Where do you camp??? This is a question we get a lot, so I thought doing a post on our Southern California camping spots would be fun. We are “convenience campers” and we don’t like to drive a long way to have a lot of fun. Generally, if we can drive to a camp spot within 2-3 hours of Long Beach we’re happy. Up until last February 2011, we were tent campers all the way and loved it. I do have to say though, now that we have our little Craigslist pop-up, it would be hard to go back to a tent.
Here we go, the Pommerenk List for good Southern California camping:
Cold Springs – Sequoia National Park / Mineral King Area
This first campground actually breaks our 2-3 hours “rule”, but it is well worth the drive and probably one of my favorite spots to camp and hike. The campground is non-reservation, so first come first served. There is water and pit toilets available as well as a very large bear box at each site. A beautiful little stream flows through the campground and many of the sites are right along the stream. The campground is the jumping off point of several beautiful hikes through valleys and up to Alpine lakes.
The BEST beach camping in all of Southern California!!! Jalama Beach is in Santa Barbara County and is completely isolated, you can walk for miles down the beach and only run into other campers or an occasional surfer. If you’re lucky enough to get a beach site (the park is first come first served, no reservations), you’ll wish you could stay forever. Jalama does get windy at times, that’s the only downfall of this place. They have flushing toilets, water and 25 cent hot showers. There is even a little camp store and grill if you aren’t into cooking yourself. Across from the camp store is a pretty cool playground for the kids.
Indian Cove – Joshua Tree National Park
We like it all…the mountains, the beaches and the desert. Joshua Tree is a peaceful and beautiful place in the desert with more stars out at night than you will see anywhere else. Hiking is easy, no trails needed…just start walking. Indian Cove campground is surrounded by huge rock outcroppings that are perfect for scrambling and climbing. When hiking or climbing…watch out for RATTLESNAKES!!! There is no water available in the park, but there is a spigot just up the road at the ranger station. Pit toilets are available in the park.
Live Oak – Caspers Wilderness Park
Caspers Park is a hidden little gem in the middle of Orange County right off of Ortega Hwy in San Juan Capistrano. We just discovered Caspers last spring and have camped here 3 times this year. Live Oak campground has big beautiful sites that are shaded by huge old growth oak trees. A river runs through the campground and flows in winter and spring time, but is mostly dry during the summer. There are several good established hiking trails or you can just hike along the river. The park has running water, flushing toilets and free hot showers. Caspers park is reservation only.
Mt. Pinos – Los Padres National Forest
Mt. Pinos has been our destination for the July 4th weekend for the past several years. We love this campground because it’s never busy, even on 4th of July weekend. The campsites are really big and you can feel as if you’re the only campers out there. Easy hiking trails start right from the campground as well as miles of mountain bike trails. Surrounded by giant pine trees, this is the kind of place you can just sit and relax and let the kids run and wander. Mt. Pinos doesn’t accept reservations, which is one of the reasons we think people stay away. Another reason is there is no water available at the campground or anywhere near by, you have to bring all of your own water. Pit toilets are available.
This campground has a little bit of everything and is super family friendly. It’s located in the mountains just outside of Julian in San Diego county. Even though this is a reservation only campground, we had no trouble getting a last-minute site in March and October although I hear it gets pretty busy in the summer. Most of the campsites have really good shade and you are surrounded by trees. Wild turkeys will keep you from sleeping in when they come squaking through the campsites every morning. William Heise has a great playground for the kids as well as some really easy hikes that cross little streams. They have flushing toilets, water and hot showers. Another unique thing about this campground is they have a few cute little rental cabins if you aren’t into camping outside. The cabins go for $50 a night and have heaters to keep you toasty on a cold night.
Carpinteria Beach – California State Park
Our second choice for beach camping is Carpinteria. There are a couple of drawbacks to Carpinteria for us. It’s a reservation only campground and summer books up months in advance, so this is a campground we have to hit “off season”. Even in the off season, it is still crowded on weekends. Also, the sites are right next to each other, not too much room for privacy. Getting a beach site is a MUST when you are here, they are worth the crowds and a little planning ahead. A few good things about Carpinteria are flushing toilets and water is available. Also, you are literally in the middle of a town, so if you forget anything the store is only a short walk away. The Amtrak train runs right behind the campground a few times a day and the kids love it.
Mountain Oak – Angeles National Forest
We recently discovered a new camping area just past the small town of Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mt. Oak is a small and quiet campground with some reservation sites and some first come first served sites. Just a short walk across the road from the campground is Jackson Lake, a small little fishing lake stocked with trout. The campsites are good sized, very clean and not too close together. They have flushing toilets and water spigots throughout the campground. We took a drive to the Grassy Hollow visitors center and found a nice easy hike for the kids. We also checked out another campground in the area called Table Mountain, this campground will be on our list for next year.