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Winter Camping Guide For San Francisco

Winter camping for San Francisco means the same breathtaking experience as the rest of the year but fewer crowds, rain-fresh air, flowing rivers, migrating California gray whales and off-season specials. Start your new year sleeping under the stars and a canopy of redwoods and oak trees. Enjoy timeless coastal panorama and cliffside vistas. Restore yourself with a hearty meal at the campfire or at charming cafes and restaurants from rustic to spa-like. Winter camping provides access and adventure for all levels of camper while remaining ever so affordable after all your holiday expenditures. Whether campers set up a romantic tent for two or check into a new cabin, they will enjoy a majestic getaway at what seems like a world away. State parks offer off-season discounts and year-round passes, some specifically for seniors, the disabled and veterans.

Angel Island State Park Campground
San Francisco Bay, CA
(415) 435-5390

Angel Island state park offers unparalleled 360-degree views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais. Besides some great hiking and biking, visitors experience living history from the Miwoks three thousand years ago through ranching, immigration, housing World War II POWs to the current Coast Guard stations. If you like to backpack or camp via bicycle, camping on Angel Island is an experience. The island offers campsites all around and campers ascend up to 250 feet on paved and dirt roads to sites from one to 2.5 miles from the ferry dock.

Related: Your Guide To The Bay Area's Best Beaches

Painting Big Sur

Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Lagunitas, CA
(415) 488-9897

Samuel P. Taylor State Park offers North Bay camping amidst the redwoods, oaks and bay trees and close proximity to the Golden Gate national recreation area and Point Reyes national seashore. The hearty may hike Mt. Barnabe while the relaxed may hike to the Azalea picnic grounds. Hikers, bikers and equestrians have designated campsites.

Monterey Veteran's Memorial Park Campground
Monterey, CA
(831) 646-3865

Veteran's Memorial Park covers 50 acres in the hills of Monterey with an 81-acre forest and wildlife preserve called Huckleberry Hill. It's just a mile from downtown Monterey and allows dogs on a leash. This is an adventurous and affordable way to enjoy the peninsula with several beaches that also allow dogs on a leash. Visit Monterey State Beach, south of the Monterey Beach Resort hotel, Seaside exit off Highway 218, west of Highway 1. Stroll and picnic at Asilomar State Beach, Carmel River State Beach and Garrapata State Park.

Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur with a golden retriever.

Riverside at Big Sur
Big Sur, CA
(831) 667-2414

Riverside Campground stands among the redwoods on 16 acres between Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Simeon with Hearst Castle. Riverside campground offers beach access just 10 minutes away, some wonderful rustic restaurants like the River Inn or Ripplewood Cafe, local art including Nepenthe and the Henry Miller museum, cliffside ocean panorama along with Pfeiffer Beach and mountain hiking in the Ventana Wilderness. Campers aren't the only ones on the move as California gray whales migrate in winter. Check out the Riverside photo gallery.

Oceano Dunes
Guadalupe, CA
(805) 773-7170

Oceano Dunes offers 1,500 acres of off-highway vehicle recreation along with another 2,500-3,000 acres of natural areas closed to motor vehicles. It's warmer in San Luis Obispo County than San Francisco and winter campers have all sorts of water sports from surfing, skimboarding and kite boarding to personal watercraft operation. Wander over 18 miles of sand dunes at Nipomo Dunes. Oceano Dunes allows drivers to cruise in vehicles on the beach, even passenger cars. Pets are allowed in the park and on the Oceano Dunes beaches, with the beach at Avila setting aside an area for dogs to roam off-leash and frolic in the surf. For a trail map of Ocean Dunes Preserve, click here.

Related: Best Driving Ranges In The Peninsula

Cindy Warner is a freelance writer and a San Francisco Bay Area native. Cindy has covered SF theater and opera for via her bicycle since January 2009. Check out her work on

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