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Pismo Beach Camping (Visitors Guide) 6 Campgrounds, Hikes, Attractions

Posted in: Where to Camp, Where to Hike

Thinking about a camping trip to Pismo Beach? In this guide, you'll learn about Pismo Beach camping, including the best campgrounds, hikes, attractions, weather, when to visit, and more. Plus, we answer more than 25 common questions about Pismo Beach.

Pismo Beach camping guide

Table of Contents

Pismo Beach Camping (Visitors Guide)

Pismo Beach is a city in California with a population of around 7,500 people. It became an incorporated city in 1946, but settlers and others both lived in and visited the region beginning in the 1760s.

The Pismo Clam (Tivela stultorum) is a specific species of clams that live in the area. While this clam is very hard to find today (but populations are recovering), restaurants still offer clam specials on their menus.

Pismo beach camping

Before you decide to head to California, you should read through this Pismo Beach camping guide to find out where you can camp and some of the fun things you can do on your trip.

Map of Pismo Beach, California

2 Campgrounds on Pismo Beach

1. Pismo State Beach North Beach Campground

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 103
  • Elevation: Sea level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $25 during off-season, $35 during peak season
  • Features: Pets permitted, quiet hours from 10 pm to 6 am, generators permitted between 8 am and 8 pm from May through September and 8 am to 10 pm from September through May, campfire center, showers, dump station
  • Services: Restrooms, trails, monarch butterfly grove, picnic table, fire ring, grill
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 14 miles
  • More info: Pismo State Beach Campground

One of the only places that allow Pismo Beach camping is the Pismo State Beach North Beach Campground.

Though you do need to pay to camp, your fee allows you to share your site with up to seven other people and bring one vehicle and a towed vehicle onto the beach. The campground has a 15 mph speed limit to keep guests safe and quiet hours every night.

See historical images in this book about Pismo Beach.

You should register online or reserve a site in advance because the campground offers no guarantee that there will be spots available when you arrive without a reservation. The campground has several kiosks and spots where you can purchase firewood to have a fire on the beach.

Watch on YouTube

2. Oceano Dunes SVRA

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 82
  • Elevation: Sea level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $25 during off-season, $35 during peak season
  • Features: Vault toilets, chemical toilets, dump station nearby, beach camping available, solar-powered call box, pump out services
  • Services: Picnic table, fire ring, open dune areas, near hiking trails
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 16 miles
  • More info: Oceano Dunes SVRA

The only other place where you can camp on the beach is in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA).

This campground has an open area that lets you choose between camping in the dunes or right on the beach and close to the water. It recommends some campsites only for those in 4WD vehicles. Though there aren't many amenities here, the campground offers peace and quiet and lets you have a great time with loved ones.

You'll find that the campground is both close to the ocean and some of the area's top hiking trails. The campground accepts reservations from six months to two days before your visit.

Camping at Pismo Beach

4 Campgrounds Near the Beach

1. Pismo Coast Village RV Resort

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 400
  • Elevation: Sea level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $54 on weekdays, $58 on weekends, $64 on prime dates, $71 on summer dates
  • Features: Full hookups, free WiFi, free cable television, miniature golf course, heated swimming pool, arcade, laundry facilities, planned activities, bicycle rentals
  • Services: RV storage, service calls, propane sales, general store, some water views, picnic tables, close to the ocean
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 13 miles
  • More info: Pismo Coast Village

Located just 13 miles from San Luis Obispo, the Pismo Coast Village RV Resort is close to all the shops downtown and Pismo Beach. If you bring a car, you can reach more than 20 vineyards and wineries in 30 minutes or less.

As this is an RV park, it offers amenities for those traveling in motorhomes and trailers. Not only can you have propane delivered right to your camper, but you can arrange for the services that the vehicle needs too.

The campground offers daily planned activities and has both a miniature golf course and bike rentals available on-site. You can also pick up souvenirs and goods in the campground's general store.

