City Limitless: Urban Camping, Coast to Coast


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San Francisco views at Angel Island State Park. Photo: John Trippe/

If you're all about eating locally-produced food and being active in your community, consider staking claim to some nearby dirt or sand, too. Here's a quick (and coastal-centric) list of camping options. Pack your gear, grab your Metro card/cab fare/bike, and hit the wilder(ish)ness.

If you think you have to escape the Beltway to pitch a tent, you're wrong. Greenbelt Park is about 12 miles from the National Mall and offers much less trampled grass. There are around 175 campsites. You read that correctly. Don't expect seclusion in the summer, but if the noise gets to you there's always a three-mile hike out to the College Park Metro station. Then, try again in the fall or even winter. The $16/night campground is open year-round.

Los Angeles Area
L.A., beast of a city that it is, offers a multitude of sea-side camping options, both north and south. They're not nearly as close to the city center as the others on this list, but they're accessible and, at the very least, outside the fray. SoCal is filled with great state parks, and they need your patronage now more than ever. Near Malibu, Leo Carillo State Park comes recommended and has a good network of trails should you tire of the water. Sandwiched between Long Beach and Huntington Beach sits Bolsa Chica State Park. Off the water, check out Topanga Canyon State Park.

New York
Fire Island might get all the attention, but last summer the National Park Service unveiled 35 campsites much closer to the Apple's core (or at least Brooklyn's core), at Floyd Bennett Field in the Gateway National Recreation Area. The former airport now serves as terra firma for more than 325 species of birds and it's all subway- or ferry-accessible.

San Francisco
S.F. has a great number of campgrounds just a subway, ferry or bike ride from city center (check Transit & Trails for details), but the two closest options are Rob Hill, a former Navy base that's now part of the National Park System, and Angel Island, a former Nike missile base and POW camp during W.W.II. Those descriptions belie their current scenic attributes, however. On Angel Island, know that you are merely an interloper in Raccoon City. And Rob Hill is best enjoyed with your 99 closest friends.

From your Blake Island State Park campsite you've got the choice of gazing upon Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, or Seattle's Skyline. Bonus: leashed dogs are welcome. Ferries depart Seattle's Pier 55 twice daily, Wednesday to Saturday, and once Sunday. The trip takes 45 minutes and runs $40 roundtrip. (Camping fees run $12-$30.)

I'm sure I've missed many, many places. If you've got a slice of backyard heaven you're willing to share, please leave a comment

—Mary Catherine O'Connor