Best Beach Camping in San Diego

Best Beach Camping in San Diego

San Diego, a gorgeous city situated along the Southern California coast, is renowned for its breathtaking beaches and beach camping areas located on the Pacific Ocean. Beach camping in San Diego means pitching your tent on a pristine coastline, seeing diverse marine life, and enjoying picturesque sunsets. It’s no wonder this Southern California gem is so popular with beach campers. 

As always, we’ve got a great guide with everything you need to know to have an unforgettable, fun, and safe beach camping adventure. We’ll tell you what to pack, and where to find the best beach camping sites like San Elijo State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach Campground.

And of course, we’ll have plenty of safety tips to keep you mindful while having fun. 

1. Packing for Beach Camping 

Just like any camping trip, beach camping means you’re going to need some basic camping equipment to ensure a safe, enjoyable stay. Below is a basic checklist to get you started, but don’t forget you may need gear specific to your planned adventures, like a surfboard or kayak. 

  • Camping gear: Make sure you have all necessary items such as tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and flashlights/headlamps with extra batteries.
  • Tent: Your tent should be sturdy enough to withstand ocean wind gusts. 
  • Sleeping bag: Your sleeping bag needs to be suitable for cooler temperatures, as nights by the water can get chilly.
  • Cooking equipment: Pack a portable stove or grill. Open fires are not allowed at most San Diego beach campsites.
  • Sun protection: Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and lightweight clothing to protect yourself from sunburn. 

Maintain Proper Food Storage

To avoid attracting wildlife such as raccoons or seagulls into your campsite, always store food items securely inside coolers with locking lids overnight. This also prevents food from getting spoiled as the temperature fluctuates throughout the oceanfront day-night cycle. 

Respect the Environment

When beach camping in San Diego County, always respect the environment and follow Leave No Trace principles. Dispose of waste properly, minimize campfire impact by using designated fire rings if they’re available, and leave what you find for others to enjoy. This keeps beautiful Southern California beaches pristine for future generations.

Click here to read about Best Portable Air Conditioners for Camping: Ultimate Guide

2. Find Nearby Supplies

Even the best planners sometimes forget to pack essential items. This can be particularly problematic when camping. 

Fortunately, many local stores and shops are close to most of the San Diego beach campsites and have everything you need for a great trip. 

Grocery Stores

No beach camping trip would be complete without great food. Pick up any fresh produce, snacks, beverages, and other miscellaneous items at these local grocery stores:

  • Vons: With multiple locations throughout San Diego County, Vons has a big selection of groceries at competitive prices.
  • Trader Joe’s: Known for its unique products and friendly customer service, Trader Joe’s is the perfect place to shop for those extra-special items, like specialty cheeses or higher-end wine.
  • Sprouts Farmers Market: If you want healthier options or need specialty items like organic produce or gluten-free foods, Sprouts has got you covered.

Camping Gear & Equipment Stores

If you’re in need of any last-minute gear or simply want to upgrade your current setup before hitting the sand, several area stores will have what you need.

  • REI San Diego: REI San Diego will have just about everything you can think of for outdoor recreation and camping, from tents and sleeping bags to cookware and clothing.
  • Adventure 16: A local favorite in southern California, Adventure 16 can have you hitting the waves in no time. You’ll find everything from surfboards to wetsuits.
  • Big 5 Sporting Goods: Big 5 is a great place to pick up any last-minute beach game equipment or even rental gear if you’re trying surfing or other sports for the first time. 

Firewood & Propane Suppliers

It’s not a camping trip without a campfire, or at least a campsite grill!  If you need firewood and propane, these nearby options will help you in a pinch: 

  • San Diego Beach Fire Guy: This store will deliver what you need right to your campsite, including popular spots like San Elijo State Beach. 
  • Local Gas Stations: Many gas stations in the area sell firewood bundles and propane tanks. Keep an eye out for the stations that stock these items while driving around downtown San Diego or near Mission Bay.

Remember that when you’re camping on California State Parks property, it’s important to follow all rules regarding fires – always use designated fire rings or grills provided by the park.

Even more convenient, many of San Diego’s beautiful beach campgrounds, including the Chula Vista RV Resort, have their own camp store. These shops stock essentials like ice, snacks, and basic camping supplies. Many of these stores also offer RV camping services and rentals 

3. Exploring San Diego’s Beach Camping Sites

With its inviting climate and captivating scenery, San Diego beach camping has become an ideal destination for outdoor adventurers seeking fun and excitement. We’ve listed some of the best San Diego beach sites below. 

San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach, located near downtown San Diego, offers an incredible mix of natural beauty and modern amenities. This family campground has picnic tables, fire pits, showers in the restrooms, and even a store nearby in case you forgot something. The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is nearby and has excellent opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. If you’re feeding daring, you can even check out the surf school! 

South Carlsbad State Beach Campground

If you want breathtaking ocean views while camping directly on the coastline, South Carlsbad State Beach Campground is a perfect location. Located just north of downtown San Diego, this campground has over 200 campsites. There’s easy access to swimming areas and fishing spots at Batiquitos Lagoon. If you’re looking for a more urban adventure, both Legoland California and Carlsbad Flower Fields attractions are also close by. 

