Big Basin

It’s amazing how many campgrounds exist in California and we are still exploring new ones.  The tent cabins at Big Basin lessen the camping gear loaded onto the truck but most importantly; each cabin comes with a wood-burning stove to provide heat during cold evenings!  The cabins provide a perfect shelter for a family of four or a pair of couples.

Big Basin Tent Cabins SP – May 2018

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: Located 25 miles northwest of Santa Cruz.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Cell Service: No

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Sites: 37 is the best site! Others worth reserving are: 12, 14, 15, 18 (tent), 21 (shady, tent), 22 (tent), 23 (big and lots of trees), 27 (tent but driveway is bad), 29, 34 (open), 36 (big, open, tent), 38 (private, tent), and 39 (tent).  Do not reserve the following (sites are small or have hills): 13, 16, 17, 20, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 41 (hidden but by bathroom).

Pros: The campground has lots of trails to explore.  There is a small general store that you can purchase limited groceries from.  Cabins come with two full-sized platform beds with mats, a small picnic table, and a wood-burning stove that certainly gets the cabin toasty warm.    Deluxe cabins are also available that come with linens and kitchen supplies.  An hour drive will take you to the coast where you can visit Ano Nuevo SP and check out elephant seals.  A 35-minute drive will take you to Santa Cruz.

Cons: The road leading up to the campground is pretty twisty so getting to and from the campground is not friendly.  You might end up staying at the campground.  Bring lots of games and puzzles!

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Van Damme

Our friends are officially hooked on camping and joined us a second time.  It’s been awhile since we have explored a new campground and were excited to check out the sights at Van Damme SP. 

Van Damme SP – July 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5

Location: Located just south of Mendocino off of Highway 1

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers ($1 for 5 min).

Cell Service: No

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Sites: 44, 45 (large enough for multiple tents), 46, 51, 52 (large enough for multiple tents), 56, 58, 59 (meadow site), 61, and 63.  Sites 45 and 46, 51, and 52, 61 and 63 are perfect for reserving adjacent sites.)

Pros: Sites along the loop (40-74) are the only sites that we explored.  The sites along the outer loop are more private and are canopied by redwood trees while the sites along the inner loop are more open.  Inner loop sites back up to a large meadow where kids can run and play and are quite big (at least two large tents can fit on each site).  Much like MacKerricher, the campground is in a prime location to use as a home-base to explore the coastal areas of Fort Bragg and Mendocino.  Although there isn’t direct access to a beach from the campground, a short drive across Hwy 1 from the park leads to a beach where you can arrange in advance to go on a kayak tour.

Cons: The showers were a bit far from most sites and warm water was hit or miss.   The sand at the nearby beach is course so it’s not the best beach for kids to build sandcastles but still worth a visit.

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Patrick’s Point

Our third camping trip in the 2015 camping season was at Patrick’s Point State Park.  Patrick’s Point is a tree and meadow-covered headland with high cliffs overlooking spectacular coastline.  The park is filled with so many sights for nature lovers including: Agate Beach, tide pools, animals, trees, hikes, and even a reconstructed Native American Village.

IMG_5563Patrick’s Point State Park – July 2015

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: Located about 25 miles north of Eureka in the heart of Northern California’s coastal redwoods.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Cell Service: Yes

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.  Not allowed on trails and beaches though.

Site: Abalone Campground – Site 66.  Sites worth reserving are along the rim trail so you an hear the ocean.  The larger sites along the rim trail are Sites 63, 64 (largest but not private as the back of the site is pretty close to the trail), and 66.  The rest of the sites along the trail tend to be a bit small so only one tent can fit comfortably. Another large site is 27; however, it is along the main road so you can hear cars instead of the ocean.  Sites worth getting adjacent to each other (if not on the rim trail) are 77 and 79, 76 and 78.  There are some sites that require steps to get to and from the car (Sites 55, 67, 70, 71, 72).  These should be avoided if possible.   The rest of the sites tend to be not private, small, or along the road. 

