San Simeon Creek Campground Hearst San Simeon State Park
For more camping options close to Big Sur, Hearst San Simeon State Park is less than 20 miles south of Ragged Point also known as the Gateway to Big Sur. It’s a popular state park for several reasons, including its array of administered beaches along the coast. It’s also home to the world-famous Hearst Castle, providing a look into one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in California.
Hearst San Simeon features two campgrounds with over 200 sites available for tents and RVs. The San Simeon Creek Campground has over 130 sites closest to the ocean, with flushing toilets and coin-operated showers nearby. No electrical hookups are available. A short trail from the west side of the campground leads underneath the PCH to the beach.
Less than five miles north of the campground, seasonal opportunities to see hundreds of elephant seals are found on the coastal portions of the state park. One of the best viewing points is at the Piedra Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where hundreds of these massive mammals frequent the shoreline.
Address: 500 San Simeon-Monterey Creek Road, Cambria, California
Highway One: 4 Tips To Take On Californias Coast In A Van
Taking a road trip up or down Californias Highway 1 is an item on most peoples bucket list. And for good reason. Dramatic coastline with large coastal mountains crashing into stunningly blue waters keeps your jaw open around every bend. But figuring out what to do and how to prepare for a trip down HWY 1 can seem overwhelming. Do you try to see it all or stay posted up at a primo spot? Is it better to wing it without reservations or plan out months in advance?
Personally, we love a good dose of spontaneity when it comes to travel. And the Golden Coast is one of those places that truly allows it. All it takes is just a touch of preparation and some serious flexibility. Here are some of our tips and tricks for traveling the coast.
The Various Free Campgrounds In Big Sur
Along these Forest Routes we can find our free camping spots. One of my favorites that you have to hike into is the Gamboa Campground off of the Cone Peak trail. With the most stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, youll soon see why these are the most epic spots for free camping in Big Sur.
Its important to note that fires are not permitted at any time here in the National Forest area! The Big Sur region, along with most of California, is extremely prone to wildfires so be sure youre following the guidelines and helping to protect our community.
Need some camping gear? Check out my favorite backcountry camping products here
There are no restrooms, fire pits or trash cans at any of these primitive camping spots. As always when in the wilderness, you must abide by the Leave No Trace Principles while camping here.
Learn more about Leave No Trace here
Be sure to check out my California archives here for more first-hand experiences and tips for exploring!
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Wrights Beach Campground In Sonoma
Another 9 miles north at the edge of the Sonoma Coast State Park, a curvy road leads to Wright’s Beach Campground in Bodega Bay. Suitable for only smaller RVs under 27 feet, there are no hookups, but there are picnic tables and fire rings. Restrooms and hot showers are nearby at Bodega Bay Campgrounds. Walk for miles along the shore where migrating gray whales are frequently seen off the coast.
Riverside Camping By The Redwoods
Follow California Route 1 north for 49 miles to reach Gualala Point Regional Park, a secluded, scenic campground set at the river’s edge among the redwoods. RVs are welcome, although there are no hookups. Just a mile off the highway, good roads and wide campsites accommodate larger RVs. Engage in hiking, beachcombing, bird-watching and whale watching or explore the Point Arena Lighthouse, Fort Ross State Historic Park.
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Known Internationally For Its Natural Beauty Cultural Intrigue And Recreational Bounty Big Sur Is Undoubtedly Worthy Of Its Global Appeal One Of The Best In The West This Road Trip Should Top Everyone’s List
Perhaps no other road is more iconic or visually recognizable than the Pacific Coast Highway as it winds its way from Monterey to San Luis Obispo through Big Sur. And while Big Sur’s north offer visitors numerous cultural attractions from five-star dining to bohemian shops and galleries, the South Coast remains a largely undeveloped and lesser visited stretch of coastline, tempting the adventurous to discover Big Sur the way it was meant to be experienced: raw, wild, and untouched. Plan your trip down the coast with both Surs in mind for a truly unique off-the-grid getaway.
Ridge-top camping amongst the clouds is one of the many appeals of visiting Big Sur. Photo: @francisfraioli
The iconic Bixby Bridge looking unusually quiet due to road closures to the north. Photo: @francisfraioli
South Coast Ridge Road – One of the region’s most cherished and spectacular known secrets. Photo: @masonthibo
Humboldt And Del Norte Counties
- Agate Campground – Patrick’s Point State Park, premium campsites with partial ocean views, close to Agate Beach trail.
- Big Lagoon County Park – campsites among the trees with views of the Pacific and Big Lagoon
- Gold Bluffs Beach Campground – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, tent-only campsites along the edge of the beach.
- Nickel Creek Campground – Redwood National Park, walk-in tent sites next to Enderts Beach. Ocean views limited from campground.
