Dog-Friendly Campsites on California Beaches

Summer fun in the sun wouldn’t be complete without man’s best friend! Each of these beautiful, dog-friendly campsites have beach access, so you and your pup can enjoy all that California beaches have to offer. For details, directions, and even more pet-friendly campsites, pick up a copy of Moon California Camping or Moon Northern California Camping and look for the easy-to-use dog icon to find hundreds more options for camping with pets.

Sleeping golden retriever in front of a tent at a dog-friendly campsite
These beach camping adventures are sure to give your dog a good night’s sleep. Photo © chendongshan/iStock.

Dog-Friendly Beaches in Northern California

Gold Bluffs Beach (in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)

Scenic Rating: 8/10
Region: Redwood Empire
Dog Policy: Leashed dogs are allowed in campground and on the beach, but not on trails

The campsites are in a sandy, exposed area with windbreaks; there’s a huge, expansive beach on one side and a backdrop of 100- to 200-foot cliffs on the other side. You can walk for miles at this beach, often without seeing another soul, and there is a great trail routed north through forest, with many hidden little waterfalls.

In addition, Fern Canyon Trail, one of the best 30-minute hikes in California, is at the end of Davison Road. Hikers walk along a stream in a narrow canyon, its vertical walls covered with magnificent ferns. Sturdy hikers can continue heading north on the Coastal Trail through its pristine woodlands and fantastic expanses of untouched beaches. However, note that dogs are not allowed on Redwood National and State Park trails. There are some herds of elk in the area, often right along the access road. These camps are rarely used in the winter because of the region’s heavy rain and winds. The expanse of beach here is awesome, covering 10 miles of huge, pristine ocean frontage.

Nearby Elk Prairie is another option for camping with dogs in Prairie Creek Redwoods. Though it is not directly on the beach, it has a scenic rating of 9/10 and is rated as one of the best campgrounds for families.

Clam Beach County Park (near McKinleyville)

Scenic Rating: 7/10
Region: Redwood Empire

Dog Policy: Dogs must be on leash in the campground, off leash areas may be available at the beach

Here awaits a beach that seems to stretch on forever, one of the great places to bring a date, a dog, your kids, or, hey, all three. While the campsites are a bit exposed, making winds out of the north a problem in the spring, the direct beach access largely makes up for it. The park gets its name from the fair clamming that is available, but you must come equipped with a clam gun or special clam shovel, and then be out when minus low tides arrive at daybreak. Most people just enjoy playing tag with the waves, taking long romantic walks, or throwing sticks for the dog.

Looking out Wrights Beach towards the hills and cliffs in the distance. Waves crash onto shore and onto a boulder close to the shoreline
Enticing and turbulent waters of Wrights Beach. Photo © Bill Williams, licensed CC BY.

Wrights Beach (in Sonoma Coast State Park)

Scenic Rating: 8/10
Region: Mendocino and Wine Country
Dog Policy: Leashed pets are permitted in the campground and on the beach

This park provides more than its share of heaven and hell. This state park campground is at the north end of a beach that stretches south for about a mile, yet to the north it is steep and rocky. The campsites are considered a premium because of their location next to the beach. Because the campsites are often full, a key plus is an overflow area available for self-contained vehicles. Sonoma Coast State Beach stretches from Bodega Head to Vista Trail for 17 miles, separated by rock bluffs and headlands that form a series of beaches. More than a dozen access points from the highway allow you to reach the beach.

There are many excellent side trips. The best is to the north, where you can explore dramatic Shell Beach (the turnoff is on the west side of Highway 1) or take Pomo Trail (the trailhead is on the east side of the highway, across from Shell Beach) up the adjacent foothills for sweeping views of the coast. That’s the heaven. Now for the hell: Dozens of people have drowned here. Wrights Beach is not for swimming; rip currents, heavy surf, and surprise rogue waves can make even playing in the surf dangerous. Many rescues are made each year. The bluffs and coastal rocks can also be unstable and unsafe for climbing. Got it? 1) Stay clear of the water. 2) Don’t climb the bluffs. Now it’s up to you to get it right.

