People love California for its beaches and forests, and camping in the Santa Cruz area means access to both.
Next to the Pacific Ocean and amidst the majestic redwoods, this part of California’s Central Coast is legendarily laid back and beautiful. Its string of scenic beaches and enchanting small communities attract visitors from all over for much of the year.
While many of the campers come from across the country or even overseas, others make a much shorter journey. It’s a favorite spot for quick getaways for many Californians who live in more congested areas.
Top-Rated Campgrounds near Santa Cruz, CA
There are many places for Santa Cruz camping trips, and all of them are in great demand. You’ll want to research campgrounds and book your sites in advance to get the best spots.
Here’s our list of top-rated campgrounds in and around Santa Cruz, CA!
Henry Cowell Redwoods Graham Hill Campground
Address: 2591 Graham Hill Rd, Scotts Valley, CA 95060
Looking for towering redwoods? The expansive Henry Cowell Redwoods Graham Hill Campground covers more than 4,600 acres, and 40 of those acres are old-growth redwood forest. The tallest tree is estimated to be 277 feet tall and is at least 1,500 years old.
This popular park is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just five miles from the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk. It has 113 sites for RVs and tents where pines and oaks offer excellent shade. Amenities are limited to flush toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and coin-operated showers.
You could easily spend an entire weekend here and never want to leave the park. But if you’re craving an adventure, the park has access to 30 miles of wooded trails. There’s also the famous Garden of Eden, a pristine natural swimming hole at the end of a 10-minute hike.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Address: 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA 95006
This campground is closed due to damage caused by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. Learn more here: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=30422
Giant redwoods are a big attraction here at California’s oldest state park. Some are as tall as the Statue of Liberty!
Another calling card is the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. It connects Big Basin Redwoods State Park with other state parks in the area and to the Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve, a freshwater marsh.
In the heart of the mountains, the park was established in 1902. There are spectacular ocean views as well as scenic waterfalls along more than 80 miles of trails. Five different camping areas have a total of 101 sites, most of which are dry camping with showers and toilets nearby. Amenities vary from camp to camp.
There’s lots of wildlife to observe, including deer, raccoons, herons, and egrets. Scan the trees to spot an array of songbirds and several different woodpeckers. While bobcat sightings are rare, they do live in the mountains, so you’ll want to keep a wary eye out.
Sunset State Beach
Address: Sunset State Beach, Watsonville, CA 95076
This popular Santa Cruz camping area offers a fantastic beach experience along the scenic Monterey Bay, plus camping on an overhead bluff with a spectacular view.
Just a short drive from Santa Cruz, the campground has 91 sites and can accommodate RVs up to 31 feet long. There are no hookups. Each site has a table, fire ring with grate, and firewood available. Other amenities include flush toilets, drinking water, and coin-operated showers.
Sunset State Beach is a terrific place for hiking as well as beachcombing and exploring the sand dunes. Visitors also enjoy fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching. There are also two shaded pavilions you can rent for group activities on the beach.
Seacliff State Beach
Address: State Park Dr, Aptos, CA 95003
Many of the campgrounds in the area are for tent campers too, but Seacliff State Beach is just for RVs.
A popular fishing spot, Seacliff State Beach has 62 RV sites that overlook the ocean. Nearly half of them have full hookups and are right on the beach. These sites are for travel trailers up to 34 feet. More sites are in a parking lot arrangement and are for motorhomes up to 40 feet.
Seacliff Beach sits in the small town of Aptos, only a few miles south of Santa Cruz so we are still considering it a great Santa Cruz camping option. The beach itself is easily identifiable by the half-sunken oil tanker (the SS Palo Alto) just offshore. This widespread curiosity serves as a productive fishing reef and also attracts many species of birds.
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort
Address: 4980 Hwy 9, Felton, CA 95018
Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort is next to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. This Santa Cruz camping option is another popular destination for RVs only. It’s tucked into the mountains, a few minutes’ drive from the coastline.
