Weekend Getaway: Campsites within an hour of LA
Source: Curbed LA, posted July 17, 2014:
One of the best things about Los Angeles is that it's got mountains, beaches, and deserts all within an hour or so of its hardcore urban zones. For Outdoors Week, we've compiled a few great campsites within about 65 miles of central Los Angeles—about an hour of freeway driving in fair traffic—for beach lovers, mountain folks, and travelers looking to get about as far away from other people as they can without feeling like they're on the precarious brink of a 127 Hours experience.
Just across the Ventura County line, Big Sycamore Canyon Campground is a nice Malibu tent/RV campground with beach access. (It hooks up to fun hiking, too.) There are a lot of those, but do they all contain one of the premier spots in Southern California to watch monarch butterflies migrate? No, they do not. Fall is the time see them, and it's just around the corner.
This campground, about 50 miles from central LA, has flush toilets, token-operated showers, fire rings, ADA accessible sites, and a dump station for those RVs. When you make reservations (strongly recommended) be sure that you are in fact reserving for Sycamore Canyon: there's another campground called Thornhill Broome nearby with reservations on the same site, but they have no showers, chemical toilets, and no shade, according to Reserve America. Campsites are $45 a night, and that covers one car and one trailer; additional vehicles have added fees.
The year-round campground at Carpinteria State Beach is nearly two hours and 80 miles away, and that's in good traffic. But it's on this list for all the people who are so sick of driving to work that they do not want to drive on their vacation, and for all the car-free campers. The Carpinteria train station is serviced by the Amtrak Coast Starlight train, which stops about one block from this campground. The train ride takes about two hours, too, but that's two hours you could be sleeping, playing Dots, or reading. This campground is not isolated—it's across the street from houses and a pretty tasty microbrewery, and it's on a very well-trafficked beach—but the adorable, walkable/bikeable town is quiet. The campground has flush toilets, fire rings, ADA accessible sites, and a dump station for your RV. (There are detailed directions about which parts of the grounds have beach views in the "Alerts and Important Information" section of RA.)
Reservations are required here, and available through Reserve America. The camp costs $35 a night or $10 a night if you use a "hike & bike" site (two night limit, no non-bike vehicles allowed; see campground map for more info).
McGrath State Beach is for gamblers. The popular year-round campground's 40 sites are first-come, first-served, and it's closed for day use at present, so if you don't get a site, you've got to move along. This beach about 62 miles from central LA has beachfront campsites, and you better believe those go fast. Regardless, this is a nice old standby beach that many families return to year after year. The campground has flush toilets, showers, fire rings, ADA accessible sites, and a visitor center. Sites are $45 a night in the peak season (now), and $35 in non-peak; this campground has "hike & bike" sites too, for $10 a night. A campground map/general info sheet (circa 2007) is here.
Buckhorn Campground in the Angeles National Forest, up the road from La Cañada Flintridge and about 48 miles from central LA, keeps campers cool in a different way than the beach campsites—it's at an elevation of 6,300 feet. Because it's so high up, it's only open from April to November. It's also a first-come, first-served campground with about 38 sites that fit two cars and up to eight people each, so they're a fairly good size. The campground isn't exactly a secret—in the summer, the sites have been filling up by Friday night—so get there as early as possible if you don't want a spot next to the toilets, which are "vault toilets" (think more stationary port-a-johns). The camp is tent-friendly; RVs are allowed but have to be under 18 feet, which sounds more like trailers or pop-ups to us. A word about the Angeles Crest Highway: like most mountain roads, it winds. If you're traveling with people or animals who do not like that, plan accordingly.