We have camped with our kids at a variety of Bay Area campsites, from regional parks to rustic cabins, and each place has had its own special charm — plus some things that were a bit less charming about them too. Here's a round-up of camping spots in Northern California along with some useful links to weekend excursions that are like camping, all selected with parents in mind.
Where to camp with kids in the Bay Area
Thanks to contributor Rebecca Matthews for sharing these detailed experiences.
Lake Chabot, California: Lake Chabot (East Bay Regional Park)
You can camp in Oakland! Anthony Chabot Regional Park is just about 20 minutes away from Downtown Oakland. They have car camping sites as well as short distance walk-in sites over-looking Lake Chabot. You will even find options for large groups! The campsites are nice and a good distance away from each other. There is a fire pit at each campsite.
- Great hiking.
- Nice views.
- Very close to home.
- Dog-friendly for an extra charge.
- Inexpensive, hike-in sites are $25/night.
- Decent bathrooms. (Some are new and others are eww)
- You can still hear the city (airplanes, loud vehicles, and helicopters).
- No playground.
- Bring your own firewood.
Berkeley, California: New Woodland (East Bay Regional Parks, Tilden)
New Woodland is tucked up behind Little Farm in Berkeley, just 15 minutes from our home. It is a group campsite that can hold a minimum of 11 campers, but a maximum of 50 campers, so consider this one for your preschool posse or scout troop. There are no fancy showers or concessions stands near, but the site does have two onsite, relatively clean, chemical toilets and a water spigot. There are plenty of picnic benches, fire pits and grills for all eating and s’mores needs. Wild turkeys and the fact that it’s right behind Little Farm are an added plus for child entertainment. If you go, make sure to bring celery and lettuce to feed the animals to keep the kiddos happy.
- So close to home it makes me giddy.
- Can have all your pals and only your pals enjoy the camping experience. Fantastic for children!
- Little Farm and the playground next to it are just down the path.
- Great hiking all around.
- Inexpensive! The site is only about $85 and if you divide that by how many families are in your party, it’s almost like camping for free!
- Since it’s so close to home, you can make the camping trip as easy (bring food from civilization and just heat it up) or as difficult (make an outdoor feast) as you want.
- Bring your own commercially bought firewood (to fight the spread of tree disease).
- No dogs.
- No alcohol. Ahem, by the way, we did not have any visits from rangers.
- No cell reception at all.
- No flush toilets.
To reserve a large group spot in Tilden Park, call East Bay Regional Park District Reservations Department at 1-888-327-2757; full payment is due at time of booking.
Also look into Gillespie, a group campsite in Tilden Park that does allow dogs, closer to the steam trains.
Mt. Diablo, California: Mount Diablo (State Park)
This gem is located just about a half hour away in Walnut Creek if you enter through the North Gate or Danville if you enter from the South Gate. We only tent camped and as far as I can tell there are no RV spots. This campground offers fantastic views of the bay if you hike up to the summit or you can hike over to Rock City and crawl in caves with your kiddos. This was one of my favorite spots. It really felt like adventuring.
- Super adventurous and fun hiking with breathtaking views, supposedly you can see Half Dome on a clear day from the summit with binoculars. But I'll have to take their word for it.
- Relatively inexpensive at about $38/night.
- Dogs are allowed in developed areas.
- Fire pit at each site. Bring your own wood.
- Free showers in certain areas (Juniper Campground).
- Observation deck with telescopes.
- It gets really hot and there is no water to play in. Dry climate – drink water!
- Gates close promptly at sunset each day, so arrive before sunset!
Forestville, California: River Bend Resort
River Bend Resort is a great campsite located near Santa Rosa. Very friendly folks with a river to cool off in because when we went it was hot hot hot! You can camp in tents, RVs, cottages or a ‘magic bus’. Each campsite has its own fire pit.
- Some car campsites, some walk-in sites (the walk is not far).
- Clean river to cool off in with a beach and rocks to dive off of.
- Pay showers, pay laundry, nice bathrooms a little walk away from the campsites.
