Beach Camping on California's Central Coast

Camping at Oceano Dunes Near Pismo Beach
Brian Sterling/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

You may be surprised to find out that, in a stretch of coast that's more than 200 miles long, there are few beachfront campgrounds along the Central Coast of California. Blame Mother Nature if you must: Most of that part of the California coast is lined with precipitous cliffs, not a lot of sandy beaches.

If you want to go camping at the beach along the central coast - and by that, we mean between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz - you only have a couple of options.

Only two beaches between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz meet the strict definition of beach camping, meaning they aren't across the road, down the street, or on top of a cliff. Because of that, we relaxed that definition just a little for the central coast. This list includes a few places that are just a short walk to the beach.

If you want to camp in comfort at a Central Coast beach, but you don't have an RV, you may want to try Luv2Camp. They deliver and set up an RV for you at both of these locations.

Places for Beach Camping

  • Gaviota State Beach: At Gaviota State Beach, you have to walk across a parking lot and under a railroad trestle to get to the beach from the campground. It only has 39 campsites, which can be reserved from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The campground is about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, just off US Hwy 101.
  • Morro Strand State Beach: Morro Strand is on CA Hwy 1 near Hearst Castle. Small sand dunes separate their oceanside campgrounds from the beach. This state beach campground can accommodate camper vehicles up to 24 feet long. At hookup sites, they can go up to 40 feet. The hookup sites have full hookups (50 and 30 amps). Sites 41, 43 and 45 have views of Morro Rock but not the beach. You can have up to 3 licensed vehicles at your site. A trailer counts a vehicle, but you can have one motorcycle in addition to the others. Dogs are allowed in the campground and on the roads, but not on the beach - and they must be on a leash.
    • Morro Strand is a lovely place to camp, close to a three-mile stretch of beach with entrances at the north and south ends. Fishing, surfing, jogging, birding, and sunbathing are popular.
  • Oceano Dunes, Pismo BeachOceano Dunes is the place in California that has beach camping like you might have imagined it. Vehicles are allowed to drive onto the sand along a 5-mile stretch of oceanfront, and you can set up to camp on the beach. The experience may be different than what you expect, though. It's often windy, and it's hard to keep the sand from getting into everything. Vehicles coming and going can be noisy. In spite of that, lots of people love to camp at Oceano, and many of them bring their families every year.
    • Passenger cars can drive on the northern portion of the beach, but four-wheel-drive is recommended for driving to the camping area.
  • Port San Luis Campground: It's just north of Pismo Beach in the small town of Avila Bay, off US Hwy 101. It's for RVs only, and they don't take reservations. Dry camping sites in their Nobi Point location are just above the beach. The hookup sites are across the street.
  • Limekiln State Park: The Ocean Sites at Limekiln are very close to the sand, but there are only a dozen of them. They can accommodate vehicles up to 24 feet long (trailer up to 15 feet). You can reserve them ahead of time - and you should. Dogs are allowed on a leash. The campground has restrooms and showers.