Top Five Places to Sleep Outdoors in California

Perfect spots for setting up camp away from the city lights

By Luke Yates

Big Sur Coast couth of Lilm Kiln State Park.

Big Sur Coast couth of Lilm Kiln State Park.

There is something incredible about sleeping out under the stars. It’s awe inspiring.

Thankfully, there are some amazing places in California to get away from the lights of the city, set up camp and sit by a fire, marveling at the sky above you.

Last year I cycled from Los Angeles all the way north to Oregon, and I was lucky enough to find some great places to spend the night. After a long day in the saddle, there was nothing better than falling asleep in a beautiful location.

There are hundreds of camping options throughout the state, but here are my top five parks and beaches to sleep.

Limekiln State Park

Limekils-SP2

Lime Kiln State Park.

Limekilns-SP

Perfect view at Lime Kilns.

Limekiln State Park is a beautiful spot under one of the road bridges along the Big Sur coast. There are trails that head inland to some great waterfalls and the lime kilns that give the park it’s name. The beach is small but very picturesque, with big wave and cliffs to climb on.

I got lucky and was given an overflow site, right next to the beach, by one of the pillars of the bridge. I just threw my sleeping pad on the floor and slept out under the stars!

Andrew Molera State Park

Big-Sur-near-Andrew-Molera

Big Sur near Andrew Molera.

Another Big Sur gem. The campground at Andrew Molera State Park is separate from the parking lot so supplies and gear have to be carried in for a short distance. This minor inconvenience means the huge camping space isn’t full of cars, leaving tons space for fire pits and games.

It is another short hike to get to the gorgeous beach, with tidal pools, a river and a huge expanse of sand to explore. As with most spots along the west coast, the sunset is pretty spectacular, but the views from the cliff tops here really are special.

Salt Point State Park

Salt Point State Park.

Salt Point State Park.

Heading into northern California, Salt Point State park is just outside of Bodega Bay and offers a huge area of dunes and seashore to explore.

I was able to camp out under the trees, but the highlight for me was hiking down to the beach for a paddle in the Pacific and a walk along the sand. The dunes are huge and offer views in every direction. This really is a coastal haven, away from the busy stretch of coastline that is Big Sur.

Standish Hickey State Recreation Area

Standish Hickey State Park.

Standish Hickey State Recreation Area.

Standish Hickey is away from the coast but no less beautiful. I arrived at this park after a very long day of cycling with a lot of hills, and what a place it turned out to be.

There is a general store across from the park, which meant snacks and a couple of beers, but the best thing about Standish Hickey, is the South Fork Eel River.

A short walk from the campground, the water is cold and clear, providing incredible relief for weary travellers. It is also safe to explore with numerous pools to wade through and little islands to navigate.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Humboldt wilderness.

Humboldt wilderness.

Situated just off the Avenue of the Giants, the reason for visiting this park is the endless hiking trails through the magnificent redwoods.

The trees just steal the show, and the forests and rivers are a joy to tour through.

Honourable mentions
This list could be a lot longer but I wanted to keep it brief. Other great spots include, Lake Cachuma, Sunset Beach, James P. Taylor and Prairie Creek.


ASJ_ProfileLuke Yates is a journalist, focusing on endurance and adventure sports. When not writing, he can often be found training for triathlons or planning his next expedition. His last big adventure was to cycle tour halfway around the world, taking in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

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