Pros: The campground is centrally located along the coast of Humboldt County and is one of the prettiest Northern California has to offer.   Most sites are private and are nestled amongst large trees.  There are three main campgrounds: Abalone (best), Agate (beach), and Penn Creek (small tent-only sites).    Although there are quite a few sites in the Abalone campground, it was extremely quiet and because of all the trees protects campsites from the dreaded morning fog!!  The campground offers many hikes and coastal activities including: a walk on the Rim Trail, Ceremonial Rock, Lookout Rock, and Wedding Rock.  A steep trail leads to Agate Beach, where you can collect drift wood and rounded pebbles.  Another steep trail leads to an area for exploring tide pools at Palmar’s Point.  You will most likely see seals around Palmer’s Point and maybe catch a glimpse of whales and dolphins.  Also within the campground is a small Native American Plant Garden and the recreated Sumeg Village.  Patrick’s Point is a short drive to Trinidad, where you can explore the beautiful beach of Trinidad Beach.  Nearby cities include: Arcata, Eureka, and further out Fortuna and Ferndale.  There are a few breweries in the area, lots of beaches, and other parks to visit, which make the campground an ideal home-base for exploring!

Cons: The campground is full of lush ferns and trees.  Unfortunately, stagnant water and small breezes brought scents of “fishiness” to our campsite.  It quite possibly could have been a dead animal decomposing but either way…it was an unpleasant smell.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a constant smell.  Tide pools were pretty difficult to get to.  The trail to the tide pools was pretty steep and the beach was pretty rocky so may not be suitable for young kids or mature adults.   We didn’t see any bears but they do live within the park so campers have to be proactive and put all food away.  Raccoons wander at night on the prowl for food…we had a few visitors scoping out our campsite only to leave empty-handed!! 🙂

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Stillwater Cove

Our second camping trip in the 2015 camping season was at Stillwater Cove Regional Park.  Stillwater is a 210 acre park that offers a short hike to the nearby Fort Ross and an easy walk to Stillwater Cove.  The area offers a multitude of quiet beaches and coves that are perfect for a nice picnic or a dive for abalone!IMG_7625

Stillwater Cove Regional Park – July 2015

Rating: 2 out of 5

Location: Located in Jenner off of Highway 1, between Bodega Bay and Sea Ranch.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers ($2 for 5 min).

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Site: 6 (Site 10 is the only site worth reserving, 15 is in full sun but a large tent can be pitched under trees, 16 is small and muddy, 20 has poison oak)

Pros: The campground is centrally located in the heart of the Sonoma Coast.  As with Salt Point State Park, there are many coastal areas to visit beginning from Bodega Bay all the way up to Gualala. A quick hike leads to Fort Ross and Stillwater Cove, which is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch or to dive for abalone.  Although the campground is right off the highway, it’s pretty quiet traffic-wise and you can hear the waves of the ocean crashing on the shore.  There aren’t any issues with mosquitoes or bees, which is nice because there’s no way we could fit the screened canopy on our site.  Restrooms were pretty clean and lit at night.

Cons: Campsites are very small (barely fit one large tent), close together, aren’t very private, and most are in the sun!  There are a few shaded sites within the inner loop; however, there’s absolutely no privacy and everyone has to walk in between the inner loop sites to get to the restroom.   Our site was so small that we had to share a tent and place it partly on the grass and the asphalt parking spot.  It’s also very hard to tell where your site ends and the other begins!

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Salt Point

IMG_5442Our first camping trip in the 2015 camping season was at Salt Point State Park.  Salt Point includes about six miles of the Sonoma Coast, ranging from sandy beach coves to steep bluffs and sandstone cliffs.  The area offers a multitude of quiet beaches and coves that are perfect for a nice picnic or a dive for abalone!

Salt Point State Park – May 2015

Rating: 3 out of 5

Location: Located in Jenner off of Highway 1, between Bodega Bay and Sea Ranch.

Amenities: Flushing toilets.

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Site: 36 (Woodside Campground – Lower Loop)

Pros:  The campground is centrally located in the heart of the Sonoma Coast. There are many coastal areas to visit beginning from Bodega Bay all the way up to Gualala.   There are miles of hiking trails and even a rhododendron reserve located within the park.  A short drive or a two mile hike takes you to Gerstle Cove where you can spot seals sunbathing on the rocks below.  If you’re lucky, you can also see whales swimming by!  Also nearby is Fort Ross, which is usually free to visit, was once a thriving Russian-American Company settlement from 1812 to 1841.  It was the southernmost settlement in the Russian colonization of the North American continent and was established as an agricultural base to supply Alaska.

Cons: Campsites are first come, first serve, which makes it difficult when multiple sites are needed.  We stayed in the Lower Loop and according to internet reviews, offers more privacy than campsites on the Upper Loop.  Campsites on the outer ring of the Lower Loop offer more privacy than the sites within the loop.  In fact, it is recommended that you avoid the inner loop sites as these sites were smaller and much more open to the road.   To purchase fire wood, you have to drive to the park entrance from the Lower Loop because it’s just too far to walk uphill with an armload of heavy wood!  Although the bathrooms were very clean, there are no shower facilities so plan on a short weekend stay.

