Is It Legal to Go Camping in California on the Beach?

camping in california on the beach

If you love camping by the ocean and enjoy waking up to the sound of the waves crashing against the beach, it’s well worth going camping in California on the beach. As in my opinion, California offers some of the most stunning beaches in the United States. 

Whether you prefer rugged stretches of coastline or beaches which feature stretches of golden sand, you’ll be able to find the perfect spot to pitch your tent. Continue reading to discover a handy, in-depth guide to camping at California Beaches, including some of my favorite beaches to camp on in California. 

Is it Legal to go Camping in California on the Beach? There are beaches in California where camping is permitted, with a required permit. But it is not allowed to pitch your tent on every beach in California. In recent years, California has implemented new laws and regulations around beach camping, which were made to protect California’s stunning beaches.

As each area in California has its own laws and regulations which govern beach camping. It’s crucial to look up the laws of the area in which you plan to camp. For example, in Ventura County, tent camping is not permitted and is banned by the County of Ventura Ordinance. 

Alternatively, California offers countless beach campgrounds, where you’ll be able to pitch your tent on a dedicated campsite, which is just a few feet away from a gorgeous Californian beach. One of the bonuses of staying at a beach campground is that you’ll still be able to wake up to the sound of the ocean while being able to enjoy access to hot showers and clean bathrooms.

What You Need to Know About Camping on California’s Beaches

camping in california on the beach

Some counties in California permit beach camping (mostly you have to obtain a hiking and camping permit), while other counties only allow campers to pitch their tent on a dedicated campsite. In recent years most counties have tightened up their beach camping policies and encourage campers to stay at beachfront campgrounds. 

The more popular a beach is, the more likely it is that beach camping will be banned to prevent masses of tourists from camping on the beach and negatively effecting the beach’s natural ecosystem. However, if you’re willing to hike to a less visited, backcountry beach, you should have no trouble finding a stretch of beach that is legal to camp on. 

One camping restriction which applies to all beaches in California is that you must leave no trace of your visit. Be prepared to properly dispose of any trash such as food wrappers you may have accumulated during your camping trip. 

Also, keep in mind that many beaches have restrictions around beach fires. 

The Best Places to Go Camping in California on the Beach?

The Lost Coast

Lost Coast, Northern California
Lost Coast, Northern California

If you’re willing to get off the beaten tourist track, it’s well worth exploring the Lost Coast, located in Humboldt Country. As the Lost Coast offers a rugged, wild coastline, which is just waiting to be explored. 

Just be warned that the only way to access the Lost Coast’s beach is by foot. If you’re up for a memorable adventure, aim to complete the Lost Coast Trail. A challenging hike, which should take you four days to complete. Although it’s only 25.3 miles long, it features steep, tricky terrain. 
Remember to obtain a hiking and camping permit before going. Read more here.

However, you’ll feel a huge sense of achievement and will get to spend three nights camping on a beautiful stretch of rugged coastline. Personally, I loved every minute of hiking and camping on the Lost Coast. 

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is located an hour’s drive from San Fransisco and offers numerous beaches. My favorite of which is Wildcat Beach. It boasts a cliffside waterfall named Alamere Falls.

If you visit Point Reyes National Seashore during winter’s whale watching season, I highly recommended hiking to Point Reyes Lighthouse. Where travelers often are lucky enough to spot a pod of whales.

While Point Reyes National Seashore offers several campgrounds, I stayed at Coast Campground, which features direct beach access.

Pismo State Beach

Camping is permitted on Pismo State Beach, which is located on California’s Central Coast. During a camping trip to Pismo State Beach, you’ll be able to tell stories around your own beach bonfire as bonfires are actually permitted on Pismo State Beach. As a bonus, pay showers are available on-site.

Pismo State Beach also offers its own campground, Pismo State Beach North Campground, which features 103 campsites.

Catalina Island

Catalina Island camping
Catalina Island. A great beach spot for camping

Catalina Island is located in the state of California and just 48 miles from Los Angeles. It’s known for its rugged coastline, rolling hills, and laid back vibe.

The best spot to pitch your tent on Catalina Island is definitely Parsons Landing Campground. A secluded beach campground that offers 8 campsites. All of which are located right on the beach. While lockers and chemical toilets are provided, you’ll need to purchase your own water.

There are two ways to get to Parsons Landing Campground. You can hike 7 miles to Parsons Landing Campground from Two Harbors. Or you can complete a short 2-mile hike to Parsons Landing Campground from Emerald Bay. Alternatively, you can also kayak to Parsons Landing Campground from Two Harbors.

Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach is located 20 miles from Santa Barbara and offers a tranquil, crescent-shaped beach. It also offers 66 campsites that back straight onto the beach.

If you’re an adventurous soul, like me, you’ll love the fact that Refugio State Beach offers exciting activities. Examples of which include kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, fishing, and swimming. From May to August, state lifeguards also offer guided kayaking tours of Refugio State Beach’s scenic coastline. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located on California’s idyllic Pacific Coast and features a waterfall that cascades right down onto a sandy, white beach.

If you spend a lot of time hiking on your camping trips, it’s well worth exploring some of the park’s world-class coastal trails, especially as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers two primitive campgrounds. One of which offers amazing sea views.
You can read more about camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park here.

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park offers 3.2 miles of unspoiled coastline and backs onto the Pacific Ocean. It’s known for its tide pools, wooded canyons, rolling surf, and sandy beaches. If you’re looking for an enchanting locating for a California beach trip, it’s well worth camping in Crystal Cove State Park.
You can find more info here.

Final Thoughts

So what are you waiting for? If you’d love to wake up to the sounds, sights, and smells of the ocean, you can’t go wrong planning a beach camping trip to one of the beautiful beaches which are listed above. California truly offers some of the country’s most scenic beaches.

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