Get all sides of the sunny Southern California experience within a hour of the City of Angels.
Los Angeles might have a reputation as one of the densest of big cities, but there's still plenty of camping adventure to be found in its environs. Whether you want to swim in the Pacific or hike in the Southern California mountains, L.A. makes a good staging point. Got a movie trivia buff in your camping crew? Head to Malibu Creek State Park, tucked in the Santa Monica Mountains. Park areas have appeared in many classic flicks, including "Planet of the Apes" and "Pleasantville." You can even take a challenging hike to the outdoor set of the TV classic "MAS*H." Santa Monica State Beach is the quintessential SoCal beach. This sandy playland runs for 3.5 miles next to the ocean. Take a ride on the pier's famous Ferris wheel or rollercoaster. For a more sedate pier experience, cast a fishing line or check out its interactive aquarium. Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu also provides an excellent array of beach options. Bring your surfboard and hit the waves on Staircase Beach. Exploration-minded campers should check out Sequit Point. Its series of coves and caves are especially enjoyable for curious kids. Want to get a little further away from the big city bustle? About an hour northwest, you'll find the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains. The forest's Charlton Flats site is beautiful for a summer picnic. If you're driving in, take the Angeles Crest Highway for tremendous scenic views.
You can go beach camping near LA in certain areas, but you have to head outside city limits to get to the coast and camping in the sand is rarely allowed on public land. Once you hit coastal towns like Santa Monica and Long Beach, beach camping options open up. Dockweiler State Beach is best for RV campers (no tents allowed), while Point Mugu State Park’s Thornhill Broome Beach Campground accommodates some tents in the sand and offers waterfront RV spots. RV camping with hookups is also available at Bolsa Chica State Beach. At the Leo Carrillo State Park campground in Malibu, sites are inland ofHighway 1, about a five-minute walk from the waterfront. Find more beach camping near LA.
Although the law changes regularly, it’s best to avoid car camping on Los Angeles city streets because more often than not, it’s illegal to sleep overnight or live in a car in LA. The rules become less clear when you’re parked at least 500 feet away from residences and school zones, but sleeping in your car is still frowned upon and time limits usually apply. For the best and safest car camping experience near Los Angeles, head just outside of town to a private Hipcamp campsite.
Most primitive BLM camping near LA is free, but some campgrounds do require a fee, and Leave No Trace principles always apply. Most Angeles National Forest campsites are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Out toward Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s, Blair Valley Campground and Fish Creek are popular primitive camping spots. Farther afield and about 4 hours’ drive north, Alabama Hills and the Sequoia National Forest both offer free dispersed camping.
Los Angeles has plenty of stores selling camping supplies, backpacking gear, and RV essentials. REI is in Santa Monica, and dozens of Walmarts dot the city. Dick's Sporting Goods can be found in Glendale, El Segundo, and Torrance. Local favorite camping gear stores include Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. and the Texino Camp Store. Other name brand shops in the area include 5.11 Tactical in Commerce and Patagonia in Santa Monica, plus Arc'teryx and Fjällräven in La Brea. Check out the best places to rent camping gear in LA.
Yes, camping is allowed in Angeles National Forest, home to dozens of established campgrounds, but dispersed camping may not be allowed at any given time. Campers can stay at any one first-come, first-served site within the forest for up to 14 days at a time. A small parking fee usually applies, and campers should always stay aware of any wildfire notices from the US Forest Service. Consider purchasing a National Forest Adventure Pass when going dispersed camping in the area’s national forests.