Stay Near the Ocean and Save Some Money
Orange County Beach camping is a great way to unwind and enjoy nature while you save money at the same time. Happily Orange County can offer a number of beautiful beach camping destinations, generally oriented around the beach, as you might expect. This is not exactly Deadhorse, Alaska in terms of population density, so you need to be on your toes to get a reservation. We have a bit of an imbalance in the supply/demand relationship; in other words we could probably use a few more beach campsites and RV parks. However, with a little advance work you can obtain a reservation; and the end result is worth it! You’ll like camping! However, you may want to check local hotel options as well.
We want to tell you about several places in O.C. where you can camp within earshot of the waves breaking on the shore, the ocean breeze in the afternoon helping you forget that you did not bring any deodorant. The chance to do a little bodysurfing, or board surfing, or boogie boarding, or body boogying, surf fishing or s’more nuking. Given the aforementioned supply/demand disparity, the campsites are not exactly separated by acres of wilderness.
But you get to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Ocean at a fraction of what you’d pay for an oceanfront hotel room. You can camp at the beach and still get to most of the other destinations in Orange County and Southern California by car or public transportation (if you’re patient), using the savings in lodging costs to buy admission into Disneyland.
The assumption here is that you want beachfront camping; we talk about other camping opportunities elsewhere on this site. Here we offer five state campgrounds, one city operated facility and one private spot. First, the state campgrounds. You can find additional specific information on Southern California state campgrounds by clicking on this link. For state park reservation information click here. Starting at the north end of the county, we have Bolsa Chica state beach (714/846-3460). This beach offers only 50 RV camping spots, which is a good thing if you’re one of the 50 campers. It is across the street from the B.C. ecological reserve, where you’ll find a wonderful universe of protected wildlife species protectedly going about their lives. Fire rings are available.
The city of Huntington Beach (Surf City to you Hodads) has a small RV park near the pier, known as Sunset Vista Campground (714/969-5621). No tent camping here. The park is open from October 1 to May 31; they aren’t open to camping in the summer, no doubt because they need the parking for the summer crowds. Click here (and scroll down the web page a bit) for information on Sunset Vista camping opportunities. Bolsa Chica beach in Huntington Beach offers RV-only camping, no tents.
Next is the only private campground, which is in Newport Beach, where the harbor extends beyond Pacific Coast Highway and creates a little lagoon in the Newport Back Bay. Newport Dunes (949/729-3863) recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and has the nicest facilities of all the Orange County beach camping opportunities. It offers tent camping, RV spots and 24 small cottages for rent, but is really an upscale resort. There are a number of amenities that include a pool, hiking and riding trails around the Back Bay, dining, boat slip rentals and other features. This facility is not right on the ocean but does have a nice beach. And it’s very near Balboa Island and other beachy stuff . Click here for more information on Newport Dunes.
Your next stop down the coast is Crystal Cove campground, south of Corona del Mar. However, this facility is not on the beach, and is not easily accessed. Check it out on the State web site link above, but be careful before you commit to this campground. It’s very nice but may not be your cup of tea. Watch for the date shake shack on the side of the highway though.
OK, moving on down the coast…
Interestingly, with all its public beaches, Laguna does not offer overnight camping. We love Laguna but beans to them on the Orange County beach camping front.
So our next stop on the beach campground tour is Doheny State Beach (949/496-61723). This park is next to Dana Point Harbor, and offers tent camping and RV spots. I’d definitely check this out if I was looking to camp in Orange County; it’s good enough to have been included in a Beach Boys song (hint on another page). Click the link to State parks above or below.
Next stop is San Clemente State Beach (949/492-3156), with both tent and RV camping opportunities. Camp here and pretend President Nixon is in residence at his estate up on the bluffs, a Coast Guard cutter on sentry duty offshore. Or not. For your convenience, we’ve included the State Park link here again for easy access to specific information on San Clemente State Beach.
San Onofre State Beach is included here even though it actually is in San Diego County. Because it lies north of Camp Pendleton Marine Base, it feels like it’s part of the Orange County beach camping scene (and frankly, you don’t give a rip which county it’s in). It lies a couple miles south of San Clemente and offers tent and RV camping. It too is on the State web site linked above.
Do not be surprised or put off by what you see when you get to that beach. Yes, we do have our very own nuclear reactor, or used to–it’s no longer in use, having been shut down in 2013. My brother-in-law says he has found excellent surfing there. The number for San Onofre State Beach is 949/492-4872.
Finally, we mention two other beaches for camping that aren’t in Orange County. Up in north Los Angeles County is Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu; here you can feel more like you’re away from civilization. This park is having some upgrades in early 2016 that will include adding RV hookups to the tent camping spaces. At the other end of things is San Elijo State Beach in San Diego County, near Cardiff-By-The-Sea. This has a bit of a trek down to the beach, but offers nearby food choices and a Starbucks.