- Arcade and two playgrounds on site.
- Small office with a few food and necessities for sale.
- Must provide your own firewood.
- Some of the sites on the edge of the river were a bit eroded.
- Can get a bit crowded as the campsites are not far apart.
- The walk to the river is not super close, but not ridiculously far either.
- Because it is dog-friendly there are a lot of dogs. Some bark at very unfriendly times.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Located 30 minutes west of San Rafael, Samuel P. Taylor's campground is a favorite of my family. Immersive redwood trees surround this car camping spot and a day trip to Point Reyes is within easy reach.
- Redwood grove and creeks to play in
- Paved road for bikes and scooters
- Easy-to-use facilities
- Poison oak
- Some sites are close enough to Sir Francis Drake Blvd that you can hear the rush of the highway
Leggett, California: Big Bend Lodge (Privately Owned)
This one is not exactly camping per se, but it scratches the same itch — and our family loved it. Located a little over 3 hours away from the Bay Area, this place was fantastic. You stay in little two-room cabins with full bathrooms and kitchens, which include a stove and a refrigerator. The cabins even have heat, though we didn’t use it. It’s located just next to the Eel River for fun and fishing. There is so much for the kids to explore there and a lot of fun touches too. Chickens to feed, a tire swing, a little trapeze, rock stacking, frog catching, etc. We would love to return to this location.
- Beds for kids to nap in and parents to sleep in at night.
- A kitchen and a shower.
- A river to swim and explore in.
- Free firewood.
- Toys and water equipment available to play with.
- Chickens to feed and swings to play on.
- Great way to spend time with multiple families.
- Close to the drive-thru tree in Leggett for a quick day trip.
- No tent camping.
- No good hiking on site.
- Pretty much no cell reception.
- A little pricey at $149/night with a two-night minimum, extra for dogs.
Costanoa, California: Costanoa Campground (KOA)
Costanoa is near the town of Pescadero, across the street from the beach. There are one-room cabins you can rent; an open field in which you can pitch a tent; and, accommodations for RVs. They have a lodge to hang out in, with saunas as well as a restaurant and a general store. They also rent bikes and host many activities for extra fees. This place was okay. I think if we went back, I’d go the “Glamping” route and get a little cabin and do less cooking. There is a cool Goat Farm (Harley Goat Farm); three U-pick Strawberry Farms and Lemos Farm pretty near too, if you are looking for a day trip away.
- Don’t have to cook if you don’t want to: go to the on-site restaurant. We only did this for breakfast.
- Close to the beach, just walk across the street. The kids LOVED playing in the waves and tide pools.
- You can rent bikes or make reservations for a host of activities at their activity tent. They even have a day camp for older kids.
- Can buy anything you forgot at their store.
- Nice bathrooms with hot showers.
- Inexpensive, for field camping it was $44/night.
- Foggy and cold when we went in July.
- No fire pits at the sites, need to use communal sites near the bathrooms. This also goes to say that you can’t cook at your campsite, either, so you need to lug all of your stuff to the communal grills.
- Can get packed in when tent camping in the field. Our youngest had a crying fit in the middle of the night and our neighbors verbally let us know how unhappy they were about it.
- Dogs only allowed in the RV area.
More kid-friendly camping in the Bay Area
If you don't mind an RV park, there are some with spaces for tents, cabins to rent, and even airstreams that you can sleep in. However, the vibe is more like a village than a campground: it is densely packed with campers. Fun for kids, not for nature-lovers.
- Watsonville KOA – we slept in an Airstream at this site, a short drive to Santa Cruz and to Monterey for daytime activities. See our post about camping in an Airstream >
- Jellystone Park – we stayed in a cabin at this multi-level site. The next day we rented boats and paddleboards on the delta. A massive pool and water play area is installed at this campground. Read about the event we held at Jellystone Park >
- Petaluma KOA – all the ease of a KOA, with attractions for kids like a pool, climbing wall, and daily programming. See details at Petaluma KOA website >
[Photos: Rebecca Matthews, Anna Azimi, and KOA publicity]