Santa Cruz isn’t all surfing, skateboarding and beach parties. Visitors and residents regularly take advantage of numerous campgrounds in the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the coast. Reservations are suggested for any type of camping, and sites can fill up quickly in the summer months. Here are a few of our favorites.


This guide was originally published in February, 2015. 

  • Sunset State Beach

    201 Sunset Beach Rd., Watsonville

    Surrounded by fertile farmland, Sunset features a wooded campground, picnic area, group campground and 200-foot high dunes (the largest in the country) built up in front of coastal bluff. The beach itself stretches down to where it meets the mouth of the Pajaro River, providing three miles of unobstructed and spectacular shoreline. Group sites and bicycle sites available; fees range from $10 to $270, with standard campsites at $35.

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  • New Brighton State Beach

    1500 Park Ave., Capitola

    Once the site of a Chinese fishing village, New Brighton, at the northernmost tip of a 30-mile crescent of beach lining Monterey Bay, now offers locals and visitors a haven from the hectic pace of city life. It’s very popular for camping, with more than 80 sites located on the forested bluffs above the beach. Site has RV hookups, group sites, amenities and hiking information. Standard campsites are $35.

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  • Mt. Madonna County Park

    7850 Pole Line Rd., Watsonville

    Located in the mountains above Watsonville, this park is easily accessible and features clean restrooms, RV hookups and group camping sites. An archery range is one of the many surprises here, along with an amphitheater that can host outdoor events. Mt. Madonna has 17 partial hook-up sites with electricity and water for RV’s.

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  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

    01 North Big Trees Park Rd., Felton

    This park features 15 miles of hiking and riding trails through a redwood forest that looks much the same as it did 200 years ago. Adjoining the park is the Roaring Camp Railroad, which offers visitors a chance to journey back in time on an old steam locomotive. Camping fee is $35 per night; bring quarters for the hot showers.

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  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    21600 Big Basin Wy, Boulder Creek

    Nothing beats a weekend (or a week) in this gorgeous park, the state’s oldest and one of its biggest. Elevations vary from sea level to over 2,000 feet, and the climate ranges accordingly, from foggy and damp near the ocean to sunny and warm on ridgetops. The park's major campsites, high in the mountains, can be reached by automobile. Features include family and group camping, tent cabins equipped with wood stoves, backpacking camps, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails and of course gaping at 2,000-year-old giant trees. There are also about a dozen rustic backpacking sites available by reservation near the Waddell Creek entrance to the park, off Highway 1. The park is open year-round, and reservations are encouraged (downright necessary, actually) during the summer.

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