Summer is here, which means we're all dreaming of both getting into nature for the weekend and escaping the heat and getting close to the water. America has no shortage of beautiful beaches, and some even have extra space for campers to spend the night. After a day's swim or surf outing, it's nice to be able to pitch a tent near the shoreline and relax for the evening or head into your RV with views of the water still right out your front door. Dig your toes in the sand, gaze at the stars and palm trees until you fall asleep, and hibernate to the sweet sounds of ocean waves—sounds pretty good right?
If a camping on the beach sounds lovely to you, keep reading to discover the country's top spots for tent sites, RV hookups, and hammock camping across America, from California to Florida.
What to Look For In a Great Beach Camping Spot
The best beach camping spots are, first and foremost, legal to stay at. It can be tempting to rock up to any sandy beach and stay for the night but, just like campgrounds in the forest, only sleep in areas where camping is allowed or designated; this supports conservation of fragile ecosystems.
Most people will want a beach campground with restrooms, since you can't dig a cathole like in the woods. If you are staying in an RV, you likely have your own restroom, but you may want to look for RV parks or campsites with electric hookups unless you're dry camping.
A lot of other factors for a great beach campsite are nice to haves—fire pits allow you to have a (controlled) beach bonfire, a fresh water source means you don't have to trek in your own. Most of all, easy access to the water is always top of our list.
1. Napali Coast State Wilderness Park: Kapaa, Hawai'i
The world-renowned N?pali Coast features one of the globe's most gorgeous coastlines. Coming here is a one-of-a-kind experience, as the park is surrounded by towering cliffs, deep and narrow valleys, and a stunning seaside. You'll also find waterfalls and exquisite stone-walled terraces hidden in the valleys. Earlier Hawaiian generations once occupied and cultivated crops on this land, adding further context to the park's rich culture and history. Travelers planning to camp here must have a valid camping permit, so make sure to have that handy upon arrival. You should also know that there are limited spaces available for overnight parking. Thus, the earlier you get there, the better.
2. Sonoma Coast State Park: Bodega Bay, California
This location has a few different beaches, each divided by headlands and rock bluffs. The 17-mile Sonoma Coast State Park stretches from Bodega Head to Vista Trail. Accessible via coast Highway 1, the Sonoma Coast is a popular destination for Californians and visiting beachgoers, as well as fishermen.
The park's Salmon Creek Beach attracts many visitors in the summer months, featuring a captivating lagoon covered in white sand. Bodega's harbor side has a pretty solid crabbing area, and the high cliffs are a prime area for whale watching. Campers can stay the night at the Bodega Dunes Campground nearby.
3. Gulf Islands National Seashore: Florida and Mississippi
A top tourist attraction in the southeast, the Gulf Islands National Seashore possesses rich emerald coast waters and sand as white as snow. The seashore extends from Florida to Mississippi. If you plan on visiting soon, you'll be happy to know that this location has two campgrounds: one in each state. And for the best views of the seashore, try reserving your campsite in advance.
4. Jalama Beach County Park: Lompoc, California
The Chumash Indians previously settled near Jalama Creek's surrounding areas. It wasn't until 1943 that the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company donated this privately-owned land to Santa Barbara County. This commenced the park's formation. When you factor in the Jalama Store and Grill, Jalama Beach is like its own little town. Visitors can reserve camping space in one of two areas at the park: Abalone Point or Starfish Cove.
5. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: Bayfield County, Wisconsin
This coastal park sits on the Bayfield Peninsula's northeastern tip. With a total of 21 islands, it's known as one of the most scenic spots in Bayfield and Ashland counties. The state of Wisconsin works hard to preserve this lakeshore—and it shows. Out of the 21 islands, visitors are free to camp on 18 of them. There's also an additional campsite on the mainland, but you can only get there by kayak or by hiking the Lakeshore Trail. The islands are also exclusively accessible via boat, so you might want to plan with that in mind.
6. Bahia Honda State Park: Big Pine Key, Florida
It's common for first-time visitors to gasp at the sight of the Florida Keys, as that's how beautiful it is. This palm-covered tropical destination is fit for a beach bum, complete with crystal clear waters, tranquil sea breezes, and glorious sunsets year-round. Bahia Honda has three campsites: Buttonwood, Sandspur, and Bayside. Each campsite requires advanced reservations, and you can reserve as early as 11 months out from your trip.
7. Horseneck Beach State Reservation: Westport, Massachusetts
Horseneck Beach spans two miles across the western side of Buzzard's Bay. It's a bird watcher's paradise for both locals and visitors. Enjoy a splash in its enchanting waters followed by a sleepover near the shore. There's a limited time window on when you can camp here. It starts the first week of May and ends on Columbus Day in October.