2. Holiday RV Park

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 195
  • Elevation: Sea level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $55 during non-prime dates, $70 on prime dates
  • Features: Full hookups, free cable television, Jacuzzi, heated swimming pool, restrooms, group picnic spot, laundry facilities, dogs permitted
  • Services: Lending library with books and puzzles, park that allows dogs, clubhouse, showers, vending machines, dumpsters, weekly rates available
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 13 miles
  • More info: Holiday RV Park

Holiday RV Park makes it easy for visitors to have an amazing time because it's close to Pismo Beach and other local attractions.

The park offers both daily and weekly rates for those who want to stay longer. You'll find a lending library with both puzzles and books that you can borrow and vending machines that stock cold drinks and snacks.

The on-site clubhouse can accommodate more than 50 people and has a kitchen with some modern appliances. Groups can also reserve the campground's picnic area, which has benches, a fire pit, BBQ grills and games.

3. Avila/Pismo Beach KOA

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 89
  • Elevation: Sea Level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $85+
  • Features: Showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, outdoor movie theater, planned activities, kid zone, bike rentals, common area, pet-friendly
  • Services: Basketball court, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard court, playground, communal fire pit, general store, rental cabins
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 8 miles
  • More info: Avila/Pismo Beach KOA

KOA is a name you can trust, which is why many Pismo Beach visitors choose to stay in this campground.

You can rent a cabin for a night or more, but you can also stay here as long as you would like in an RV. The hot tub and swimming pool in the campground are both open year round, and you'll find activity courts for playing shuffleboard, basketball and other sports.

This KOA only offers RV camping and does not accommodate those in tents. You'll get free cable television access in your RV and can sign up for any of the daily planned activities.

4. Coastal Dunes RV Park & Campground

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 230
  • Elevation: Sea level
  • Reservation System: Yes
  • Cost per night: $25+ for primitive sites, $42+ for electric sites, $40+ for full hookups
  • Features: Full hookups on some sites, group sites available, rental cabins available, showers, laundry facilities, back-in and pull-through sites available, restrooms, shade trees on some sites
  • Services: Communal picnic area with grill, picnic table, paved roads, off-road trails nearby, close to the ocean, fire pit
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 16 miles
  • More info: Coastal Dunes RV Park and Campground

Located a little further from San Luis Obispo than some of the other campgrounds in this camping guide, Coastal Dunes RV Park & Campground offers sites for both tent and RV campers.

It also has some lodging rentals available and offers day passes for those who don't want to spend the night. You'll find showers and restrooms close to your site.

The campground offers full hookups and sites with just electric as well as primitive sites for guests who don't need any amenities. The paved roads make it easy to get around the campground and to the communal area, which has a grill that guests can share.

Learn more about sea kayaking from Pismo Beach.

Pismo Beach attractions

Looking for a little something for that camper in your life? Check out our guide to 71 Perfect Camping Gifts

3 Local Attractions in Pismo Beach

1. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

  • Type of attraction: Art museum
  • Distance from North Beach Campground: 13 miles
  • Cost: Free
  • Skill level: Easy
  • What you’ll see/do: Films, artwork, education classes
  • More info: San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

Also called SLOMA, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is one of the top places in the county to see artwork.

It has a permanent collection of artwork acquired when the museum first opened in the 1980s and pieces purchased and donated since. Though admission is free, the museum relies on donations. You can donate as much as you feel comfortable with before your visit.

The museum has special collections that it welcomes a few times a year. It also hosts films and special events for kids and adults.

2. Avila Hot Springs

  • Type of attraction: Mineral hot springs
  • Distance from North Beach Campground: 6 miles
  • Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for children and seniors
  • Skill level: Easy
  • What you’ll see/do: Mineral hot springs, play areas, water slides
  • More info: Avila Hot Springs

The ultimate place to relax and unwind in the San Luis Obispo area is at the Avila Hot Springs.

Found at the turn of the 20th century, millions of people visited and bathed in the springs since then. You can buy a day pass and spend the whole day there or purchase a pass that lets you enjoy the springs for a few hours in the morning.