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Riverside Campground & Cabins
This commercial camping facility offers tent camping, RV parking, and cabin dwelling on the banks of the Big Sur River, in the central Big Sur region. It’s a modern campground with hot showers, flushing toilets, and 16 acres of redwood forest to explore. Over 30 standard sites are available, alongside a dozen cabins.
Relaxing is one of the most popular activities at Riverside Campground, as the Big Sur River gently babbles next to the campsites. And the campground is a popular spot for winter camping with heated cabins and full hookups for RVs.
Address: 47020 CA-1, Big Sur, California
Eat Fresh Seafood And Farm
Courtesy of Robins Restaurant
The Central Coast is as famous for its farms as it is for its seafood, so meals here are naturally as fresh as they come. Although there is no shortage of fine restaurants, highlights include Robins Restaurant, set in a historic adobe home in Cambria and featuring a courtyard full of lush plants and twinkling lights. The menu features local fare influenced by cuisine from countries like Vietnam, India, and Mexico. For a casual meal, dont miss the hearty portions and craft cocktails at Merseas Restaurant, located at the end of Avila Beach’s pier. Or, check out Hidden Kitchen in Cayucos, which has a patio overlooking the beach and some of the best smoothies and tacos in California.
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Camping Along The Pacific: 10 Seaside Campsites For Your West Coast Road Trip
It’s tough to beat camping at the beach, right?
With thousands of miles of coastline, the West Coast has plenty of options for taking in every last drop of the sunset from the comfort of your tent, cabin, or even your very own “human nest”. Perfect surf breaks, incredible campsites overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean, and rugged beaches littered with old growth driftwood beg for an extended camping road trip along the West Coast. The weather is warming up and it’s time to start planning your trip, so check out some of our favorite camping spots on this list and make one of your own!
Photo: Greg BalkinIt’s an easy 1 mile hike into the campsite so even if you don’t have a full-on backpacking set up, you can make do by filling your arms with gear. If you set up camp before the big rock, make sure you take a stroll down to it for sunset. Learn more.
Photo: Kathleen BuenviajeAn island camping escape is a mere 50 minute boat ride away from the southern California coast. If you’re feeling generous with your funds, you can also opt for a helicopter ride, leaving out of Long Beach and 15 minutes later landing in Catalina Island. Learn more.
Photo: Juan MorenoLocated at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the access road to this beach is a dirt road through the redwoods. Sunsets here are amazing as you have an unobstructed view of the entire ocean and the bluffs light up nice at sundown. Learn more.
Have You Driven Highway 1 In California
We are currently developing a feature on driving Highway 1 on the California coast. If you have been truck camping along Highway 1, please tell us about your experience.
For this destination article, anything around the California coast drive is welcome .
Please include where you camped when you visited whether it was a campground nearby or a dry camping/boondocking spot.
If there are any important details like the difficulty of a route, places to visit along the way, or a tip to make the visit more enjoyable, please include that below as well.
Above: Map courtesy of Wikipedia.
At least one photo is mandatory, but more are preferred.
Your submission will be published as part of the upcoming feature story. Thank you!
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Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is Californias very first state park, founded way back in 1902. Located deep in the magnificent redwoods of northern California, amidst of some of the tallest trees in the country, there is plenty of nature to be had right at your doorstep. You can follow countless trails both long and short from the campgrounds.
Big Sur Campground & Cabins
At the heart of the Big Sur coast, halfway between Andrew Molera and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks, this family-friendly campground offers nearly 100 spots next to the Big Sur River. It has space for tents and RVs and features one- and two-bedroom camping cabins with private bathrooms.
An outdoor playground surrounded by redwoods is popular with both parents and kids at the campground, as is the large swimming pool that branches from the river. Inner tubes are also available to rent for soaking in the Big Sur River. For beach access and one of the most stunning places to catch the sunset in Big Sur, the world-famous Pfeiffer Beach is only a five-mile drive away.
Flushing toilets and showers are free to use for all overnight guests. Big Sur Campground enforces their quiet time of 10pm to 8am with a gentle but strict touch, making it easy to sleep through the night.
Address: 47000 CA-1, Big Sur, California
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Best known for day-use activities like coastal canyon hiking trails and amazing overlooks of an 80-foot waterfall plummeting into the ocean , Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has exactly two primitive campsites available. Visitors should consider themselves lucky to stay at these tent-only, walk-in campsites, which are highly coveted and reservable online up to six months in advance.
Located on the opposite side of Highway 1 from the day-use area, the two environment campsites at Julia Pfeiffer Burns offer panoramic views, pit toilets, and coastal solitude found at few other campgrounds in Big Sur. Campers must carry in all the water, firewood, and gear they need for the night on the almost half-mile hike to the sites.
Reservations are strictly enforced at these popular campsites, and overnight guests need to check-in at the entrance kiosk before occupying their site.
