Camping in the Bay Area, California

This is probably fairly obvious to 99.9% of Californians, but as a non-California native, I allowed myself to play the fool and eagerly looked up spur-of-the-moment camping options in the bay area last August. I was of the mindset that on a whim, we should be able to waltz onto some magical campsite, surrounded by magical redwoods, hearing the magical ocean waves crash in the distance. And we should be able to do that for free or close to it because how many people in the bay area actually like camping anyway?


In case you’re curious, the camping options in the bay area are really pricey and ruled by ReserveAmerica. I’ll be honest. I can’t stand ReserveAmerica and try to avoid it like the plague. Not only do I hate dropping a lot of money for a campsite, but I hate being forced to pay ReserveAmerica’s fee on top of everything given I really don’t want to deal with them in the first place. And for campsites upwards of $40-50 a night plus the $8 reservation fee – for that price, I’ll take a Hotwire or Priceline hot deal hotel that boasts indoor plumbing and a private hot shower, thanks.

So last August, the prices drove me away immediately from any picturesque camping in the bay area, and I got a little more creative in my searches. I found the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area campground on the outskirts of Livermore, and for $10 a night, we jumped on it. We were having the truck serviced in the bay area early the next day and figured it would be an easier morning if we camped out the night before closer to where we needed to be, so it was just a quick stop anyway.

We arrived late that night and there was no one. Like, not a soul. The campground itself was quite built up – There were bathrooms and showers and running water galore, and each of the 23 sites were flat and had a shelter, fire pit, grill, bear box, trash can, and picnic bench. We unexpectedly had no cell phone reception though, and that in combination with the lack of people in an area where there really should have been people was odd enough to raise the hair on our backs a bit upon arrival. But all turned out well and it was a good spot to park for the night before moving on the next day.

And the rig got a physical and a clean bill of health.

January rolls around. We’re back in the bay area with family, and we’re itching to get away for the weekend. But it’s not August anymore, it’s January. And to boot, California has been getting more rain than it’s seen in years. Who in their right minds would even want to be camping right now (besides us, of course)? So on a Friday, I buck up and open ReserveAmerica to make a Sunday night reservation, fully expecting to have my pick of whatever I wanted. And then I learned my next lesson in bay area camping – everyone camps here, all the time, no matter what, and they are all meticulous planners and book their trips out way in advance.

So yeah, there was nothing available. I hit their map feature, desperately scanning the area for any campsite that had a site open. The ones that did have sites open were only ADA sites, which we do not qualify for and therefore couldn’t book. After some furious searching and a lot of swearing, I found ONE site. At that point, I didn’t care if it was a site in a dumpster and I booked it while barely mumbling to Clay where we were going.

Luckily for us, it was a spot at Big Basin Redwood State Park, which is California’s oldest state park with a pretty incredible array of gigantic redwoods.


It was stunning and beautiful and many references to being on the great moon of Endor were made that evening. If I knew photoshop, I would totally be adding Ewoks to these photos. And even though it was cold enough that night to freeze our bottle of olive oil, we hadn’t been out camping in a few months and it was so wonderful to return to nature.

However, I’m not sure I can recommend camping in the deep forest in wintertime when you’re not set up for winter camping. Obvious to you all, I’m sure. Unfortunately, this was not at the forefront of my brain when I realized via ReserveAmerica that everyone and their mother had booked all the campsites.

We are finishing the final stages of camper modifications and are doing a week-long boondocking test run of our system in February. Looking forward to completing the writeup of our system and to report how the choices we’ve made work out.

But before we go, we are definitely buying a few more blankets.

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