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Big Sur

Our last camping trip was to the always hard-to-get Pfeiffer Big Sur campground. Unfortunately, due to school schedules, we were only able to spend two nights in the area but we tried to make the most of our time. We also visited Limekiln and decided to include a review of the campground.

IMG_4820 copyPfeiffer Big Sur State Park – October 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: Located in the heart of Big Sur right off of Hwy 1.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Sites: 13 and 15


Pros:  The campground is centrally located in the heart of Big Sur. Within the campground there is the Big Sur Lodge, a convenience store, and Pfeiffer Falls. There are also many places to visit in the area including Andrew Molera State Park, where you can see where the Big Sur River meets the ocean, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to catch a glimpse of McWay Falls, and Limekiln State Park.

Cons:  The campground is one of the largest that we have visited so it got rather noisy at night. Sites within our loop were really close together and we did not have much privacy. The sites on the outer loop were much larger and offered more privacy. The bugs were persistent so make sure you bring bug spray!!! There were only two showers, which were operated via token ($1 for a 5 min token). Expect a line during peak hours and hopefully, the coin machine is working properly.

Limekiln State Park – October 2014  IMG_4897 copy

Rating: 3 out of 5

Location: Located south of Big Sur right (about 56 miles south from Carmel) off of Hwy 1.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Pets: Allowed for no additional charge.

Sites: —




Pros:  This park is beautiful and has limited sites available amongst redwood trees or along the ocean. The trails within the park are amazing and meander alongside a creek. You can hike across three scenic bridges to enormous furnaces that once supplied lime used for mortar in San Francisco’s earliest brick buildings.   You can also hike along Limekiln Creek to a beautiful 100-foot waterfall. The beach is rather small and the surf is pretty powerful but you can definitely spend a few hours under the sun. Hopefully you can spot a seal from the shore, like we did!

Cons:  The campground has limited campsites available so you have to make reservations well in advance. Campsites are REALLY close together and are very small (think pup tents). The best sites are under the redwoods while the ocean sites are not private. These sites were exposed to the elements (sun and the morning ocean mist) and would not be ideal. Although this was a great campground to visit, we were glad that we weren’t staying there.

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Our weekend camping plans had to change so we could attend the 2014 USL Pro Championship game at Bonney Field. Since we were going to forfeit a night’s fees for two sites, we decided it was still worth the effort to head to the coast and set up camp for one night. Mom and Lauren decided to join us.

Gualala Point Regional Park – September 2014 IMG_4746 copy

Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: Located past Sea Ranch Lodge along Hwy 1 on the northern end of Sonoma County.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Cell Service: WiFi and cell service is available across the road at the Visitor’s Center.

Pets: Allowed for an additional charge of $2/pet/night

Sites: 2 and 3 (Riverfront Sites)

Pros:  The campground was very private and overall very quiet. The sites closest to the park entrance were nestled amongst redwood trees while the inward campsites were nestled amongst cool but creepy looking trees. Check out our pictures and you will see what we’re talking about.   The campground is a short drive to the Sea Lodge area, which have a number of pet-friendly beaches. During our stay, we visited Stengel Beach and Pebble Beach. Stengel Beach was our favorite merely because we were able to see seals sun-bathing on a nearby rock. Sonoma County has a number of beaches to check out including Goat Rock and Bodega Bay so our drive to/from the campground was filled with a number of stops along the way.

Cons:  Check-in was a tad confusing because there wasn’t a ranger to greet us at the entrance. For reservations, you just have to drive-in to your spot.    Since our visit was short, we didn’t use the showers; however, there is only ONE shower stall for the entire campsite. Yikes!! Mosquitoes are out in full force; so don’t forget the bug spray!!

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We finally got to go camping with the Schnoebelens and joined them on their annual glamping trip to Yosemite with family.  It’s been about two-decades since either of us have been to Yosemite so it was a real treat to return to the area.

IMG_2990Housekeeping Camp – July 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: Located along a section of the Wild and Scenic Merced River in the center of Yosemite Valley.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers.

