Beach Camping on the California Coast
The world could possibly be divided into two types of people; those who love beaches and those who do not. To say our family loves the beach is a bit of an understatment (with the exception of Andrew who would probably say he just "likes" the beach). Maybe it's that Utah, our home state, is landlocked or possibly our blood is part ocean water but when we get beach time we NEVER want it to end! Lucky for us we spent 5 straight days camping on the beach this spring and filled our shoes with enough sand to last us until our next beach vacation.
Check out our video diary of the trip!
For details of camping spots and itinerary keep reading (and be sure to read till the end for some quick tips).
Mojave National Preserve
Everyone stops at National Parks on their trips but they tend to overlook the little guys like National Preserves or Monuments. One thing we've learned through our travels is to not underestimate the beauty and experiences these underdogs have to offer. Mojave National Preserve does not disappoint with it's mountains of sand dunes and freezing lava caves to explore. If you're headed down I-15 from Las Vegas to California, we highly recommend taking the slightly longer route through a forest of Joshua Trees and stopping in at the charming train station made visitor center.
Exploring the lava tubes is a must, although be ready to drive down a very bumpy dirt road to get there. The tube is easily accessible so it's a perfect cave to explore even with little ones or first timers. We found bats and Kangaroo Rats inside the lava tube which the girls had just read about in their Jr Ranger books on our drive from the Visitor's Center. We were really glad to have some closed toed shoes, jackets, and lights with us on this adventure.
Photo tip: if you visit this spot at midday you can get some pretty rad shots of sun beams shining through these windows. We visited later in the day which still produced a good shot but with no sun beams.
We chose to make the Mojave Desert as one of our stops because there's plenty of free wild camping within the park. We camped right at the edge of the Mojave dunes which provided lots of entertainment for the kids. Don't forget to bring a sand bucket and toys and even some sleds for coasting down the steep dunes.
Doheny State Beach
This was not our first time camping on this beach nor will it be the last. Out of all the beach camping sites that we've been to in Southern California this one is our favorite. We love that you can camp right on the beach and there are some great waves for beginner surfers. Be prepared to book this camp ground early though because it fills us fast!
Camping on the California coast is very different from a lot of the camping we're used to in Utah. My dad always nick named campgrounds like this parking lots because you're cozied in nice and close to each of your neighbors. Honestly though, California is not exactly the place to go if you want to be alone anyway. Our kids loved to play with all the neighboring kids on the beach and we just accepted that we weren't going to be putting the kids down at their usual 8 o'clock bed time.
Check out our trip video for an arial view of the beach and campground.
First on our agenda and really the only thing on the agenda for the entire trip was BEACH TIME! We had heard that Baby Beach, which was really close to Doheny Beach was a great place to kids to play (hence the name). It was the perfect family beach with tame waves, sugary white sand, and shallow waters. We played here most of the day and basically took the kids kicking and screaming to go and eat dinner. You can also rent kayaks and paddle boards to explore the harbor with and access to fun tide pools to explore at low tides.
Crystal Cove State Park
I forgot to mention that my sister and her family joined us for this trip! Well, actually, I think we joined them! Either way we love to have good friends and family to travel with.
Our day at Crystal Cove State Park was pretty dreamy. The day started off a bit cold and cloudy so we stopped in to grab some Sidecar Donuts (our first time ever having them) and spent the rest of the morning hiking around the park. Spring time is such a beautiful time of year to visit California because everything is SO green and covered in wild flowers.
After our 2.8 mile loop up the canyon it had warmed up and we spent the rest of the day at the beach that is part of Crystal Cove.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
Admittedly I wasn't so sure about spending money to walk around in a bunch of flowers which is a little weird seeing as i'm a bit of a plant nerd. After about two minutes of walking around the flowing gardens I was sold! Anyone who does their own yard work can appreciate the amount of work it takes to landscape as beautifully as it was at the Carlsbad Flower Fields. If you're in the area when they poppy fields are in bloom then definitely add this stop to your list of places to visit.
Miniature Engineering Museum
This may not be the best place to take small kids but a really fun place to take your big kids (include those big ones you're married to). Andrew and Ryan absolutely loved walking around this free museum of miniatures. The coolest part about this stop is that the miniature engines and other stuff (okay lets be totally honest, I don't know much about engineering) were fully functional!
San Clemente Beach
My sister and I really love to boogie board so we were in search for a good place to make this happen. San Clemente Beach, from what we understand, is a good beach for surfing but you can catch some good boogie boarding waves there too. The kids played and we paddled out for some good riding waves. We did catch a few but it definitely wasn't ideal and took A LOT of work, I mean more than usual.
You're welcome for the following photos.
Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve
Sadly the time did eventually come to pack up and head back to Utah. We were really going to miss the sound of rolling waves while we slept and campfires on the beach. We wouldn't not miss so much all the sand in our beds and having to cake on the sunscreen every morning.
We camped again at The Mojave Desert but took our time getting there through Thousand Palms and Joshua Tree NP. The original plan was to hopefully snag a site at Joshua tree and spend the next day exploring a new National Park for us but we didn't have any luck finding a first come first serve site. Although we were a bit disappointed we're used to being flexible and changing our plans while traveling. It comes along with the territory.
Thousand Palms Oasis preserve was a great stop to get out, stretch our legs, and picnic. I still can't believe that right in the middle of the California desert can be such an amazing natural grove of palm trees.
Hopefully this helps give you and your family some good ideas for your own California Vacation! Be sure to save this post on Pinterest so you can find it easily later for your own planning.
Bonus Beach Camping Tips
Since you made it all the way to end you get some awesome tips that we learned while camping in California!
1. Baby powder will solve all your sandy feet problems. Bring some along and sprinkle a bit on your feet and the kids before they come into the tent. It seriously works like magic!
2. Camping spots in California fill up really fast so be sure to get your reservations early and pay a bit more to be on the beach front.
3. This rule doesn't just apply to California but when looking for fun things to do or the best beaches to go to be sure to ask a local! This is the best way to find the best kept secrets and lest touristy places.
4. Don't buy a wetsuit before you go on your Cali vacation, find one when you're there. We found lots of options for used wetsuits at excellent prices.