In Watsonville, get all of Monterey Bay’s ocean action without the crowds.
With laid-back beaches, coastal mountains, and a diverse selection of camping options right on Monterey Bay, Watsonville is a hidden gem of the California Central Coast. The town has beach parks with campgrounds within city limits, while the Santa Cruz Mountains rise up to Watsonville’s east, enchanting visitors with ancient redwood groves and serene forest trails. Pinnacles National Park and Big Sur are both within day-trip distance of Watsonville, as are nearby family attractions like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
There are two beach parks with campgrounds in Watsonville: Manresa State Beach and Sunset State Beach. Manresa has blufftop campsites overlooking the Pacific Ocean, while Sunset features sites that connect to the park’s 1.5 miles of beach. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings to keep you cozy after sundown, and both parks have day-use areas. For RV camping with full hookups, head north to Seacliff State Beach Campground.
Just a few miles south of Sunrise, Moss Landing State Beach is another enjoyable day-use beach that’s especially popular among birders. Here, and at the adjacent Moss Landing Wildlife Area, snowy plover, harbor seals, and sea otters are frequently spotted.
After having your fill of the beach, head to the Santa Cruz Mountains—specifically, Mt. Madonna County Park, just 20 minutes from downtown Watsonville. Here campers can explore a towering redwood forest on foot or horseback to take in great views of Monterey Bay. For a deep dive into the region’s ecology and redwood forest regeneration, nearby Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is also a great option.
Small enough for a day trip but grand enough to blow your mind, Pinnacles National Park is a cathedral of rock in the Central Valley, about an hour’s drive from Watsonville. The park’s namesake pinnacles, made of andesite and rhyolite rock, tower over the surrounding chaparral, drawing hikers, rock climbers, and a large population of the endangered California condor. Courageous spelunkers can venture into the park’s talus caves, home to 14 species of bats, while those interested in history can stop in the town of San Juan Bautista on the drive in from Watsonville to Pinnacles.
Due to its coastal location, Watsonville’s summers are mild and pleasant compared to the triple-digit heat common in the nearby Central Valley. Winter temperatures are still very camp-able, averaging highs of 60 and lows of 40, but campers should come prepared for rain and fog, especially when tent camping.