Shot of the beach, where two people and their dogs stroll next to the shoreline. Fog and hills in the background a bit across the water.
Dogs enjoy a long walk on Carmel Beach. Photo © Stuart Thornton.

Carmel by the River RV Park (on the Carmel River)

Scenic Rating: 8/10
Region: Monterey and Big Sur
Dog Policy: Leashed pets are permitted at the campground, and nearby Carmel Beach (20 minute drive) and Garland Ranch Regional Park (9 minute drive) offer off-leash areas

Location, location, location. That’s what vacationers want. Well, this park is on the Carmel River, minutes away from Carmel, Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, golf courses, and the beach. One of the best California dog beaches is nearby Carmel Beach, where dogs abound and can roam leash-free. Carmel Valley’s Garland Ranch Regional Park is also one of the best places to hike with your dog, offering pet water fountains and off-leash areas. Hedges and flowers separate each site at this RV park.

Note: No tents are permitted here, so this is ideal for RV campers, but closeby Saddle Mountain Ranch RV Park and Campground offers 28 tent sites.

A dark golden retriever leaps out of the water with a wooden stick in its mouth
A special section of Huntington Beach is reserved for dogs and their owners. Photo © John Liu, licensed CC BY.

Dog-Friendly Beaches in Southern California

Bolsa Chica State Beach (near Huntington Beach)

Scenic Rating: 7/10
Region: Los Angeles and Vicinity
Dog Policy: Dogs are allowed at the campsites, but not on the state beach. However, they are allowed on several miles of paved coastal trails and the Huntington Dog Beach is a bit down the coast

This state beach extends three miles from Seal Beach to Huntington Beach City Pier. A bikeway connects it with Huntington State Beach, seven miles to the south. Across the road from Bolsa Chica is the 1,000-acre Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, managed by the Department of Fish and Game. The campground consists of basically a beachfront parking lot, but a popular one at that. A great little walk is available at the adjacent Bolsa Chica State Reserve, a 1.5-mile loop that provides an escape from the parking lot and entry into the 530-acre nature reserve, complete with egrets, pelicans, and many shorebirds. Lifeguard service is available during the summer.

This camp has a seven-day maximum stay during the summer and a 14-day maximum stay during the winter. Surf fishing is popular for perch, cabezon, small sharks, and croaker. There are also occasional runs of grunion, a small fish that spawns in hordes on the sandy beaches of Southern California.

San Elijo State Beach (in Cardiff by the Sea)

Scenic Rating: 9/10
Region: San Diego and Vicinity
Dog Policy: Leashed pets are permitted at the campground, but not in some areas of the beach. However, Del Mar City Beach is just down the coast and has a dog section that extends from 29th Street to Solana Beach

These are bluff-top campgrounds and about half the sites overlook the ocean. Swimming and surfing are good, with a reef nearby for snorkeling and diving. What more could you ask for? Well, for one thing, how about not so many trains? Yep, train tracks run nearby and the trains roll by several times a day. So much for tranquility.

Regardless, it is a beautiful beach just north of the small town of Cardiff by the Sea. Nearby San Elijo Lagoon at Solana Beach is an ecological preserve. Though this is near a developed area, there are numerous white egrets, as well as occasional herons and other marine birds. Reservations are usually required to get a spot between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.

Aerial shot of the coast at Ocean Beach. There is a large sandy area and some wave breaks.
Ocean Beach has lots of room for dogs to run. Photo © Hasan Can Balcioglu/Dreamstime.

Campland on the Bay (on Mission Bay)

Scenic Rating: 8/10
Region: San Diego and Vicinity
Dog Policy: Leashed dogs are allowed, with some restrictions. Though they are not allowed on the beach, there are designated Dog Walk Areas and nearby Ocean Beach, the “original dog beach,” allows dogs

This is one of the biggest campgrounds this side of the galaxy. The place has a prime location overlooking Kendall Frost Wildlife Preserve and is set on Mission Bay, a beautiful spot that’s a boater’s paradise with a private beach. Waterskiing, sailboarding, and ocean access for deep-sea fishing are preeminent. SeaWorld, just north of San Diego, offers a premium side trip. This campground is consistently rated one of San Diego’s best. There are more than 558 sites, and many facilities are available.

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