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Camping in California: Best Options Near Big Cities

Camping In California
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When you're ready to do some camping in California but can't stray too far away from urban areas, we've got you covered.

The California landscape is diverse and beautiful, a vast area featuring some of the best outdoor scenery you can imagine. With stunning public lands such as Point Reyes National Seashore, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Joshua Tree National Park, and the world famous Yosemite National Park, it's naturally a popular place to want to camp.

But it's also a state that's home to a lot of big cities, a lot of urban tourism, and a lot of business trips and industry events that attract folks from all over. Naturally, that leads to an interest in combining the two, and finding great camping opportunities that are close by and involve reasonable access when you're in a large California metropolis.

Whether you want to camp on the beach or in the forest, the Golden State has something for everyone. You can rent a cabin or a yurt, sleep under giant redwood trees, or experience a night in the desert. And a good portion can be done within close proximity of the state's big cities, even Los Angeles.

Camping in California

Remember, this isn't an exhaustive list. California has state parks, national parks, national forests, and all kinds of camping spots from Southern California to Northern California. And what's considered "close" to big cities is probably different for everyone.

Truth be told, there are possibilities near some of the biggest population centers around the state for those who just want to get away for a bit to rest and recharge. There are a ton of great options right within an afternoon's driving distance for many.

California lags behind only Alaska and Texas in land area and that means there are plenty of opportunities to get a true camping experience. But finding the best camping near urban areas that work for you isnt' always easy. We'll help to sift through some of it and give you a head start. Here are a few suggested destinations, each standing as a great example of what you can find year-round if you're looking for good camping in California.

As with any camping area, you'll want to inquire yourself about booking campsites and reservations, as availability is almost always in flux.

A Note on Wildfires...

Recent California wildfires have caused closures to many outdoor recreational areas and public lands, so please do your due diligence to ensure the places you plan to go are accessible, safe, and legal to visit.

Angeles National Forest

A weekend here can be had within a reasonable drive from the City of Angels. Angeles National Forest is just under an hour away from the big city lights and is known to be dog friendly, features great hiking trails, and deserves a mention. Beautiful scenic vistas and spring wildflowers bring people to this mountainous region, and the camping is great.

You can also look into mountain biking and stargazing, two more popular activities at this national forest.

Leo Carillo State Park

Camping In California
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Leo Carrillo State Park has over 130 campsites and easy access to the beach. This area has a camp store, decent cell phone reception, and several token-operated showers. Since this campground is so popular, making a reservation is the only way to go.

You can explore a number of protected tidal pools, caves, and reefs, and campers can go for a swim, hang out on the beach, or just chill out in a spectacular area.

San Elijo State Beach Campground

This beautiful beachside campground is barely an hour from the city and offers some incredible views of the sunset off the coast. It is a surfer's dream location, but it is also a great place for the whole family to relax. There are traditional campsites and other, more feature-rich spots to set a camper or RV.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Camping In California
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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is situated in a lush oak woodland forest, replete with the scent of the pines and laced with meandering creeks. This is a great place to give the beach a break and try hiking and biking in the mountains. The area reaches an elevation of around 5,000 feet. There are a few less amenities here, but it does have water, including restrooms and showers.

For those who live further up the coast to the north, but still have the desire to escape the city for the weekend or longer, there are a few good choices for them as well. Campers near San Francisco and even Sacramento can find a couple of good options.

Kirby Cove Campground

This is a particularly small area, but with a big reputation for having the best of both worlds. It is close to the city but offers a more backcountry stay. There is no running water, so you are going to have to rough it a little more and it is a leave no trace site, but the views of the Golden Gate, the Marin Headlands, and the city lights are spectacular.

Rob Hill Campground

Located in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with a location above Baker Beach, Rob Hill offers something for the whole family. Each group campsite this area features a fire ring, a free-standing barbecue grill, and a picnic table. Rob Hill has some amenities such as restrooms, but it offers no showers.

California Camping for All

California is very large and blessed with so many great camping opportunities that it would take several lifetimes to try them all. It seems like there are as many RV parks and glamping opportunities as there are tent sites for California camping as there are places to set up a base camp and get as far off the grid as you can for the serious boondocking crowd.

When you consider the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley or the Redwood forests of Northern California, a regular park campground can pale in comparison. The bottom line is that everyone is invited to take part in some of the basics of a simple camping trip.

Whether we want a simple weekend getaway, a day-use spot where we can take our shoes off, or a hike-in setup to watch the night sky for the weekend, we have a lot within a close range of big California cities available to us.

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