Our young family has been camping a handful of times over the past couple years. We’ve never been to the same place twice. Each place has had its own special charm and some things that were a bit less charming about them too.
Ranking them from most RUSTIC to most POSH, here's my report on 6 camping experiences in the Bay Area:
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. 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. By the way, we did not have any visits from rangers.
- No cell reception at all.
- No flush toilets.
Read about my full experience on my personal blog: Group Camping in the East Bay at Tilden Regional Park With Families.
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.
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 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.
- Gates close promptly at sunset each day, so arrive before sunset!
Forestville, California: River Bend Resort (Formerly Hilton Park)
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 their 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.
- Dog friendly.
- Rates vary by camp site; when we went the cost was only $40/night for tent camping. There are also group campsites and a ‘magic bus’ you can rent.
- 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.
Read the rest of the details of our trip, Camping With Kids Down By the River: Lessons Learned
Reserve a spot at River Bend Resort >
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 2 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.
- Dog friendly.
- 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.
Read about our further adventures here, Camping With Families at Big Bend Lodge, Leggett, CA.
Book your own cabin at Big Bend Lodge >
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 you can pitch a tent in as well as accommodations for RVs. They have a lodge to hang out in with saunas as well as a restaurant and a full on store. They also rent bikes and host many activities for pay. 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 you-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 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 RV area.
Where do you like to camp with your children?
[All Photos: Rebecca Matthews, all rights reserved]