Beach Camping: A Gritty, Romantic Must

Beach camping means sand. Sand in your toes, yes. But also sand in your swimsuit. Sand in your socks, if you wore them. Sand in the tent, on the pillow, in the cracks of the car seats, and…in…other cracks.

Just sand. Everywhere.

And, that’s okay. You just need to be ready for it. Because, beach camping can be super romantic, in that the idea of being so close to the ocean or lake is so desirable. And, it is absolutely worth it.

It’s just a different beast with kids, as are most things.

When we asked the kids about our recent overnighter at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California, two words echoed from the backseat on the drive home to Arizona.

Sand. Waves.

Sand was everywhere and in everything, including a dusting in the Mountain House macaroni and cheese we brought to the beach for breakfast. There was no avoiding it – both the sand and the mac and cheese (since we ate everything else just before midnight the night before, and kids have no concept on where to shake out beach towels to avoid collateral damage).

ROK mountain house

And as for the waves, well.  We could hear them crashing on the shore from our campsite, which wasn’t even beachfront.  It was one row removed from shore, and we could still hear the waves all night.  There’s nothing that beats that.  There’s nothing that beats knowing you’re sleeping with the ocean.  And when they first heard the sound, the kids instantly had to be at the beach, even though it was close to midnight.

ROK midnight beach

So, pack headlamps. Because if you roll in late, like we did, you’ll need ‘em.  You’ll need them even if you don’t roll in late. The kids will still want to see the water after dark even if they’ve been there all day. And, if they don’t, you will. Everyone needs that moment.

ROK headlamp

Beach camping takes a little planning, too. More so than camping out on public land, because beach camping is (from what we’ve seen) almost universally reserved. Spots open up six months out, and it isn’t crazy to try to book that far in advance. We got lucky and scored a spot a few weeks ahead of our trip, so lucky even the reservation clerk on the phone was dumbfounded. Check the state beaches wherever you want to go, and reserve your spot online – early.

We also learned that campsites at the beach are much more densely packed than even national forest campsites. While we prefer a bit more space, we understand that beach camping is a novelty (see romantic reference above) and so the campgrounds try to maximize their space.  But, when we visited the Ocean Institute in Dana Point to learn about life underwater, one of the docents let us know that the campsite we were at has a discounted, walk-up rate and sites specifically reserved for campers on bikes. So, if you’re close enough and can’t find a site, try cycling in to score one of those.

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One of the side benefits of camping is the fact that you don’t have services. You’re roughing it.  You’re making due. So that means towels stay wet, really wet, for a while. With no access to a dryer and under a pretty solid marine layer, it was tough to get any of the towels to dry at all.  When we go back, we’ll pack some kind of line to hang the towels. Or, we’ll just pack more.

We loved having snorkels for the tide pools and rocky areas. And the kids did, too.  It allowed them to explore what we can’t see from above the water. But, we were bummed we forgot to pack their water shoes.  Some of the shores can be rocky, and some of the tide pools can be incredibly slippery. So, toss in water shoes if you have them. Just make sure they fit good because the surf can be brutal.

ROK tidepool

Beach camping is romantic. It’s worth the sand. And the wet towels. And the planning. You can’t really put a price tag on crashing waves, and sunsets and the ability to be at the beach before anyone else gets there.

Besides, sand washes off. And towels dry, eventually.

ROK finish

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