When you're feeling cluttered by all the omnipresent technology in your life, there's no better cure than spending a day or two (maybe even three) in one of San Francisco's best parks. Next time you're planning to spend a weekend getaway camping, San Francisco offers a stunning array of picturesque spots to pitch your tent—and you don't even have to leave the Bay Area. You'll also need this guide to the best hikes in San Francisco—because hiking and caming are a match made in heaven.
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Camping in San Francisco
Situated in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge, Kirby Cove Campground offers five well-manicured campsites—all of which are walk-ins. Don’t expect much in the way of amenities—there's a communal fire pit and a food storage locker, and that's pretty much it—but you will get uninterupted views of the GGB, San Francisco Bay and gorgeous tree line. Thankfully, there are clean toilets though!
Offering a bird's-eye-view of 38 California counties on a clear day, Mount Diablo is the highest peak in the entire Bay Area (a cool 3,849 feet above sea level). All 56 reservable campgrounds sit at least 1,500-feet above sea level, and the campsites at Juniper Tree Camp are over 2,900-feet high. The state park is well known for fantastic hiking and waterfall viewing along Donner Creek Trail Loop. For adrenaline junkies, bouldering walls can be found at Boy Scout Rocks and Pine Canyon areas. (Note that Pine Canyon climbing routes are closed from February to August every year to safeguard the peregrine falcon families nesting along the rock face.)
Founded in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods is California’s oldest state park. Famous for its healthy, senior groves of towering trees—some spanning more than 50 in circumference—the park is a wildly popular camping destination for both tourists and locals alike. Thankfully, there are plenty of campsites, cabins and group areas to go around; Big Basin Redwoods consists of a network of 142 cabins, tent-only sites and group sites. 80 miles worth of trails snake through the state park, with waterfall viewing areas and wildlife watching outposts. Be sureto $10 in cash on you to pay the parking fee.
Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve was, once upon a time, a thriving naval base. Over 100 years later, the Vallejo Bay Peninsula (yes, Mare Island is actually a peninsula, not an island) is dotted with large-scale art installations. Mare Island offers only three campsites—two yurts and one tent-only site—which makes the park perfect for those seeking peace and quiet. Bathrooms and wash areas are located at the front of the entrance, to the left of the visitors center. (Snack foods and drinks can also be bought at the visitor center, if you run low on sustenance.)
Seeking a bit of ilosation? Look no further than roughly 12 miles east of the Presidio. Angel Island offers a choice of sixteen campsites, divided into four distinct camping areas (East Bay, Ridge, Sunrise and Kayak Camp), with both toilets and watering stations! Rest easy and enjoy picturesque panoramas of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. And be sure to pack a windbreaker; Angel Island is infamous for its steady, chilling winds. If you’re traveling with a larger group, the sites at Sunrise and Kayak Camp can accommodate groups of up to 20. Because of its proximity to the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island also offers some of the best vantage points to see dolphins and whales breaching. Bring your binoculars!
Mount Tamalpais State Park is a mecca for any outdoorsman or woman offering 6,300 acres of senior redwood groves, 19 habitable campsites and more than 50 miles worth of hiking trails. For those chasing waterfalls, you won't be disappointed on the 7.7-mile there-and-backCataract Loops Trail. But, the undisputed best view on the mountain can be found on the Mount Tamalpais Summit loop, which peaks at 2,500 feet above sea level. On a clear (read: fogless) day, you can see San Francisco, Oakland and even as far west as the Farallon Islands.
With breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and prime spots for whale watching, there’s nothing not to love about Bicentennial Campground. From any of the three campsites (all within walking distance of nearby Battery Wallace) you can grill freely with views of Bonita Cove and the Marin Headlands Visitor Center is only a one mile hike away. Unfortunately, pets and campfires are not allowed.
Tayor State Park offers over 60 campsites with restrooms, hot showers and piped drinking water—all of which are surrounded by massive redwoods. While the smaller, more modest campsites near Devil's Gulch Creek can only house three occupants, group campsites are also available across the road, which can hold up to 50 people. WiFi is also available at the group campsites—if you really need it.
China Camp in the San Pablo Bay is as much a campground as it is a historic location—Some 500 or so immigrants from Canton, China, once lived in the now repurposed maritime community. Offering 34 tent-only sites and a bunch of trails weaving through salt marshes, meadows and oak habitats, China Camp has a little bit of everything. If you're bringing your dog, the group campsite is the only dog-friendly space available, but the day-use area does allow furry friends.
The only campground within the city limits of San Francisco, Rob Hill serves as an urban getaway for locals and visitors alike. Perched above Baker’s Beach, Rob Hill is surrounded by healthy groves of aromatic cypress (especially striking when shrouded in early-morning fog). Fresh off a makeover, each site offers fire pits, free-standing barbecue grills, picnic tables and flushable toilets. Capacity is 30 people per campsite.