Camp Right By A Beach With Unparalleled Views At This Gorgeous California State Park

There's no denying that California's bucket list-worthy beaches are some of the best around. Whether you're looking for a serene spot to kick back and relax, ride some waves, or travelerblog the coastal wildlife — you're bound to find a beach that'll tick all the boxes. Plus, with campsites and RV parking available at various locations along the coast, there's no denying that California knows how to do beachside culture well.

Just one of many places that exemplify this vibe is Sunset State Beach. With stunning views of Monterey Bay, the park's main feature is the beach, but the area is brimming with activities for visitors to enjoy — from fishing to swimming, surfing, hiking, and enjoying a picnic. Open year-round, Sunset State Beach's amenities and picturesque location come together to make it a premier destination for locals and tourists who want to soak up some well-deserved peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

An 18-mile drive from Santa Cruz, all you have to do is take Highway 1, use the exit on San Andreas Road, and keep following the signs southward. Once you reach the parking lot, there's a $10 fee per vehicle that covers you for the day.

Spending a day at Sunset State Beach

Open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset for day users, there's no shortage of things to do. For starters, the park has two great trails that'll take you on a pleasant stroll through and around the campground. First, there's the Pajaro Dunes to Sunset State Beach trail, a 5-mile there-and-back path that's relatively quiet. Then, the Salsipuedes-Pajaro Cycleway is an 8-mile point-to-point hike that's also popular with runners and cyclists. Both trails are open year-round for visitors to enjoy, and the latter is also dog-friendly — meaning Fido is more than welcome to come along! Once you're done with the hike, you can easily head back down to the beach for some much-needed R&R under the sun.

In terms of amenities, Sunset State Beach also has restrooms, showers (for an added fee of $0.25), and beach wheelchairs available to use over the weekends. If you're hoping to catch some goods — think sardines, surf perch, and striped bass — a sport-fishing license is also required. As for getting toasty — literally, if you bring marshmallows — in the evening, it's worth noting that beach bonfires are only allowed seasonally, and only in the park-provided pits set up along the beach.

Planning a successful camping trip

In line with this, for visitors looking to stay the night, there are a few other important things to keep in mind. In order to plan your visit, it's worth noting that check-in time for campers is 2 p.m. and all park fees are required as you enter. As of July 2023, the nightly fee for camping at Sunset State Beach was $35 per tent. With 91 individual sites to choose from, reservations are encouraged to guarantee a spot. Additionally, RVs up to 31 feet long are also allowed. However, there are no dump stations available at Sunset State Beach — only at New Brighton State Beach, about 11 miles north. An additional $10 is required to use these.

Visitors and campers are free to make use of the two picnic areas — both are equipped with covered tables and barbecue grills. Keep in mind, however, that glass bottles and alcohol aren't permitted beyond your campsite. Traveling with a dog? Although the beach itself is off-limits to four-legged visitors, the campgrounds are pet-friendly. For a successful camping trip with your dog, just make sure you keep your pup on a leash that's 6 feet or shorter and ensure there's enough room for them to sleep comfortably inside the tent with you.

Lastly, quiet hours in the campsite go from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and the use of generators is only permitted from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Remember: there's nothing better than being a respectful campsite neighbor to everyone else around you!