Where to Camp in Santa Cruz County
By Garrick Ramirez
With an enviable Mediterranean climate and a natural splendor the stretches from the redwoods to the bay, Santa Cruz is a remarkable place to pitch a tent. Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-flannel-wool outdoorsy type or won’t bed down without a mattress, there’s a campsite that’s right for you.
KOA Santa Cruz
Minutes from Manresa State Beach, this Kampgrounds of America surf-themed campground is a wonderland for families. Its 230 sites sport a wide range of accommodations from tents to luxury cabins to shiny new Airstream trailers. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and firepit to gather around and stargaze come nightfall. Kids do what kids do best at a miniature golf course, coconut climbing trees, pool and gigantic outdoor bouncing platform. Grown-ups take five in colorful Adirondack chairs nestled in sandy patches scattered throughout the property. Forget sunblock or marshmallows? A convenient general store stocks goodies and essentials to supply your base camp.
Santa Cruz Harbor RV Park
RV parks may not call to mind the most inspiring scenery, but this hidden spot along the Santa Cruz Harbor is a pleasant exception. 12 RV sites rest along the scenic North Harbor, bobbing with watercraft, just minutes from the coast and bayfront restaurants like The Crow’s Nest. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can even hop on a water taxi which shuttles guests around the harbor to exceptional Twin Lakes Beach.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin, California’s oldest state park, is a stunner. Magnificent coast redwoods — the tallest living things on earth — hidden waterfalls, and 80 miles of trails including the epic Skyline-to-Sea backpacking trek, make Big Basin a jewel of the state park system. Its campground features standard “car-camping” sites as well as 40 canvas tent cabins. Plus, if you’re running short on time — trying to squeeze in a weekend getaway — they’ll even stock your cabin with bedding and supplies so all you have to do is show up.
New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton is the perfect mix of sun, shade and beach. 114 campsites — both tent and RV — are perched on a wooded bluff of Pine and Cypress trees overlooking the magnificent Monterey Bay. The view from the amphitheatre and large picnic area will take your breath away. Meander the path that leads from the campground down to a large sandy beach to join families, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders all enjoying the calm waters of the Monterey Bay.
Seacliff State Beach
The campground at Seacliff State Beach rests along the same beautiful stretch of coastline as New Brighton but with more immediate access to the beach. Seacliff is famous not just for it’s grand fishing pier that juts out into the bay, but what you’ll find at its end: the ruins of a concrete ship! Originally constructed as a tanker for World War I, The Palo Alto was brought to Seacliff and used as a seaside recreation spot before it fell into disrepair. Today, you can still walk the pier, enjoy the beachfront picnic area or just frolic on the driftwood-scattered beach before recapping the day ‘round the campfire.