Where to Surf and Camp in Southern California
Why stay at a weird motel to be close to the water when you could camp on the beach? Imagine waking up to the smell of the Pacific Ocean and getting out on the water before the crowds, heading back to camp for lunch, and maybe even going back in the evening after the mid-day winds die down.
If you’re looking to shred some waves this summer on the sunny SoCal coast, consider one of these campgrounds with fantastic surf spots close by.
- San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre, which is just south of San Clemente, has several surfing beaches to choose from, including Trestles, a spot that has become world-famous because the surf is so consistently good. Trestles is notoriously challenging to get to because you can’t drive there, but if you’re up for the challenge, the San Mateo Campground at San Onofre State Beach is a good option to get close.
You’ll hike into and out of Trestles on a trail that’s dirt or sand in some sections and paved in other places. Take the 1.5-mile nature trail from the campground to the beach (mostly downhill) and be prepared to go 1.5 miles back (part of that will be a steep uphill) on your way home. It can be done on foot with a board, but consider bringing a bike or motorized bike to make the trek easier. You’ll see lots of surfers zipping around the area on motorized bikes. Other surfing options in San Onofre include Old Man’s, Church, and Trails.
- San Clemente State Beach
Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the San Clemente State Beach campground isn’t spectacular in and of itself, but the beach and the bluffs are, which is what makes this location popular with campers and surfers alike. There’s a long stretch of beach a short walk from the campground that’s at the foot of steep bluffs. It’s got silky smooth sand and some great waves, if you catch it at the right time.
The surf isn’t comparable to spots like Trestles just on the other side of San Clemente Point, but if you want to surf the area and aren’t up for the trek to Trestles, or if you want to camp near bluffs, San Clemente State Beach is a great option.
- San Elijo State Beach
Camp at San Elijo State Beach in Encinitas (just north of San Diego) and you’ll be just a stone’s throw away from surfing Pipes and Moonlight Beach. Like San Clemente’s campground, San Elijo’s campground is situated at the top of some gorgeous bluffs. San Elijo offers nearly 150 campsites with six different staircases down to the beach. There’s a paved trail along the highway at the top of the bluffs, if you want to take in the coast that way.
This campground also gives you access to other nearby surf spots popular with locals and visitors alike, like Swami’s about a mile to the north. A short drive will get you to other premium surf spots to the south like Del Mar.
- Bolsa Chica State Beach
If you’re ok camping in a parking lot (premium sites back up to the beach), Orange County’s Bolsa Chica State Beach has a fun vibe and lots of great surf along Huntington Beach—aka, Surf City USA. The paved trail attracts bikers, joggers, and rollerbladers all day long. The bonfire pits make it a popular spot for sunset gatherings during the warmer months.
Closeby are the Bolsa Chica wetlands, which offer trails to explore and wildlife to view. It’s fun, family-friendly, and consistently good for surfing. Please note, there are no tent sites available at Bolsa Chica State Beach. (Camp out of your car, if you must!)
- Leo Carrillo State Beach
Another great spot for camping by a surfing beach is Canyon Campground in Leo Carrillo State Park. Cruise up Pacific Coast Highway toward Malibu, and you’ll find a campground shaded by large sycamore trees on the opposite side of PCH from the beach.
The 1.5-mile stretch of beach by Canyon Campground is great for tidepooling, as well as swimming and surfing. There’s a beach trail for beach access, a bluffs trail, as well as several other trails on the non-beach side of the campground. Bonus nearby surf spots include County Line and Zuma Beach.
If you’re looking to camp in Southern California and surf in the Pacific Ocean, you can’t go wrong with these options. But beware, camping reservations in SoCal can be competitive. Visit www.reservecalifornia.com up to six months in advance of your travel date to book online. If it’s full, check back for cancellations or call the campground and ask if there are first-come-first-served spots.
Which surf/camp spot would you visit first? Tell us in the comments.