favorite of many campers and has tons of choices: this black bean and beef chili is a fan favorite. Patagonia also has a great selection including lots of vegan options: vegans love this spicy red bean chili. For breakfast, grab some granola with blueberries and milk packets and some tasty Kuju instant coffee!

Of course, you could also bring a cooler and some meat, sausages, and vegan goodies if you want to grill things up or have a BBQ.

Clothing: It can get chilly at night so plan accordingly. You’ll want at least 2 shirts (synthetic or wool, long and/or short sleeve depending on the season), 2 pairs of leggings or long underwear, 1 fleece or wool outer layer, a waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, beanie, gloves, and 3 pairs of socks.

Optional Gear for SoCal Camping

Backpacking stove: This will depend a bit on your set-up and whether or not your campsite has grills or fire pits (and if you’re allowed to use those fire pits!).

No matter what, be sure to get your California campfire permit before embarking to any of these Southern California campgrounds.

If you don’t want to deal with starting a fire, and you’re planning on eating only freeze-dried meals, oatmeal, ramen, and other “just-add-boiling-water” dinners, you can get by with a lightweight Jetboil, which weighs in at less than a pound (fuel included) and is also great for making coffee in the morning!

If you want a more “cooking-friendly” set-up including pots and pans, check out this surprisingly lightweight Optimus camp stove that comes with a frying pan and cooking pot at under a pound of weight (not including fuel).

Note that during peak fire season, even things like the Jetboil may not be allowed — please check with your local rangers regarding any fire restrictions.

Fuel: If bringing your own cooking gear, make sure you have plenty of fuel for whatever your backpacking stove set up is! And if you’re doing a fire pit (during a time without campfire restrictions), research if you need to BYO firewood and kindling.

Camera: I use and love my Sony A6000! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh your daypack down while out and about on your daily adventures.

Journal and pen: For noting down all your camping thoughts!

Board games: For campsite fun — my favorites are Scattergories and Cranium!

Sandals: To change into once you reach your campsite! Tevas are a favorite, and they’re a nice break from the sneakers or hiking boots you’ll likely be wearing most of the day out.

Sunglasses: To give your eyes a break from the sun during your daily activities

Sunhat: To keep sun off your face – I recommend a packable hat like this one which has a strap so it won’t blow off in gusts of wind and you can easily wear it on your back when you don’t feel like wearing it on your head while hiking, boating, and enjoying Southern California’s beautiful scenery!

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