At Emma Wood State Beach, you park your camper almost right beside the ocean. The campsites are angled toward some rocks. On the other side of those rocks is the Pacific Ocean. You couldn't camp much closer to a beach than this, but it isn't quite as close to perfection as it sounds.
You can go swimming at Emma Wood, and people sometimes go surfing here. If you bring a fishing pole (and your fishing license), you might catch a few perch, bass, cabezon, or corbina fish.
On the plus high side, the views are beautiful. Offshore (on a super clear day), you can see the Channel Islands. A squadron of pelicans might fly by in a formation that makes them look like B-52 bombers. People sometimes report sighting dolphins or even an occasional migrating whale from their campsites.
It all sounds pretty sweet, but there are drawbacks. The location is scenic, but the campground is wedged between the ocean and a railroad track. Expect several trains to pass every day (and in the night, too). And the trains are never quiet. The campground is also just below an elevated highway on-ramp. All of which sometimes adds up to be annoyingly noisy.
Some online reviewers say that it feels a little unsafe, with "sketchy" goings-on. Many campers report thefts of their equipment or things taken from other people's campsites.
If you think of Emma Wood not as a park, but rather as a no-frills place to park the RV, you're less likely to be disappointed. If you don't expect anything more than dirt, sand, rocks, and the ocean, your expectations will be met.
A similar—but nicer—RV campground next to the ocean is a few miles north at Rincon Parkway.
Facilities at Emma Wood State Beach
Emma Wood State Beach has room for 90 sites (campers or trailers up to 40 feet long). The sites may not be level and may contain a mix of asphalt, dirt, rocks, and whatever the ocean throws in. The sites are very close to each other or, as one online reviewer put it: "stacked like sardines side by side."
The campground doesn't have hookups (not even water), and the only toilets are the so-called chemical or vault type (aka porta-potties), which many visitors say are something to avoid.
Tent camping is not allowed. Instead, you need a fully self-contained RV. And that waste you contained? The nearest dump station is at McGrath State Beach, 15 miles south.
If you want to get a campsite at Emma Wood, it's first-come, first-served from Labor Day through mid-May, but don't let that fool you into thinking you can drop in any time of day and find a place open. Instead, try to arrive early.
The rest of the year, Emma Wood State Park campsites must be reserved in advance, and you'll have to do it as much as six months ahead of time. Use the guide to California state parks reservations to find out how.
Also at Emma Wood, but not on the ocean, you'll find a group campsite and an en-route campground where you can stay for one day only.
You can get a better idea of what Emma Wood campsites are like if you browse through these photos.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Emma Wood State Beach is very close to the ocean. That's nice at low tide, but exceptionally high tides can cause flooding, and the campground can be closed any time because of it. This is most likely to happen during winter storms or when a "king tide" (highest tide of the year) happens in the spring. Check the weather forecast for storms, and check the tide forecast for exceptionally high spring tides.
Dogs are allowed in the campground (on a leash), but you can't take them onto the beach.
Emma Wood State Beach is about three miles north of Ventura, California. Get more details at the park website.