Address: 48123 CA-1, Big Sur, California
Free Camping In Big Sur
California has treated me beyond well since moving here a few years ago, especially with the epic camping spots complete with million dollar views. As anyone who has been to the west coast knows, the Big Sur area is beyond one of the most gorgeous stretches of land on the Pacific. I thought its now a fitting time to share my favorites out here, beginning with the best places for free camping in Big Sur.
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Bring Your Own Food/supplies
Obviously, things are more scarce and expensive along HWY 1. So bring as many of your own supplies as you can. Plan out your meals and make sure you have all the supplies for it. Taking a Voyager van can help make your packing list a little shorter. Each comes equipped with a butane stove, cooler, pots, pans, plates, utensils, cups and coffee making supplies. Most campgrounds will have firewood, but some might not have water. Basically, if you have the room, bring it!
What To Pack For Your Beach Camping Trip
As for any camping trip, youll want to pack your essentialstent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and a comfy camping chairbut here are a few beach-specific items you should remember to bring with you:
- Beach blanket: Be sure to pack a beach blanket for days lounging on the beach. If youre hiking in, something small and lightweight like Matador Pocket Blanket Mini will be the easiest to pack.
- Swimsuit: Especially in Northern California, the water can be too cold for swimming, but it never hurts to bring a bathing suit just in case.
- Quick-dry towel: Skip the bulky beach towel and bring a lightweight camp towel to dry off with. Packtowel is a good option.
- Sunscreen: Pack an ecofriendly sunscreen, like Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Lotion SFP 50 , to keep your skin safe while you swim and hike.
- Dry bag: If youre kayaking or spending time on a boat, use waterproof dry bags like those by Sea to Summit to keep your gear from getting soaked by rogue waves.
This article was originally published in 2019 and most recently updated on June 15, 2022.
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How To Book A Campsite
While you can reserve your spot online at recreation.gov, you must pick up a permit in person at the ranger station immediately before your trip.
Kayak to your campsite in Tomales Bay.
- Location: Tomales Bay, Marin County
- Type: Boat-in tent camping
The more nautically minded might want to try a boat-in campsite on the north end of Tomales Bay State Park, which neighbors Point Reyes National Seashore. Although several beaches in the area allow camping, the small sandy cove of , which sits across the bay from Marshall, is one of the more popular spots .
For a truly unique experience, plan your trip for the fall, which is the best time of year in Tomales Bay to see bioluminescence. This natural phenomenon, in which light-emitting sea creatures like algae cause the water to glitter with specks of blue and white light, is best viewed on a dark, moonless night.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Campground
- Location: Big Sur, Monterey County
- Type: Hike-in
Feeling lucky? Try scoring a night at one of the four-person environmental campsites at . These two sites, the only ones in this park, are located about a half-mile hike from the parking lot and right above the famous McWay Falls. You wont be able to see the falls from your tent, but youll be the only people in the park once it closes for the night.
Spend the day hiking to Cone Peak, at 5,155 feet, the tallest coastal mountain in the lower 48. At night, head to Treebones for some outstanding omakase at the Sushi Bar or garden-to-table campfire fare at Wild Coast Restaurant, also onsite. If youre up for a late-night adventure, book hot springs time at Esalen the spring-fed tubs are only open to the public in the wee hours of the morning.
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How To Find A Campsite
This is probably the most daunting part about traveling the coast. Overnight parking along HWY 1 is prohibited, so a campsite is the way to go. Theres 2 ways to secure a campsite:
1.) Book out a spot at a popular campsite 6+ months in advance
2.) Arrive to campsites the day of and try to secure a first come, first serve site
We promise, the second option isnt as scary as it sounds. Lots of campsites have this option and people who make reservations far in advance can be no-shows, leaving open spots.
Before going, get the lay of the land. The coast is filled with different types of campsites, from being surrounded by towering Sequoias to open, airy beach camping. Know what campsites youd like to try and get in so you can arrive at those first. Find out what time check-in is and try to be there before, so your chances of getting a spot are higher. However, youll likely need to be flexible as you might not get your first or even second choice. Basically, weve learned that if you find an open spot at a campground, TAKE IT. This is especially true if youre traveling on a weekend during busy season. Which brings us to our next tip
Washburn Campground Hearst San Simeon State Park
The Washburn Campground at Hearst San Simeon State Park is one of the most affordable places to camp near Big Sur. The approximately 68 sites available sit a mile inland from the ocean and the other campground at the park, San Simeon Creek Campground.
As of 2022, overnight rates at Washburn Campground are $20 per night, compared to $35 dollars typically found at state parks along the Big Sur coast. This lower price also makes it the most affordable place to stay when spending the night on a weekend trip to the nearby Hearst Castle.
The Washburn Campground is considered primitive, with only vault toilets and potable water available. Sites accommodate both tents and RVs and are relatively well spread out. Washburn doesn’t tend to book out as quickly as other campgrounds, also making it a more viable option for a last-minute trip.
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