Camping in California just goes with surfing. How else could most surfers afford a weekend in Big Sur? I know I can’t afford a spa. I’ve camped many times in places where I could surf. Though there weren’t always waves, there was always a fire and some hot dogs.
Like with any planned vacation, it can be tough coordinating a swell with reserving a spot. When I finally know some decent surf is on the way, many sites are already booked. Despite this, windows of opportunity pop up and we’ve gotten a campsite even after being informed by the computer/telephone/Internet/ signs that the place was full. It’s often worth the risk to go for it and hope something’s available. Just be sure to have a backup plan, such as another campground nearby that will almost surely have spots. As of yet, we haven’t had to pay for one of those pricey hotel rooms in Bodega Bay.
We always try to pack light, as light as one can when lugging kid gear, camping stuff, and, of course, a surfboard. It seems like there’s a lot of room in a vehicle until you start filling it with your crap. We used to have a 1982 VW camper van that we kept pre-packed most of the time. It was good for weekend trips. We’d just pull up and pop the top. It even had a sink, a stove, and a fridge, though we rarely use them, preferring to cook outside. Its main problem was that it was an old and slow Diesel. 1960’s VW love-vans flew past us on Highway 1. We used MANY turnouts. It was great once we got there, but next time I’d get the gas version without the stove and sink inside. It’s faster and has more room. Where to go? The big question always depends on swell, wind, and site availability. Here are some of the places I’ve gone camping and surfing. Most have really nice sites near or right on the beach.
My wife and I got rained out of our tent in Trinidad, so we got a cheap cabin rental at Emerald Forest campground. It was rustic, with a wooden bed, a chair, and a little heater – perfect for the rainy conditions and simple enough that we still used our gear and felt like we were camping.
Along the drive north to one of the beaches, I noticed some glassy waves breaking about a mile away at a beach that turned out to be Dry Lagoon. Though it was overcast, the waves were glassy, head high, and fun. Guess I caught it on a rare day when it wasn’t blown out.
Del Norte County
My wife and I also went to the somewhat economically depressed Crescent City. It kind of reminds me of my home town of Pacifica, except that houses are four times more expensive at home. But Crescent City has potential, surrounded by ocean and redwoods. I surfed at South Beach in a sideshore wind, and it was kind of fun despite being sloppy.
Bodega Bay is the main surfing spot in Sonoma county, and Doran beach is its most convenient campground, located right across from the beach. We’ve stayed there many times and it’s hard to beat for convenience. I just stroll across the road to the beach and paddle out. Just make sure it’s high tide and there’s enough swell to make it into this south facing beach. Nearby is Salmon Creek which can be fun when it’s not blown out or big and out of control. If your going with the family, I’d just stick with Doran Beach.
We stayed out in Olema campground, about 25 minutes from Drakes beach at Point Reyes. The campground is a grassy meadow with a few trees, and the beach is kind of like Doran Beach – protected, an easy paddle out, and light on sandbars. I surfed it a couple of times almost completely alone on really fun, sunny, fast and somewhat short tides. A couple of other times I made the long drive for nothing. I got pretty close to the estuary at one point and decided to leave due to the shark potential. A northwest wind was strong offshore in front of the parking lot, which is at the end of “wind funnel” valley. You can also drive to Bolinas….Oh I forgot, nobody’s supposed to know where Bolinas is. If you can find it, say, with MapQuest or something, you can surf this place. It’s usually cleaner and more crowded than other spots around. If you want really mellow slow rollers that are good for a longboard, walk out to the beach, hang a right, walk past the smell of burning hemp, and you’re there.
Santa Cruz County
Here we stayed at New Brighton beach. It’s a nice campground with access to all the surf in town. We also stayed at Sunset beach, also very nice with a huge beach. It’s fifty miles across the Monterey bay with several surf spots. I caught it on a couple of windless-to-offshore days. It’s not fun if there’s any wind or too much swell. There’s also an RV park near the beach, but we felt a little silly staying there in our tiny VW camper van next to all the massive motor homes. The lady staying in her Honda Element made us feel more at home.
Here we stayed at a campground in the hills about five miles inland. We drove out to Spanish Bay on an unbelievable day – ten foot waves with perfect shape. It was fun until the grizzled, burly, longboard crew showed up. They pretty much dominated after that, and I broke a leash. I also had great surf in Carmel beach. This place looks like Hawaii, just with cold water. Pearl white sand covers both Spanish Bay and Carmel Beach.
I have also had some fun days at Andrew Molera. The walk to the rivermouth is about a mile! A couple of times it was about 4 foot and clean and peeled pretty well – all rights. A few other times I dragged the wife and kids out to the windy spot and we watched tiny waves breaking for a few minutes before making the LONG walk back. I wouldn’t make the walk out unless you know there’s a southwest swell or decent sized west to northwest swell.
A good place to stay is Ventana campground with its beautiful sites in the redwood forest. But there are several options nearby. If you stay farther south at Plaskett Creek you can surf Sand Dollar beach across the street and a bit of a walk down the bluff. It has beautiful water, but the small, rocky shore isn’t much fun for the family. Some young women next to our campground asked if we were there to collect Jade. I guess that’s something else you can do there if you’re into that sort of thing. Willow Creek is another good spot nearby. It had some really nice waves that were well overhead when we were there.
San Luis Obispo County
Morro Strand State Beach is a campground on the beach near Morro rock. I woke up to low tide close-outs when we visited, but I found some surf near Montana De Oro state park. I don’t know exactly where I entered the path to the beach from the road. I just pulled over when I saw the surfboard racks on cars. Ten minutes through the trees and voila – surf!