The Top 10 Best Places to Go Camping in Southern California

Agnes Loves Camping
Several friends have asked me for campsite recommendations near and around Los Angeles, and instead of piecing together an email each time, now I’ll be prepared to send them the following slideshow. Some of the destinations are within 45 minutes of downtown L.A., some are a bit of a drive, but all are worth a visit (or several).

Camping is a new favorite pastime of mine. As a former Connecticut-turned-New-York-native, I’d never camped a night in my life before I met my husband. I camped for the first time about four years ago, only a few short months after we met, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I can’t say no to a camping invitation, and if I go without it for a couple of months, I go through withdrawal.

The following is a list of our favorite camping spots, in order of proximity to Los Angeles (closest being first). We are such huge camping fanatics the tables at our wedding were named after the campsites we’ve visited together. Below the slideshow I have a few pointers on planning your first camping trip.

Enjoy! (Click on the first image below and it will take you to a nifty photo gallery.)

I’ve learned my lesson the hard way: you have to book campsites like you book hotel rooms: WELL IN ADVANCE. To save yourself the hassle of packing a car and getting excited for a trip and being turned away at the gate, book a site ahead of time. Check out Reserve America. It’s the Hotels.com of campgrounds.

If you really want to get technical, check out Campsitephotos.com. It’s a handy-dandy site filled with a pretty good selection of campgrounds and each specific site’s photo. If you don’t like the tree in one, or the picnic table in another, you can adjust your campsite pick accordingly.

A few essentials I won’t leave home without: ice, headlamps, plenty of paper towels and garbage bags, a sleeping mat (to put under your sleeping bag), a pillow from home (or enough soft gear you can shove in a bag and make a pillow when you get there), a stereo or a good book to read aloud over the campfire, a percolator for morning coffee, some booze and you’re all set!

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There are 24 comments

  1. Andrew P

    Found this page after googling campgrounds in SoCal area. Thanks for the great suggestions and brief reviews. Just thought I should add something: While it’s convenient to bring firewood from home, you really shouldn’t. Its best to buy firewood local to the area where it will be burned. When you bring firewood camping, you risk carrying a tree killing insect or disease.The bugs can crawl out, spread to the trees and forest at the campground or state or national park, and begin to destroy those trees and forests. http://www.dontmovefirewood.org for more info.

      1. Mat Negrete

        Me and my wife love camping and will definitely be checking out these spots! By the way I’d that an American bulldog?

      2. Monica

        so glad you found my link!! please let me know when you’ve gone camping. or if you find a new place, we’re always up for trying new spots. and yes, agnes is an american-english bulldog mix, with traces of mastiff. do you have/want one? she’s so awesome. i can recommend a place to adopt one… 🙂

  2. Sean Kempenski

    Greetings!, 

     
    I am the owner of http://www.easiercamping.com and I like your website. I also have a website that offers great information on camping. If you would like to exchange links, I would be happy to do so. Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in.   
    The link information is:
    URL: http://www.Easiercamping.com   

    Thanks and looking forward to your reply,

    Sean

  3. balboarvparks

    Welldone. Decriptive introduction to Southern California Camping. You have done a distinguished job by providing pictures along with your information about camping. We have also enjoyed the beautiful landscapes of Joshua Tress and Beverely Hills. 🙂

  4. LuvtaSurfnFish

    WOW! This is a great list. I camped at Leo Carrillo, Sycamore, McGrath and Carpinteria with my bros (actual and friends) in my 20s when we would take surfing/deep see fishing road trips from Newport to Santa B. Did someone say guy trip!!!

    When I met my wife, we took some rock climbing classes together and started climbing and camping in Joshua Tree. March and April are especially beautiful months: cool temps, great climbing, wild flowers in bloom and beautiful desert sunsets. Long nights ‘neath a blanket of stars next to a glowing fire with a glass of red and the one that I love. Can you say Newlyweds!!!

    We now we take our two young boys camping and spend a lot of time at Serrano, Convict, Mammoth and the beach campgrounds mentioned above. Family bonding!!! The best.

    I have camped at all of the places on this list and I agree, it is VERY important to make reservations ahead of time. Fri/Sat nights fill up months in advance. These campgrounds are truly some of the best near Los Angeles. Serrano & Carpinteria have flush toilets and showers. Showers “rock” when you need to wash sticky syrup, caked on mud, dried ketchup & mustard and gooey roasted marshmallow out of your 3 yr olds hair ;). I won’t lie, they are also nice luxury for mom and dad.

    A couple of other items to note:
    First timers – rent or borrow your gear to see if it’s your thing. Even better, go with friends that can show you the ropes.
    When you go camping, you’re going to have chores such as setting up camp, cooking meals, doing dishes and making sure your food is packed away in bear containers. The upside is you’re doing all of this outdoors with friends/family. Camping is about really being with those you go with, so unplug, disconnect and let yourself relax and be in the moment.
    RESPECT YOUR NEIGHBORS AND THE CAMPGROUND QUIET HOURS – This one is the most important thing to remember. Leave Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube in LA. Listen to the quiet. You’ll hear new things like the crackling of a fire, a hoot owl, a creek, the wind in the trees. It’ll blow your mind.
    Finally…duct tape, duct tape, duct tape…don’t leave home without it!

    I love your site! Thanks for taking me down memory lane! Looking forward to my next trip into the great outdoors!

  5. Sofia Morales

    Hi, for the first time I decided to go camping with my daughters this very next weekend, and yeah so frustrating, I should have to make our reservations in advance; I’ve read all your recommendations, I’ll make future plans now, thanks for your advices, I really appreciate them. God bless you

  6. Lydia

    I just wanted to mention the el capitan canyon had regular tent sites and dogs are allowed as long as they are leashed. We went in May and saw many many grey whales migrating north from Baja with their babies. It was truly a sight!

  7. Chris C.

    Great recommendations. Totally agree on Leo Carrillo and J-Tree. My personal desert favorite is Borrego Springs in Anza-Borrego State Park. Trust me – you’ll love it here in the Spring… For good overall camping, I love Dennison Park near Ojai. Great sites with spectacular views of the Ojai Valley, Topatopa bluffs and night sky. It’s cheap too. And for river camping, Sandy Flat on the Kern River near Lake Isabella is very basic camping but amazing. Up the coast, San Simeon State Park is the place. Camping is the bomb!

  8. Erica

    I love that you included Serrano. Not only because I’ve been camping there about 20 years, but because I also got engaged there. 😊

  9. jd

    I would also like to add two more:

    Just east of La Cañada Flintridge in the Angeles Forest on HWY 2 are Chilao Campground 25.5 east of La Cañada Flintridge. There are two loops Manzanita and Little Pines each have about 44 campsites but Manzanita is the better loop. Downside is neither has a lot of shade, so either get late afternoon when the sun goes down like I do, or bring along a canope of some sort . Then there’s Buckhorn Campground 35.5 miles east of La Cañada Flintridge. Beautiful place with pine and cedar trees and a trailhead that runs into the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). It has 38 campsites some semi private some not and tons of shade. My favorite sites are: 1,2,3,33,34,35,36. Both are first come first served so plan accordingly, ESPECIALLY for Buckhorn during the holiday weekends because it gets crowded fast. You may even want to get there a day or so earlier if its a holiday weekend. Hope this helps and enjoy!

  10. Greg

    Hi Monica, great list of camping places. Joshua Tree is one of our favorites to visit. You should also look into Fountain of Youth, they are an RV resort but have great camping too! One of our favorites right in the desert. You should check them out at: http://foyspa.com/

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