The hot springs also offer cabins that you can rent for one or more nights and dry campsites for those who bring their own tents.

Watch on YouTube

3. Pismo Beach Clam Festival

  • Type of attraction: Culinary
  • Distance from North Beach Campground: 0.6 miles
  • Cost: Free entry. Some events and food extra.
  • Skill level: n/a
  • What you'll see/do: Parade, live music, beer and wine garden, clam chowder contest, clam dig, wine walk, food trucks, family friendly games, vendors, and more.
  • More info: Pismo Beach Clam Festival
  • When: 3 days in October (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). Check link for upcoming event dates.

Three full days of events, parades, contests and clams. Attracting 15,000 visitors every year, this is one of the largest annual events in Pismo Beach.

Event is held in the Pismo Beach Pier Parking Lot.


5 Pismo Beach Hikes

1. Monarch Butterfly Grove Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Trailhead on Highway 1, paved path
  • What you’ll see: Monarch butterflies, eucalyptus trees, plants, viewing platform
  • More info: Monarch Butterfly Grove

When you reach the end of this trail, you'll find a viewing platform that lets you look out over the ocean.

You may want to plan a visit during the migration season that starts in November, which is the best time to see the butterflies.

Monarch Butterfly Grove Pismo Beach

Monarch Butterfly Grove, Pismo Beach

2. Pismo Preserve Trails

  • Distance: 11+ miles
  • Skill level: Easy to hard
  • Features: Trails for hiking, walking, biking and horseback riding, located inside the preserve, both easy and hard trails, dogs permitted
  • What you’ll see: Meadows, views of the preserve, wild animals, water sources, trees

The first trails in the Pismo Preserve opened in 2014, but there are plans to add even more in the future.

You can pick a basic trail that is easy to finish or opt for one of the harder trails that run for 11 miles or more. The preserve also has trails for horseback riding and biking.

3. Black Lake Trail

  • Distance: 2 mile
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Free hikes led by docents, close to Highway 1, paved path
  • What you’ll see: Birds, Black Lake, Oceano Dunes, trees, wild animals

Named for the nearby lake that appears black on its surface, the Blake Lake Trail is an easy trail for beginners. It runs for two miles from start to finish and takes you directly to the lake and through the Oceano Dunes.

4. Oceano Dunes Preserve Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Skill level: Easy to moderate
  • Features: Easy to difficult in some parts, peace and quiet
  • What you’ll see: Oceano dunes, some wild animals and native plants

The Oceano Dunes Preserve Trail moves two miles through the preserve of the same name. It's easy to forget the busy world outside when you visit here because the dunes block the city sounds and the noises coming from the highway.

5. Chumash Park Trail

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Trailhead located inside the park, restrooms, playground, parking lot
  • What you’ll see: Wetlands, oak trees, wild animals, willow tree

Chumash Park is one of the top attractions in the area and is home to the Chumash Park Trail. This trail runs for just one mile and loops around.

You can leave your vehicle in the parking lot as you have fun with your kids on the playground or basketball courts.

Planning on catching a little surf at Pismo Beach? Here's how to film your adventures.


Weather and the Best Time to Visit Pismo Beach

Best Weather in Pismo Beach

One big thing that is likely on your mind while planning a Pismo Beach camping trip is the weather. You don't want to visit when the waves are high and the rain will keep you from leaving your tent or RV.

Pismo Beach gets an average of more than 16 inches of rain a year. Most of that rain falls during January, February and March.

The temperatures are the highest in the summer, but the highs still only reach 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius). Summer brings lows of 52 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius).

Even in the middle of winter, the beach will still have temperatures of between 44 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 8 degrees Celsius).

Best Time to Visit Pismo Beach

As the weather in Pismo Beach is so nice, there really isn't a bad time to plan your trip. You may want to avoid the spring and winter months though, if only because you want to jump in the water.

The temperature of the water can be colder than the temperature of the air, which makes swimming during those months nearly impossible.

