The Pacific coast and mountains near Santa Cruz provide some of the most appealing places to go camping in northern California.
Santa Cruz is an excellent base for all kinds of activities. If you're going there for a couple of days, you'll find ideas for things to do in the Santa Cruz weekend getaway planner.
Tips for Choosing a Place to Camp
In the Santa Cruz area, you can find a campground near the beach, near town or in the nearby mountains.
When you're picking a place for your stay, check the map. Don't assume that the word "Santa Cruz" in its name means it's in or near town. Otherwise, you could end up frustrated and camped as much as a 30-minute drive away.
For any location below that has "state" in its name, you'll need to make reservations as far ahead as you can. It's a tricky process but never fear. You can find out how to do it in the California State Park reservation guide.
Santa Cruz Beach Camping
If you think "beach camping" means stepping out the RV door onto the sand or pitching your tent on the beach, you won't' find it around Santa Cruz.
Most of the coastal state parks have camping areas, but not a single one is directly on the beach. The campgrounds in this list are close enough to the beach that you can walk, but not quite right on the sand.
Manresa State Beach Campground has walk-in tent sites and is very close to the beach.
New Brighton State Beach Campground is a big campground with room for more than 100 sites for RVs and trailers, some hookups and a beautiful, shady area.
Seacliff State Beach Campground is in one of the most beautiful spots along the coast. It sits along a stretch of beach and is backed by wind-blocking bluffs. They allow self-contained RVs and camping trailers only.
Sunset State Beach Campground has sites for tents, travel trailers and RVs, but no hookups. It's near the beach but separated from it by sand dunes.
Other Santa Cruz Area Camping
You'll find one campground in the town of Santa Cruz and others outside of town. The distance to each one is listed below.
Santa Cruz Harbor RV Park is the one campground that has a convenient location in the town of Santa Cruz, about a mile from the beach. It can accommodate fully self-contained vehicles only, up to 42 feet long.
These campgrounds are in the Santa Cruz area, but not in or close to town:
Costanoa calls itself an "eco-adventure resort." It has a lodge, but also some upscale tent cabins and a KOA Kampground with RV and tent sites. It's about 25 miles north of town on CA Highway 1. The location has its pluses and minuses, and you should read reviews at Tripadvisor before you decide to go.
KOA Santa Cruz/Monterey is the nearest KOA to Santa Cruz, but it's actually in Watsonville, 11 miles south. It's an excellent location if you plan to visit both Santa Cruz and Monterey.
Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort is in Scotts Valley, about a 15-minute drive from the beach. Both RV and tent sites are available. It has a swimming pool, shower, laundry, and WiFi. And they welcome well-behaved pets.
Camping in the Mountains Near Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Mountains are a great place to go camping in the midst of natural beauty. But they aren't close enough to town to make a quick trip convenient. To get to some of them, you have to drive via a winding road that might not be appropriate for a big RV or if you're towing a trailer.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park has almost 150 sites for all kinds of camping, including some tent cabins. It's nearly an hour's drive from town, and a better choice if you stay put there than if you want to go into town.
Castle Rock State Park is in the mountains and nearer to the Silicon Valley towns of Los Gatos and Saratoga than to Santa Cruz. Castle Rock has backpacking sites that are about a 2.5-mile hike from the parking lot.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is near Felton (about 15 minutes from Santa Cruz) and is one of the prettiest campgrounds in the area, with more than 100 sites.
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort is near Henry Cowell Redwoods in the town of Felton about 15 minutes' drive away from Santa Cruz. They have tent and RV sites, hookups, and free WiFi.