Silver Strand State Beach

Silver Strand State Beach, located on San Diego Bay, is a water lover’s paradise, perfect for such as swimming, surfing, and boating. The nearby Loews Coronado Bay Resort even features an 18-hole golf course if you want to squeeze in some tee time during your stay.

Chula Vista RV Resort

Your RV campers will want to head over to the Chula Vista RV Resort. This top-rated resort boasts full hook-up sites and camping amenities that include picnic tables and fire rings. The resort amenities include a pool and spa area. If you’re looking to adventure on wheels, there’s easy access to Mission Bay’s famous bike paths and skate park. 

Conveniently located near downtown San Diego attractions like Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter, Chula Vista RV Resort has something for everyone.

No matter where you beach camp in San Diego County, you’ll always be rewarded with unforgettable memories of sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and plenty of outdoor recreational adventures.  

Click here to read about Camping Near San Francisco: Top Spots and Essential Tips

4. Fun Beach Activities 

San Diego’s beautiful coastline offers everything an outdoor enthusiast could ever want, from water sports to leisurely strolls along the shore.

Water Sports

The Pacific Ocean is one giant playground when it comes to water sports like surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling. If you’re camping near San Elijo State Beach, be sure to check out their surf school or rent equipment from local shops.

Hiking and Biking Trails

Hikers and bikers will have plenty of trails to choose from when beach camping in San Diego. Although different trails may be dedicated to cycling or hiking, all will have fantastic opportunities to check out local wildlife and enjoy stunning views. Below are some of the best trails San Diego has to offer.

  • Torrey Pines State Reserve: Explore miles of picturesque trails offering stunning views of the ocean and unique geological formations. This popular spot is located just north of downtown San Diego.
  • Silver Strand Bike Path: Cycle along this scenic path that runs parallel to Silver Strand State Beach, connecting Coronado Island with Imperial Beach.
  • Batiquitos Lagoon Trail: This easy hike, popular with birdwatchers, takes you through diverse habitats near South Carlsbad State Beach Campground. 

Picnics on the Sand

Most San Diego beaches have designated areas with picnic tables, and for good reason – beach picnics are one of the most popular San Diego beach camping activities. Enjoy delicious food and great company, all while taking in breathtaking ocean views. Lean into area culture and pack some Southern California favorites like fish tacos or fresh fruit bowls.

Beach Games

Classic beach games like volleyball, frisbee, or paddleball never get old and you’ll have plenty of room for all these activities. For anyone with a skateboard or rollerblades, the South Carlsbad State Beach, the nearby skate park is a great place to go. 

Nighttime Bonfires and Stargazing

Nothing finishes off a great day of fun and sun better than relaxing around the campfire with friends. Enjoy the night ocean and stargazing unpolluted by city lights. It’s a truly unforgettable experience. 

5. Three Perfect Beach Camping Recipes 

Part of the allure of beach camping is preparing your own delicious food over a campfire or on a portable grill. Below we’ve listed three easy, fun, and –most importantly – delicious recipes perfect to feed the crowd on your next beach camping trip. 

Campfire Shrimp Boil Foil Packets

This flavorful meal is easy to make and can be made right over a campfire. Simply combine shrimp, corn, sausage, potatoes, butter, garlic powder, Old Bay seasoning (or any other seafood seasoning), salt, and pepper into individual foil packets. Seal them up tightly to keep all those tasty juices inside while they cook and you’re done! 


  • 1 lb large shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • 2 ears of corn (cut into small rounds)
  • 8 oz smoked sausage (sliced)
  • 1 lb baby red potatoes (quartered)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Your favorite seafood seasoning blend to taste
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Grilled Veggie Skewers with Chimichurri Sauce

You’ll always want to eat your vegetable after trying these veggie skewers. The chimichurri sauce adds a burst of flavor that will make your taste buds dance. Simply thread vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and red onions onto skewers, then grill until tender and slightly charred.


  • Assorted vegetables (bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red onions)
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Salt & pepper to taste

S’mores Nachos

What’s a camping trip without s’mores? This fun twist on the classic campfire treat can be easily made by layering graham crackers with marshmallows and chocolate chips on a large sheet of foil. Fold up the edges to create a packet and cook it over your campfire until everything is melted together into a gooey deliciousness. 


  • Graham crackers (broken into pieces)
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Chocolate chips

Click here to read about Camping Rugs: Choosing the Right Rug for Different Camping Needs

6. Best Beaches for Swimming and Surfing

San Diego is one of the most popular southern California destinations for swimmers and surfers. So it’s no surprise that different beaches cater to different skill levels and preferences for both sports. Below are some of the top spots for swimming and surfing in San Diego County.

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is a family-friendly beach with gentle waves perfect for beginner surfers or those looking to enjoy a relaxing swim. There are also plenty of shorelines on which to enjoy sunbathing or building sandcastles with the kids.