8. Hunting Island State Park: Hunting Island, South Carolina
The Hunting Island camping experience is one like no other, made complete with dolphin-watching tours and tours of St. Phillips Island. Visitors can choose from one of two campgrounds during their stay, both of which are situated next to the ocean. This place rolls out the red carpet for tent campers, offering a designated walk-in tent camping area that provides access to fire rings, tent pads, picnic tables, and centralized water. This tent site is a short distance from the vehicle parking lot, so you shouldn't have to walk too far.
9. Padre Island National Seashore: Texas
Texans love them some Padre Island, and we can see why. What used to be one island has since expanded to two—split in the middle by an artificial waterway. That's why we now have North Padre Island and South Padre Island.
On the north side, the Padre Island National Seashore is an undeveloped beach area that stretches 66 miles across the Corpus Christi area. Brownsville is the home of South Padre Island, a nice resort consisting of hotels, shops, clubs, and more. Campers can find refuge at one of the area's several campgrounds. Each space is available year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.
10. Long Key State Park: Long Key, Florida
This state park was previously exclusive to an elite select few. Now, the luxurious natural wonder is open to all. Long Key State Park overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and offers a peaceful resting sanctuary for beachgoers and birdwatchers. Celebrities, U.S. presidents, and world fishing pros have taken many trips here when it used to be known as the upscale Henry Flagler's Long Key Fishing Camp. It never reopened after a Labor Day hurricane tore it down in 1935. However, state officials have transformed the park into something spectacular for its visitors.
Travelers can enjoy several recreational activities at this state park, from snorkeling and flats fishing to birding and hiking. The park also has full-facility oceanfront campsites, where campers can enjoy fabulous views of the Florida Keys and its pristine blue waters. These campsites are currently under construction due to severe damage from Hurricane Irma. However, guests can still stay the night at its hike-in, tent-only campsites.
11. Assateague Island National Seashore: Lane Berlin, Maryland
This 37-mile island has a presence in both Maryland and Virginia. It's not just a beach, but also a wildlife sanctuary as the Virginia side houses the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The seaside is open 365 days a year, and in the Maryland district of Assateague Island, travelers can camp to their heart's content. Just know that you can only use firewood purchased locally.
12. Turtle Beach Campground: Sarasota, Florida
As Siesta Key's leading beachfront campground in Sarasota County, Florida, Turtle Beach Campground gives travelers direct access to an all-day camping experience near the Gulf of Mexico. It's the perfect place for an intimate family gathering. Visitors can pitch out at one of its 39 tent and RV sites. Campers can also get to Siesta Village via the open-air trolley that offers pickups from the campground.
13. Sandy Neck Beach Park: West Barnstable, Massachusetts
Here lies a special place where both humans and wildlife can share space. If you've ever wanted to go horseback riding on the beach, Sandy Neck Beach Park is the place to do it. Permitted vehicles can also camp out on the front beach and enjoy an overnight stay at the park's designated tent area.
14. Cape Lookout National Seashore: Outer Banks, North Carolina
The undeveloped beach takes up 56 miles, taking up three to four barrier islands. Proper planning makes visits to Cape Lookout an enjoyable experience. Its visitors can enjoy many recreational activities, including swimming, fishing, crabbing, clamming, and bonfires.
For those interested in making their trip here an all-day thing, you'll be happy to know that the park permits camping on many of its barrier islands. There aren't any established campgrounds, so the quality of your experience depends on how well you prepare. Smaller groups won't need a permit to camp here, but groups of 25 or more will need to acquire a Special Use Permit.
15. Hoffmaster State Park: Muskegon, Michigan
Residing in Muskegon, Michigan, Hoffmaster State Park takes up three miles of Lake Michigan's shoreline. The scenic beauty is surrounded by towering dunes and Instagram-worthy hiking trails. Just across the way is the Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center, filled with educational programming and exhibits. Its local campground is a lovely place for visitors to rest after a long day's hike.
16. Salisbury Beach State Reservation: Salisbury, Massachusetts
There aren't many beaches between Boston and Maine, so for many locals, Salisbury Beach is the number one go-to. The sizable reservation has water in every direction: the Merrimack River in the south, Black Rock Creek in the west, and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. Day-use beachgoers have the option of staying at the park's campground, which has a total of 484 campsites. It's practically the size of a small town.
17. Wai'anapanapa State Park: Hana, Hawaii
This beautiful remote location features an intriguing volcanic coastline, an ancient Hawaiian hiking trail, a native hala forest, and its world-famous black sand beach. It's a great getaway from the urban scene when you need an escape from all the city noise. Fortunately, camping is also permitted at the park.