Many people visit Pismo Beach in either the early or the late summer. This is when the temperature climbs higher and when the area gets more sunshine and less rain.

Avoid the Beach Crowds

As summer is so popular, you shouldn't be surprised to see hundreds of other people sitting on the beach and diving in the water when you visit.

The crowds begin thinning out towards the end of August and through the beginning of September. All the kids and families who usually visit the beach stop their trips because school starts for the year.

You may want to visit the beach around the holidays too. The cooler temperatures keep the larger crowds away.

Trails and Wildlife in Pismo Beach

One reason to visit Pismo Beach in the spring is because of all the trails you can explore and the wildlife you can see. The wildlife comes out in the spring as plants bloom because the animals feed on the plants.

You'll see bright pops of color from the gorgeous flowers that bloom around the beach. Though most of the trails in the area are open year round, some of the trails are hard to access and use during the winter.

You may have a hard time using the trails because of the rain that falls too. Spring and summer are the best times to visit Pismo Beach if you want to check out the wildlife and trails.

Winter Camping in Pismo Beach

Though you can plan a winter Pismo Beach camping trip, you need to consider a few things.

It's usually better to camp in an RV or a trailer that keeps the sharp winds and cold air away from your face and body.

If you insist on camping in a tent, make sure that you bring a sleeping bag that can keep you warm and that you wear several layers of clothing.  And you'll likely want to bring along a half decent tent heater to take the edge off at night.

You'll also want to apply sunscreen before heading out for the day too.

Thinking about winter camping? Check out our Winter Camping Guide.

Pismo Beach monarch butterflies

Pismo Beach monarch butterflies

Pismo Beach Camping FAQ

What is Pismo Beach known for?

Most people know Pismo Beach for its 17 miles of beautiful beach.

The beach is in San Luis Obispo County and sits in parts of three different local towns.

You may hear people talk about the monarch butterfly colonies that live in the park too. These butterflies migrate between November through February each year.

How did Pismo Beach get its name?

The beach park gets its name from the nearby town of Pismo Beach.

Chumash Indians used Price Canyon to source the tar that they used in some of their products. They called that tar pismu, which white settlers changed to Pismo.

Pismo Beach named itself after that same word, and the state park later chose the same name.

What time does Pismo Beach Open?

Pismo Beach State Park does not have standard hours of operation because of the camping allowed on the beach.

You can visit any time of the day or the night, though you must observe the posted quiet hours. Those hours allow guests to relax and get the sleep they need without worrying about other visitors partying the night away.

Is Pismo beach good for swimming?

Some call Pismo Beach one of the best places to go swimming in all of California.

The beach has a pier that measures more than 1,300 feet long and both showers and restrooms. You can use the showers to rinse off the saltwater and sand before heading to your campground after a swim.

How cold is the water in Pismo Beach?

The temperature of the water in Pismo Beach ranges from 55 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 17 degrees Celsius).

You'll find that the warmest temperatures occur in August and September and the coldest water temperatures occur in February and March. The temperature of the water can be up to 10 degrees cooler than the air temperature.

Are there sharks in Pismo Beach?

You should use caution when swimming in Pismo Beach because sharks are common.

In May of 2018, pilots flying over the water reported that they saw 13 sharks in the ocean. You can check with a lifeguard or look online for warnings issued when there are sharks in and around Pismo Beach.

How many miles is Pismo Beach?

Pismo Beach State Park has a total of 17 miles of shoreline. The city of the same name has roughly six miles of coastline that it shares with the park.

Is Pismo Beach Safe?

Though the park is relatively safe, park officials do recommend that you avoid leaving valuable items in your vehicle, especially if you don't plan on returning for a while. There were reports in the past of thieves breaking into cars.

Can you drive on Pismo Beach?

One of the only beaches in California that you can drive on is Pismo State Beach. This is just one of 14 beaches in California that allow cars.

The Oceana Beach Access exit is the official entrance to the park for those who want to drive on the beach.

