Ten Bay Area Camping Spots When You Need to Unplug

By Nancy Raven Kirk on October 04, 2023

Living in San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area cities can make it impossible to disconnect from your phones, your work, and life's everyday stress.

Whether you're need of a recharge or simply want to explore new spots to pitch your tent, these west coast camping spots are sure to satisfy your outdoor craving year-round. If it’s summer, get ready to bask in the sun, and if it’s chilly, don’t forget to pack your favorite outdoor jacket.

1. Kirby Cove

Distance from San Francisco: 7 miles
Dog Friendly: No
Cost: $25 per night 

bridge on the body of water in the yellow and purple sky
Kirby Cove sunrise. Photo by Ken Xu.

If you're looking for a quick weekend getaway with minimal effort, Kirby Cove may be the ideal spot. This campground is so close San Francisco that you can see the iconic red bridge from the park’s pebbly shoreline. With limited campsites, it’s essential to book a site months in advance, but it’s worth the extra planning to spend your weekend fishing, hiking, and mountain biking

2. Liberty Glen Campground

Distance from San Francisco: 87 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $25-100

a bridge over blue body of water
Lake Sonoma from the overlook by Brett L.

This is the only drive-in campground in or around Lake Sonoma, which offers an eclectic range of activities. Situated a mere mile-hike from the lake’s shoreline and in the heart of wine country, this campground is ideal for visiting Sonoma's world-famous vineyards.

There’s also rich history surrounding the lake, and visitors can enjoy archery, disc golf, boating, swimming, and fishing. Fishers have the chance to catch large and small mouth bass, catfish, and sunfish. After a jam-packed day, munch on some cheese while sipping your favorite Pinot outside your tent. 

3. Point Reyes National Seashore

Distance from San Francisco: 38 miles
Dog Friendly: No
Cost: $20-50

road next to the rocky formations with red and white house in the background
Point Reyes Lighthouse. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

Camp alongside a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. If possible, book the “Big Sky” portion of the campground, which is hike-in only, and you’ll truly feel removed from the hustle and bustle of life in the city. There are even boat-in sites; however, these have no amenities so boat campers must bring portable toilets and pack out all trash. Enjoy the views and crispy misty air while you kick back and relax at Point Reyes National Seashore. 

4. Folsom Lake 

Distance from San Francisco: 117 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $33-58

wooden bridge over a small stream
Foot bridge on the trails around Folsom Lake. Photo by FolsomNatural.

If you’re interested in staying as active as possible during your camping trip, Folsom Lake may be the spot for you. Here, you can hike, bike, run, horseback ride, waterski, boat, and fish. If you love cycling, there’s a bike path stretching 32 miles. The bike path connects the lake to Old Sacramento, passing several county parks along the way. Trails, and certain swimming spots are dog-friendly, so bring your pup.

5. Portola Redwoods State Park

Distance from San Francisco: 50 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $35

brown trees with green leaves under the blue sky
Portola Redwoods State Park. Photo by David Baron.

Put your world into perspective by camping amidst nature’s giants at Portola Redwoods State Park. Camping is currently first-come, first-served due to the pandemic. The park offers 18 miles of trails that meander along creeks, past waterfalls and mossy banks, and most importantly, underneath towering redwoods. While you're there, visit Peter’s Creek Grove, which is an area that protects some of the most remote redwoods in the region. 

A Note About Camping in the Redwoods 

Camping in the redwoods has been a quintessential getaway for those in the Bay Area throughout the nation’s history. Unfortunately, Big Basin State Park was severely damaged by 2020 wildfires and is currently closed. To learn about relief efforts, visit Big Basin Recovery.

6. Uvas Canyon County Park

Distance from San Francisco: 75 miles
Dog Friendly: Yes, maximum of two dogs per site, must be kept on a leash 
Cost: Ranges ($34 for car camping; $18 for hike-in) 

water falling from gray and green rocky surface
Upper Falls - Uvas Canyon Park. Photo by the_tahoe_guy.

With 7.2 miles of trails, including a waterfall loop, this campground is great for casual day hikes. You can also picnic among luscious flora. If you're looking for a mellow camping trip where you can relax, hike a bit, and finish that book you’ve been meaning to read, Uvas Canyon County Park is for you.

7. Fremont Peak State Park

Distance from San Francisco: 100 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $25

yellow and white starts on the black and purple sky
Starry skies in the Fremont Peak State Park. Photo by Bill Christian.

Fremont Peak State Park is known for its celestial gazing opportunities and even features an astronomical observatory with a 30-inch telescope. During the day, you’ll get vast views of Monterey Bay, with hiking trails running along the grasslands on the higher peaks.

8. Brannan Island State Recreation Area

Distance from San Francisco: 117 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $33-58 

fence in front of brown and white ground with boats on water in background
Going fishing in the morning in the Brannan Island SRA. Photo by sodai gomi.

Brannon Island might be the perfect campground for anyone looking to catch dinner. Popular among fishers, the waterways surrounding this park are home to striped bass, sturgeon, catfish, bluegill, perch, and bullhead fish. While the summer climate may be most comfortable, fewer crowds lead to better fishing opportunities in late fall, winter, and early spring.

9. Auburn State Recreation Area

Distance from San Francisco: 120 miles 
Dog Friendly: Yes
Cost: $28-38

green field with dark and green mountains in the background
California State Route 49 going through Auburn SRA. Photo by Ken Lund.

Once overflowing with gold-miners hoping to strike it rich in the mid-1800s, today, Auburn State Recreation Area offers hiking, river access, boating, mountain biking, gold panning, hunting, motorcycle riding, horseback riding, and even whitewater rafting. Enjoy an active day before kicking back to cook the fish you caught. 

10. China Camp State Park

Distance from San Francisco: 
Dog Friendly: Yes, but not on the trails. 
Cost: $35 

white and green boat turned upside down on the gray dock
China Camp is an old Chinese shrimping village on San Pablo Bay. Photo by Mark Gunn.

In addition to kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, China Camp State Park will enthuse history buffs. During the 1880s, this area was home to Chinese shrimp-fishers. The village was thriving, with three general stores, a marine supply store, and even a barbershop. A nearby museum at the China Camp Village lends details on this cultural story to its visitors. This campground is walk-in only, however, the sites are only a five or ten-minute walk from the parking lot. 

Get Out and Enjoy Nature!

Planning on a camping trips with kids? Here are more family-friendly San Francisco day trip suggestions!

At KÜHL, we encourage our community to live life to the fullest. It's been tougher to get out of the house during the pandemic, but an extended getaway among nature can reset the soul. We challenge you to plan a trip to one of these locations where you can unplug from life’s worries, pitch a tent, and sleep under the stars. If you're in need of solid outdoor camping clothes, browse our new arrivals.

Featured image - California coastline - Point Reyes National Seashore by Craig Melville.

Nancy Raven Kirk
Nancy Raven Kirk

Nancy is a writer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast originally from Los Angeles. She's had work published in the L.A. Times, OC Weekly, and various other publications. Check out her website at www.copybykirk.com.


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