Dessert: Camping at the Beach
Virtually all of the experiences listed above are special, but that adjective applies even more to our final category—beach camping. There's something special about finishing your camp dinner watching the sun drop into the Pacific, or settling down in your sleeping bag and drifting off to the rhythmic sound of crashing waves.
As you'd expect, California offers an abundance of choices.
Big Sur, on California's central coast south of Monterey Bay, has more than a dozen public and private campgrounds, many of which provide spectacular ocean-view bluffs above the Pacific. Kirk Creek Campground in Los Padres National Forest and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are two of the most popular.
Moving south, Pismo Beach and Ventura are both destinations for beach-side camping. Pismo State Beach offers hiking among pine-covered dunes, swimming, clam-digging and the country's largest over-wintering colony of monarch butterflies.
Camp at: Pismo State Beach
In Ventura, try McGrath State Beach, a 2-mile-long beach where the Santa Clara River meets the sea and provides some of the best bird watching in the country.
Even in the more populated sections of Southern California, there are excellent options. At Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, campsites are shaded by giant sycamores and campers have access to both back-country hiking and a gorgeous mile-long beach with tide pools and coastal caves.
There is plenty of camping at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, with its mile-long beach and excellent swimming, and at San Onofre State Beach in northern San Diego County, which is home to one of the state's most popular surf breaks.
Camp at: San Onofre State Beach
And if you truly want to get away when camping in California, pack up your backpack and catch a boat to Two Harbors on the west end of Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles. Once off the boat, a seven-mile hike will put you on Parson's Landing, a primitive campsite on the beach, steps from the surf, that will have you feeling like you've washed up on a deserted island.
Find a campsite at ReserveAmerica.com.