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It’s hard to be bored in a place like San Francisco.
Between the countless attractions and historic landmarks like Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and those iconic cable cars zipping around town, it’s hard to run out of fun things to do.
But beyond the typical tourist attractions, San Francisco is a gorgeous camping location filled with breathtaking coastal landscapes, easy access to the ocean, and plenty of prime hiking spots for every experience level.
But while you’re out and about exploring, it’s easy to get worn out by the notorious California traffic.
That’s why we’re bringing you this handy guide of excellent spots to peel off the highway and get in tune with nature instead of your road rage.
Whether you’re planning a quick pit stop or a weekend getaway, be sure to add these relaxing places to camp in California to your GPS on your next adventure to the Bay Area.
1. San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area
Drive Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
As the state continues to reopen and recover from wildfires and COVID-19, it’s important to plan your camping trips well in advance. Some sites are opening with reduced capacity, so you’ll want to book your spot early.
This camping location isn’t a place you’ll want to miss in those picturesque summer months. Nuzzled in the San Joaquin Valley just 2 hours from San Francisco, the reservoir is an ideal spot for boating, sailing, or a classic picnic.
There are four campgrounds open year-round, with your pick of on-site accommodations like bathrooms, showers, drinking water, and hook-ups for just $30.
If you end up camping during a windy season (November-April) you might consider picking the Basalt campsite, which is tucked in the valley and offers protection from heavy winds.
But with a durable, noise-dampening hard shell roof top tent, you might not have to worry so much about the wind, giving you freedom to explore any of the beautiful campsites along the shoreline.
Like many other sites in the Bay Area, group camping and public events are prohibited for the time being. But if you’re hauling in a boat, you’re welcome to sail around and enjoy the view.
2. Half Moon Bay State Beach
Drive Time: 32 minutes
When winter sets in, it’s hard to not dream about enjoying the sun and lounging on the nearest beach.
If you’re looking for a beach near San Francisco, Venice Beach is home to locals and tourists alike who enjoy the sun during the winter months.
If you’re heading there but want to escape the crowds, this California state parks camping site is for you.
After a long day spent fishing, hiking the Coastside trail, or catching some waves on your surfboard, the beaches of Half Moon Bay are the perfect place to park your roof top tent for the night.
You won’t be able to pitch a fire at this site, but you’ll hardly miss it with the breathtaking view of the open ocean. On a nice day, the trails along the shoreline are excellent for horseback riding or geocaching with the family.
While you’ll want to book in advance as space is limited, a reservation will only run you about $40.
3. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Drive Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
Who doesn’t love Napa Valley? You can’t pass through the area without making a pit stop in this infamous wine-lovers’ location.
Set among the scenic redwoods, Bothe-Napa Valley State Parkis only a stone’s throw away from the most famous vineyards in the world.
To make the most of your stay, bring a swimsuit and take a dip in the park’s luxurious swimming pool. Or grill up a quick meal by the campfire and post up under some Douglas Firs to gaze at the night sky.
The campgrounds have been newly reopened, and offer unique camping experiences like cabins and yurts, as well as drive-in spots to set up your Roofnest, which you can park on site for just $40.
And of course if you’re a fan of wine, bring your favorite portable wine cups to toast to your relaxing escape from the city!
4. Kirby Cove
Drive Time: 24 minutes
It doesn’t get much more iconic than this. Perched on the north side of the famous Golden Gate Bridge, Kirby Cove gives you an epic view of San Francisco (without the hustle and bustle of actually being there).
From April through October, you can choose from 4 campsites with all the fixings; toilets, barbecue pit, and a fire ring for a humble $20. As long as you bring your own water, you’re good to go (this site doesn’t have potable water spickets).
If you’re not already a devoted birdwatcher, you might just become one here. And if you are, you’ll absolutely love it. The area is known for hawks, falcons, and all kinds of wildlife you’ll never catch in the city.
Most importantly, do not forget to bring your camera. These are going to be some unforgettable views when the sun starts to set over the bay!
5. Rob Hill Campground
Drive Time: 18 minutes
If you’re in a time crunch and are looking to stay relatively close to the city, look no further than Rob Hill, which is less than 20 minutes from city center.
These campgrounds come with some great perks like food storage lockers, bike racks, and a free-standing charcoal barbecue setup in case you want to fire up the grill.
The history buffs in your group will love the proximity to the World War II West Coast Memorial and Battery Chamberlin. And those in your crew looking to sunbathe can head over to Baker Beach.
This site is a little more pricey, with $100/night during peak days (Fri-Sun) and $75/night for off-peak days (Mon-Thurs).
For a unique daytrip, try hiking through the Presidio to The Palace of Fine Arts. If you stop by in the summertime, you can get a ticket to see some outdoor theater!
6. Liberty Glen at Lake Sonoma
Drive Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
You can never go wrong with a detour to Lake Sonoma.
This is arguably one of the best places to camp in California, and a refuge from the busy city. Here you’ll find scenic shoreline views, challenging hikes, and recreational activities for the whole family — including archery, disc golf, and a dog park.
In terms of accommodations, you’ll be practically glamping with paved roads, picnic areas, and accessible showers.
If you’re feeling more rugged, hit the Serpentine Trail with your mountain bike,or flex your angling skills at the lake.
Depending on the season, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25-100/night (more for groups and cabin sites). That’s a small price to pay for this hidden gem!
7. Clear Lake State Park
Drive Time: 2 hours 22 minutes
It’s hard to find untouched wilderness these days. But here, you’ll find abundant landscapes preserved just as they were ages ago.
Clear Lake State Park has a rich history dating back to the Native Americans who settled in the area after a landslide blocked water from escaping into the nearby Russian River.
The result was an overflow of crystal clear water, forming what we now know as Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in the state of California.
From the window of your roof top tent, you’ll be able to spot bass, catfish, Sacramento perch, and bluegill for miles on end.
For a spot along the lake you can expect to pay around $30/night for these impressive views.
If it’s not too chilly, you can take a dip at the swim beach, or rent a boat or kayak off the marina and see where the water takes you.
Trust us, this one’s worth a little extra drive!
Checking Out Winter Camping in Portland This Year?
Once you’ve had your fill of the Bay Area, you can keep your adventures going by heading up north for a change of scenery.
Portland, Oregon is an exceptional spot for car camping, with plenty of camp sites not too far from the city limits — and without the California crowds.
With a hard shell rooftop tent, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, and you can pack up and try new adventures at a moment’s notice.
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