Mission Beach

Located near Belmont Park, Mission Beach is a bustling hotspot for both swimmers and surfers alike. People from all over the region create a vibrant atmosphere, making this a perfect spot for a fun seaside day.

Swami’s Beach (Encinitas)

Famous among local surfers, Swami’s Beach in Encinitas provides challenging waves suitable for intermediate to advanced surfers. We don’t recommend trying to swim here but feel free to watch some of the surfers. 

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is another great family destination. It’s easy to get to via the iconic Coronado Bridge and is located near downtown San Diego. Calm waters make it great for swimming, while beginner surfers can also enjoy catching some gentle waves.

Trestles (San Onofre State Beach)

A world-renowned surfing location, Trestles at San Onofre State Beach is known for attracting professional surfers from around the world. While not recommended for beginners or casual swimmers due to its strong currents, experienced surfers will relish this legendary spot.

7. Tips for Beach Camping Safety

From keeping an eye on the tides to protecting yourself from the sun, following these guidelines will ensure a fun and safe experience.

Be Aware of Tides and Weather Conditions

A southern California beach camping adventure has certain safety aspects that need to be kept in mind. Before heading out to your San Diego beach camping adventure, check the local tide charts and weather forecasts. This will help you avoid setting up camp too close to the water during high tide or getting caught in unexpected storms. You can find accurate information about tides at websites like NOAA Tides & Currents.

Protect Yourself from the Sun 

When it comes to the southern California sun, there actually can be too much of a good thing. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every two hours. If swimming, you’ll need to apply it more frequently.  Wear sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays and wear a wide-brimmed hat for extra shade.

Use the Buddy System When Swimming

The Pacific Ocean can be unpredictable, so always bring a swim buddy. Not only will this provide added safety, but it also makes for more fun as you explore the beautiful waters together.

Respect Your Surroundings

Southern California is home to many unique ecosystems that need our protection. While San Diego beach camping, remember to practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, respecting local flora and fauna, and minimizing campsite impact.

Below are some other general guidelines to keep you and your camping companions safe while beach camping in San Diego. 

  • Rip currents: Be aware of rip currents when swimming in the Pacific Ocean. These powerful channels of water flowing away from shore can quickly pull swimmers into deeper waters.
  • Fires: Follow posted rules regarding fires at each campground. Some sites may require fire pans or designated fire rings. Ensure that your fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area by having a bucket of water or sand on hand.
  • Wildlife: Keep food stored securely in bear-resistant containers, and never feed wild animals. This helps maintain the natural balance of the ecosystem and keeps both humans and wildlife safe.

Click here to read about Best Tent Campgrounds in San Diego County


Are You Allowed to Camp on the Beach in San Diego?

Yes, camping is allowed at specific San Diego beaches. Popular locations include Silver Strand State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach. However, you’ll want to reserve a spot beforehand since these sites fill up quickly, especially during peak season. Visit California State Parks for more information and reservations.

What Are the Benefits of Beach Camping?

There are a ton of advantages to camping directly on the beach. You get direct access to ocean activities like swimming, surfing, and fishing. On your shoreline campsite, you’ll enjoy stunning sunsets; fresh sea breeze; and plenty of chances to relax amidst natural beauty. Additionally, beach camping is an affordable alternative to hotels or vacation rentals that still lets you enjoy a unique coastal experience.


You can stay comfortable while camping on the beach by packing essential items. These include a sturdy tent with sand stakes or weights, sleeping pads or air mattresses specifically designed for outdoor use, warm blankets or sleeping bags suitable for cooler nights by the water, and sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays. 

What Time of Year Is Best to Go Beach Camping?

The ideal time for beach camping in San Diego will vary depending on your personal preference. However, most people generally prefer between late spring (May) through early fall (October). This is when temperatures are moderate. It’s warm enough to enjoy water-based activities without the extreme heat waves common during summer months. Summer also tends to be far more crowded due to the high-demand tourist attractions around downtown San Diego. This can mean overcrowding, so make advance reservations and plan accordingly. 

What Time of Year Is Best to Go Beach Camping?

The ideal time for beach camping in San Diego will vary depending on your personal preference. However, most people generally prefer between late spring (May) through early fall (October). This is when temperatures are moderate. It’s warm enough to enjoy water-based activities without the extreme heat waves common during summer months. Summer also tends to be far more crowded due to the high-demand tourist attractions around downtown San Diego. This can mean overcrowding, so make advance reservations and plan accordingly. 
Exploring San Diego’s beach camping sites is an exciting adventure that offers a unique way to experience the beauty of southern California. From the picturesque views of Silver Strand State Beach to the family-friendly atmosphere at South Carlsbad State Beach, there’s something for every type of outdoor enthusiast.  
If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy some time in nature while also experiencing all that San Diego has to offer, then beach camping is definitely worth considering. 

Ready to start crafting your beach camping experience in San Diego? Check out SunWaterDirt for all your outdoor gear needs! Whether you need tents or sleeping bags or anything else in between, we have everything you need for a successful trip!

Similar Posts