The family-oriented resort, located in Felton, has full hookups with electric, water, and sewer. There’s a camp store and a clubhouse with a recreation room and a kids’ playground. Extras include laundry and ice, cable TV, and Wi-Fi service throughout.
There are many miles of trails for hiking and or mountain biking and opportunities for horseback riding and rock climbing. Underneath a canopy of those majestic redwoods, visitors can also enjoy access to the slow-moving and scenic San Lorenzo River.
New Brighton State Beach
Address: 1500 Park Ave, Capitola, CA 95010
Also in close proximity to the sunken S.S. Palo Alto is New Brighton State Beach. There are 111 primitive campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs up to 36 feet long. Each site has a table, fire ring, and grate. There are also nine “premium” sites with full hookups. All overnight guests at the campground have access to flushing toilets and coin-operated showers.
This is a beautiful option when deciding on your Santa Cruz camping location. Besides the campground, the tree-lined bluffs offer hiking trails and sweeping views of Monterey Bay. The sandy shores are great for fishing, beachcombing, and swimming (in warmer months).
For the history-minded, the Pacific Migrations Visitor Center sheds light on the many different inhabitants and settlers of the area.
Manresa Uplands Campground
Address: 205 Manresa Uplands Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076
Near Watsonville, Manresa Uplands Campground offers a truly unique experience of camping among the dunes. The hike-in campground is distinguished by its expansive and welcoming beachfront.
Campers park their vehicles in an upper lot and hike down to one of 60 designated sites, which massive sand dunes shield from view. Like most campsites on our list, amenities are pretty much limited to flush toilets and coin-operated showers.
Also known as Sand Dollar Beach, Manresa Uplands is about a mile up the highway from Sunset Beach (also on our list). This area along Monterey Beach has one of the longest continuous stretches of sand beach in California.
Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA
Address: 1186 San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076
This KOA is one of the best campgrounds for families and larger RV rigs. With easy access to many attractions and lots of amenities, it’s truly a prime pick for Santa Cruz camping options.
Sites have full hookups, some of them back-ins and others with pull-through access. Some sites are gravel, and others are asphalt. Many of the sites have patios, and some have small fenced areas for pets.
In addition to the RV sites, this family-friendly KOA campground has a wide range of cabins with full bathrooms. Some are cozy for two people, while others sleep up to six.
Kids love the large recreation area, the swimming pool, and the KOA Express Fun Train.
Little Basin Cabins & Campgrounds
This campground is closed due to damage caused by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. Learn more here: http://www.littlebasin.com/
Address: 21700 Little Basin Rd, Boulder Creek, CA 95006
A relatively recent addition to the state park system, Little Basin Cabins and Campgrounds spreads out over 500 acres in a gorgeous area adjacent to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
The campground was previously a private corporate retreat space, but now the state owns it, and a contracted private company runs it. There are 38 tent sites, a dozen cabins, and one RV site. If you’re looking to explore one of the newest Santa Cruz camping options, you’ve found it here.
Guests have access to flush toilets and showers, as well as an expansive network of forest trails. Shared facilities include a large playground, a softball field, and courts for basketball and beach volleyball. Larger groups could rent a kitchen facility or one of two large picnic areas for gathering.
Little Basin, set among grassy meadows, has a family-friendly feel to it. It’s undoubtedly shady and scenic, but the second-growth redwood trees found here are not as large as others in the area.
Tips for Choosing a Place to Camp
The biggest tip we can give you is to plan for a Santa Cruz camping excursion. This area is so amazing that it’s a popular destination almost year-round. Because of such demand, state parks can be fully booked months in advance.
You’ll want to study the area in advance. Look at maps that the California Parks Department or the city of Santa Cruz publishes online. That way, you can know the different Santa Cruz camping options locations and their proximity to the city.
With these tips, you should be prepared to get a great campsite. Preparation is key in any camping setting, but you don’t want to miss out on a great camping experience simply because you put it off to the last minute and didn’t do your research. Once you’ve decided where to stay, it’s time to explore the area! Read the 7 Beautiful (and Affordable) Things To Do In Santa Cruz.