California’s Top 4 Camping Destinations

It’s a barbecue and camping sort of holiday, so to celebrate I am packing the truck and going camping: bike (check), fly rod (check), dog (check), beer and barbecue (check). Memorial Day* honors American soldiers and is observed on the last Monday of May (May 30 in 2011). Although it commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in military service, most Americans celebrate THE three-day weekend.

Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the civil war, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and camping.

I consider myself somewhat of a camping expert. The old Toyota 4WD pickup with Skamper was just recently replaced with a newer Toyota Tundra with a 4-Wheel pop-up (more on the ultimate camping rig next month). So, to celebrate this American camping holiday, I have listed my top 4 California campground destinations.


1. Situated within Austin Creek State Recreation Area Bullfrog Pond Campground has some great views of the Russian River Valley. There are also miles of hiking trails, which unfortunately are off limits to dogs and bikes. Wine tasting on the nearby Westside River Road is the absolute best in California, maybe even the world.

2. The campground at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is ideally located in the north end of Napa Valley between the towns of Saint Helena and Calistoga. From the park, it’s a short pedal to a lot of great wineries, restaurants, and shops. While Napa Valley can be busy with tourists, the campground vacation in Napa has an entirely different feel: slow travel, good times, and a beautiful forest.

3. Camping in Baja, California has always been my favorite—you can’t beat the beachfront seclusion south of the border, but California’s own Jalama Beach Campground is about as good as it gets, close to home. The area is known for its kite surfing, surfing and wine country access, but playing guitar and reading on the beach is nice too. The beachfront sites are, of course, the best, but also difficult to get. I have spent days pacing the campground waiting, watching for someone to give up a coveted sandy spot.

4. Camping in the Eastern Sierra Nevada is of course my favorite region in California, but while the mountains are still under snow, I head to the historic Benton Hot Springs. Nine campsites look out to the White Mountains and each offers a private natural hot spring tub, fire pit, barbecue and picnic table. Each site has space to park a truck, RV or pitch a tent, but there are no hook ups. There is not a whole lot to do in the Benton area without driving into the mountains, but did you read above?—there are natural hot springs.

* Thank you Wikipedia for the Memorial Day information

What are your Memorial Day weekend plans?

9 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Oh I just love the pictures… and the camping info… adding all the places to the bucket list!

    • we should do a Jalama trip this summer/fall – September?

      • We should be there right now, but fall would be nice too!

  2. Monica, Thanks for the kind words on Twitter. We really DO appreciate it! Hope you guys have a great time camping. Looks like your all ready.
    I like your checklist. “bike (check), fly rod (check), dog (check), beer and barbecue (check).” Nice.
    On a personal note…Please hug your dogs for me, OK? They both look just like my 13 yr old lab, Bob. What great friends they must be!
    Have fun!

    • Thanks for reading AND commenting Carlos!

      Unfortunately one of our dogs just recently passed away (the one in the front of the photo, Esha). We are devastated by this, but gave her as much love and life as possible in her ten years. We are convinced her spirit has come back as Red Tail!



  3. You inspire me. We need to break out the camper and hit the road. Time to take in some of these beautiful spots. We stayed a Jalama some 40 some years ago. The views were wonderful.

  4. Awesome pictures! Almost time up here in Seattle to get out and start doing some camping and hiking again. Can go most of the year if you really want to, but fighting the mud and rain isn’t all that much fun after a while.

  5. Thanks for sharing this! If someone would ask me which part of America to go to for a camp, I’d say California, near the beach. I can imagine that the weather would just be perfect out there. Looks like you had fun, eh? Nice photos, too, by the way.

  6. Enjoyed your blog. The list of best campgrounds in California would not be complete without mentioning Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging ( Yosemite Pines is an RV resort, campground, and lodge located near Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Pines offers Yosemite camping near Yosemite National Park with full hook-up RV and campsites Yosemite Pines also offers Yosemite lodging and cabins near Yosemite National Park with cabin rentals and yurt rentals Amenities include a clubhouse, gold mine, gold panning, petting zoo, swimming pool, hiking trail, general store, children’s playground, horseshoe pit, and volleyball.

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