Close banner

Support Outside Online

Love Outside?

Help fund our award-winning journalism with a contribution today.

Contribute to Outside
TravelTravel Advice

Where Can I Camp and Surf in California?

I live in southern Utah—obviously not one of the world's great surf destinations. One of my biggest dreams is to take a surfing trip up the California coast, from San Diego to San Francisco. I would like to camp on the beaches in state parks and such. What do you suggest?

(Photo: Michael L. Baird/Flickr)
Big waves in Morro Bay

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.


When I imagine a California surfing road trip, I picture myself setting up camp on an empty stretch of sand, where I can roll out of the tent and hit the water first thing in the morning. But when I contacted Marcus Sanders, the editor of go-to surf forecasting site, for some advice, I got a reality check instead. According to him, informal camping on California beaches (at least, ones that aren’t designated camp spots) is generally a no-go. 

However, there’s plenty of great surf that comes complete with campsites nearby. I asked Sanders for his top five surf spots along that stretch of coast. From south to north, they are: Black’s Beach, part of Torrey Pines State Beach just north of La Jolla; the famous Newport Beach, south of L.A., and nearby Malibu; Morro Rock, located in Morro Bay, just outside of San Luis Obispo; and Steamer Lane, in Santa Cruz.

The quality of the camping you'll find varies from place to place. “The closest camping to Black’s is Cardiff, which also has good waves,” says Sanders. Unsurprisingly, given the town’s high-end reputation, “there isn’t really any camping near Newport Beach, except for RVs.” If you're setting up a tent, you might be better off heading to Malibu: Nearby Sycamore Canyon offers camping possibilities, especially “near County Line, which also has decent surf.”

The more remote Morro Bay State Park has conveniently located camping near Morro Rock, though it occasionally gets crowded; 105 more campsites are available at nearby Morro Strand State Beach. There are options inland from Steamer Lane, too, but if you’re keen to be on the coast, the Costanoa Lodge, just north of Santa Cruz, offers tent and RV sites, or, for a little luxury, wall tents and cabins.

Don't forget to pack your manners: Surfing is famous for its etiquette, and for locals' punishment of rule-breakers. Before you hit the road, be sure to brush up on the do’s and don’t’s. For a good refresher, check out Surfline's Bill of Lefts and Rights.

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Adventure AdviserSurfing
Lead Photo: Michael L. Baird/Flickr