Pets: Not allowed

Sites: G515 (Riverfront Unit)




Pros:  Housekeeping Camp is centrally located in the valley floor and offers guests views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. A riverfront site also provides campers an amazing view of a quiet meandering river, surrounded by massive mountains.   The campground is within walking distance to the famous, Ahwahnee Hotel, which offers guests an amazing breakfast buffet. The campground is also a short drive or bike ride to Yosemite Village, where there are a few useful facilities such as a fire station, post office, medical clinic, convenience store, restaurants, gift shops, a school, and a visitor center. Within the campground, campers can enjoy free showers (tickets are included in the nightly stay) and a convenience store that’s stocked up with ice and limited groceries. Each unit can accommodate up to six people but is comfortable up to four people. The unit consists of three concrete walls, a concrete floor, a double canvas roof, and fourth curtained wall. The unit has a sleeping area with a double bed frame, bunk bed, bookshelf, and a mirror. The unit also has a covered patio area furnished with a picnic table and a stainless steel table for cooking! Units are also wired with electricity and have two outlets (one in the sleeping area and in the patio area).

Cons:  Units are expensive at about $125/night and must be reserved up to a year in advance. You can’t reserve specific sites and are offered on a first come first serve basis, which can be difficult for large groups needing multiple units. Units are fairly close to each other and are not private. The patio area of the unit is open so it’s suggested that campers bring extra rope and a tarp to make a wall for privacy. Fire pits can be right next to each other so be prepared to get cozy with neighbors. The threat of bears is high and anything that can attract bears must be kept in a bear locker. Squirrels are EVERYWHERE and are very brave. They are not afraid of humans and can be quite the thieves! Do not leave any food or trash out in the open.   There is only one shower facility in the campground so expect to wait in line! Units do not have designated parking spots so plan on carrying gear to and from the car.

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Spanish Flat

Our first camping trip of the season was at Spanish Flat in Napa County to celebrate Jesse’s 35th birthday.   We celebrated Jesse’s special day on the water with friends and beer in hand.

IMG_2784Spanish Flat – May 2014

Rating: 3 out of 5

Location: Located in Napa County about 9 miles south of Berryessa Peak.

Amenities: Porta Potties

Pets: Allowed with additional charge

Sites: 42 and 43

Pros:  Lake Berryessa is a short drive from Sacramento (about 45 minutes from our house) so it’s a great place to escape to without traveling far. Our sites were in a great location that allowed us to easily get to the beach and were a nice size with lots of flat areas for tents.  Lake Berryessa offers visitors calm waters to float on, swim in, and even fish.  The lake is also a great spot to partake in water sports and to go on a boat cruise.  The campground is fairly new so the fire pits were nice.  We actually used the grill to cook corn!  Another great plus…no bees or mosquitoes!!

Cons:  Although the sites are close to the beach, you have to walk through dried weeds to get there.  We ended up getting lots of burrs stuck in our shoes, which would be a nuisance for the fur kids (especially ours…those burrs are nasty and get wrapped in her fur and stuck in between her paws).  The sites are pretty close to each other and there is no privacy between them.   The campground has no running water so you have to bring in your own cooking/cleaning water.  Toilets are porta potties but at least they were the cleanest we’ve seen.  The sanitation crew were pretty good about cleaning it out every day…but…we were also there on a slow weekend.  It’s probably a different story when there are more campers using the facilities.   Sites are pretty reasonable at around $30/night but they charge extra per person or car ($5/night).

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Portola Redwoods SP

Our last camping trip of the season was at Portola Redwoods State Park in San Mateo County.   The campground is usually booked up during the summer months but we managed to reserve a spot towards the end of the camping season.

Portola Redwoods State Park – September 2IMG_3037013

Rating: 3 out of 5

Location: Located in the heart of San Mateo County about 20 miles southwest of Palo Alto.

Amenities: Flushing toilets and showers

Pets: Allowed at no additional charge

Site: 9

Pros:  There are two creeks (Pescadero and Peter’s Creeks) that run throughout the park and provide campers fabulous views of nature from 18 miles of trails.  Campsites are quite large and site 9 had paved parking for three cars!!  If you can brave the windy roads that lead to and from the park, you can visit the nearby cities of Palo Alto and various Santa Clara County cities.

Cons:  The campground is located at the end of a windy road that isn’t pleasant for people who get car-sick.  Once you arrive at the campground, you will find an area for self check-in, which we have never encountered before.  Make sure you have exact change for firewood (you stuff money into envelopes and leave them at the check-in stand), which rings in high at $10/bundle (good thing they give you a small bundle of kindling to make up for the extra $3).   Although sites are large, there aren’t a lot of flat areas for large tents.  Cooking and sleeping were all done at a downward slope.  The restrooms weren’t the greatest nor cleanest.  The restroom stall doors offered limited coverage so taller folks will get more than they bargained for.

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