Ayala Cove, Angel Island (credit: Randy Yagi)

There is only one spot for overnight camping in San Francisco and reservations are hard to get. But if you’re willing to travel a little, you’ll discover other campsites not far away, with a few that require no fee. While some require a bit of walking to reach a campsite, visitors are rewarded with some of the most incredible views of the San Francisco Bay and the California redwoods. Here are five of the best camping sites all within 25 miles of San Francisco.

Angel Island State Park
Tiburon, CA 94920
(415) 435-5390
www.parks.ca.gov

Accessible only by ferryboat or private boat, Angel Island presents the unique opportunity to camp year round in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. With broad, sweeping views of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline, visitors can stay in any of the 11 environmental campsites, including one ADA site, nine numbered sites, with accommodations up to eight people and an even more unique kayak-accessible site, large enough to accommodation up to 20 people. Reserved campsites, which may require walking up to 2.5 miles to reach, can be booked by calling Reserve America or through its online system. The remaining campsites on the island, formerly a U.S. Immigration Station and military installation, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Ferryboats depart from downtown Tiburon or from Pier 41, near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Marin Headlands Visitor Center (credit: Randy Yagi)


Bicentennial Campground
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Conzelman Road
(415) 331-1540
Sausalito, CA  94965
www.nps.gov/goga

Bicentennial Campground only offers three campsites but it’s the most accessible campground within the Marin Headlands and best of all, it’s free. However, reservations are required year round and can be obtained by calling the Marin Headlands Visitor Center. Guests can park near Battery Wallace, not far from the visitor center, then walk approximately 100 yards to reach the campgrounds. With breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay and nearby Bonita Cove, Bicentennial Campground is open year round and each site accommodates up to three people.

China Camp State Park
899 San Pedro Road
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 456-0766
www.parks.ca.gov

Located about 17 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, China Camp is a perfect spot for camping along San Pablo Bay, the estuary connecting San Francisco Bay. Reservations for camping at the Back Ranch Meadows Campground can be made year-round by calling Reserve America or through its online reservation system. Visitors must walk from the parking lot to the campsites, up to a distance of 300 yards and maximum capacity for each of the sites is eight people. China Camp also offers enroute camping for RVs but only for one night.

View from the Marin Headlands (credit: Randy Yagi)


Kirby Cove Campground
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Conzelman Road
Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 331-1540
www.nps.gov/goga

There are just four campsites at Kirby Grove Campground but according to information taken from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy site, “no beach in the world has a view like this.” The spectacular view the conservancy refers to is of Golden Gate Park, along with the San Francisco skyline in the distance beyond. Year-round advance registration through the National Park Service is required for any of the campsites. Guests must walk down a steep and narrow trail one mile from the parking area at Battery Spencer, just off Conzelman Road to reach the campgrounds. Other similarly sized campgrounds within the Marin Headlands are Hawkcamp and Haypress and like Bicentennial Campground, do not require a fee.

Mount Tamalpais State Park (credit: Randy Yagi)


Mount Tamalpais State Park
801 Panoramic Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941
(415) 388-2070
www.parks.ca.gov

A very popular destination for Bay Area residents, Mount Tamalpais has a number of year-round choices for camping. Among the most popular campgrounds are Pantoll and Bootjack, located near the Pantoll ranger station and the Alice Eastwood Group Camp. Pantoll and Bootjack are available only on a first-come, first-served basis, while Steep Ravine Environmental Campground, Frank Valley Group Horse Camp and Alice Eastwood may be reserved online or by calling Reserve America. Visitors to Mount Tamalpais are treated to some of the most spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, the Farallon Islands and on a clear day, the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.


 

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