Does Pismo Beach have a boardwalk?

If you want to experience the beach from a boardwalk, you'll want to use the Grover Beach entrance.

This entrance is close to a boardwalk that lets you walk out and through the dunes without getting your feet dirty.

How long is the Pismo Beach Pier?

An even better way to see and experience the beach is on the Pismo Beach Pier. This is one of the 20 longest piers in California with a length of 1,370 feet. The pier went through a major renovation to ensure it was safe for visitors.

Can you go to Pismo Beach at night?

Yes. You can visit Pismo Beach at night because the beach and the park do not close. As the area can be quite dark, you should bring flashlights or lanterns to keep an eye on any hazards along the path.

What is the closest airport to Pismo Beach?

The closest airport to Pismo Beach is Oceana Airport. You can hop right off the plane and reach the beach dunes in a few minutes or less.

What can you do in Pismo Beach National Park?

Pismo Beach is a state park and not a national park, but it still offers a range of fun activities. You can boat and swim, try scuba diving or snorkeling, go hiking and lounge on the beach.

Don't forget your snorkeling fins!

What should you not miss in Pismo Beach?

The top thing to do in Pismo Beach is the Pismo Beach Pier, which is one of the main local landmarks. You should also visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove, especially if you visit during the migration season.

What is the population of Pismo Beach?

Pismo Beach has a total population of 7,931 residents, which is an increase over the population reported in the previous census. Census takers refer to Pismo Beach as one of the Five Cities area.

What county is Pismo Beach in?

San Luis Obispo County is one of the largest counties in California and the home of Pismo Beach.

Founded in 1772 as a mission, California incorporated the county in 1850. Its county seat is the city of the same name.

What is near Pismo Beach?

California Polytechnic State University is one of the schools located close to Pismo Beach.

It's also close to San Luis Obispo, which is the major city in the area. Several historic buildings and missions are close to the beach too.

There are many national parks within driving distance of Pismo Beach. Here are a few to consider.

What is San Luis Obispo known for?

San Luis Obispo has a close connection to the history of California and the surrounding county. Many know the city as the location of the Madonna Inn, which dates to the 1950s.

The Fremont Theater in the city is one of the oldest theaters still showing movies in the country.

Does San Luis Obispo have a beach?

Though San Luis Obispo has a beach, it's closely connected to Pismo Beach. You can actually enter the city from the beach without knowing it.

Surfing Pismo Beach

Camping at Pismo Beach

Can you camp at Pismo Beach?

You can camp at Pismo Beach, but you should check the schedule to make sure the campground is open.

The North Beach Campground was closed for a portion of 2019 to make the restrooms more accessible for guests.

What is the best Pismo Beach campground?

There are only two campgrounds located on Pismo Beach, though there are others close by.

The best is probably the North Beach Campground because it offers quick and convenient access to the beach and lets you sleep in the dunes.

Do you need a permit to camp in Pismo Beach?

Though you do not need a permit to camp in Pismo Beach, you should make a reservation online.

The main campground has a limited number of campsites and will not hold those sites unless you make a reservation ahead of time.

Does Pismo Beach allow dogs?

Feel free to bring your dogs with you to Pismo Beach because they're allowed in most places except for the pier.

You can pick up a “Mutt Mitt” at the entrance to clean up after your pup, and you'll need to keep your dog on a leash at all times.

Does Pismo Beach have water?

Pismo Beach has a recycling program that turns rainwater into clean drinking water for visitors.

You'll find water fountains near the restrooms where you can grab a quick drink or fill up your bottles.

What is the best time to go to Pismo Beach?

The best time to go to Pismo Beach is usually in the late spring or summer. June Gloom can run from May through July and bring a lot of fog to the area.

Pismo Beach pier

Pismo Beach pier

Hungry for more? Check out our guide to the best places to camp in the United States.

Your Turn

When are you planning on visiting Pismo Beach? Have a question about the area? Or maybe a must-see attraction nearby? Join me in the comments!

Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GudGear - and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

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