Recently I've had some friends ask about which campsites I consider "the good ones" or "my favorites." That question made me realize my friends probably think I camp more than I actually do. Regardless, I've decided to compile a list of the campsites I have been to in California, as I don't quite have a list long enough from which I could choose favorites.
1. Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park
Pros: It's on an island. You've got 360 degree spectacular views of blue Pacific waters and endemic plants and animals. There's only four campsites available, so the island is quiet and serene without feeling completely isolated. The sunsets are spectacular and the boat ride over is somewhat of an adventure in itself, making this easily one of my favorite camping experiences. Extra perk - there's (surprisingly) cell phone service on the island if you're the type that needs to Snapchat/Instagram it all in real-time.
Cons: It's on an island. It's somewhat expensive to get there and you can't just decide to go on a whim - it takes some extensive planning. We also went during seagull mating season, so there were hundreds of birds on the island blasting their mating calls at all hours of the day and night. I've heard it's even worse to go in June when the babies have hatched as the gulls get extremely protective and have been known to dive bomb campers for getting too close.
2. Boulder Basin Campground, San Jacinto National Monument
Pros: You've got this view just a short hike away. We didn't even hike a trail - we just kind of wandered - and the surrounding terrain is manageable enough to go where you may (safely). The campground itself sits on such interesting terrain, and it's definitely called Boulder Basin for a reason, because there are boulders everywhere. This site is also close to the quirky mountain town of Idyllwild, where we ended up driving one afternoon for lunch when we got rained out of our campsite.
Cons: It's somewhat difficult to get to. The last five miles to the site are uphill on a dirt road, making those five miles go very slow. It's also not impossible, but not especially easy to get to in a compact sedan like a Chevy Cruze. Though my trusty Cruze did it, I think a Jeep or Subaru probably would have performed better on the muddy switchbacks.
3. Malibu Creek State Park
Pros: Malibu Creek is so close to LA, it's the perfect destination for a quick weekend trip. In the summer it's great to hike to the swimming hole or reservoir to jump in and cool off. It's also a short hike away from the old M*A*S*H film site, so there's a bunch of old set pieces to check out.
Cons: Because it's so close to LA, the campsite books out quickly and can be hard to snag on the weekends. It can also be a little crowded in the summer as people flock to the swimming area for day trips away from the beach.
4. Summerdale Campground, Sierra National Forest
Pros: This campsite is just a few miles outside the actual Yosemite National Park boundaries, so it's a little easier to find a spot here as opposed to the park campgrounds. There's also a little creek that runs through the campground, so if you're lucky you may even get a site with the creek nearby (we did)
Cons: The only true "con" that comes to mind is that it's a short drive into the actual park. I, however, enjoyed this - we stayed away from the large crowds, and this campground allowed for more space and provided a more "woodsy" feel than some of the larger park campgrounds would have.
5. Ponderosa Campground, Los Padres National Forest
Pros: Definitely off-the-beaten-path! There's no cell phone service around this campsite for miles, so you really get the opportunity to disconnect and lay low. Each campsite has it's own somewhat separated area, so you have plenty of your own space without being too far away from friendly neighbors.
Cons: You don't just cross a border into no cell-phone service land, you have to drive thirteen miles up a windy road into it. Ponderosa is pretty far away from anything, really, so if you're camping here be prepared to jump in the car for almost anything and everything - whether it be a bundle of firewood or a trailhead.
I've been fortunate enough to have only had great experiences while camping in California. The best advice I can give is to do your research on these campsites - look to see if there's a Yelp page available or if any images show up in a google search. You can get a pretty good feel for a place just by digging into it on the internet a little bit. And when in doubt, take a chance! I've no doubt had some surprises when it comes to campgrounds, but usually they're happy surprises. So get out there and try one of these sites - or somewhere new!