During my second summer on the road, I lived out a lifelong dream. I became a beach bum. I traveled from the south and headed north along the coast of California, and each camping spot was right on the beach. I had surf and sun all summer. I did well selling my caricatures on boardwalks or near food trucks. And most importantly, I learned to surf. You can’t be a California beach bum without a surfboard strapped to your roof, right?

I learned from some tried-and-true surf bums in Southern California who were out near my camping spot for an evening surf every day. I got my footing on their borrowed boards. That’s a lot harder than it sounds, since an important part of surfing well is having a board that fits you. Plenty of my friends’ boards weren’t a match for me and led to some interesting wipeouts.

There are so many technical aspects to surfing that I would recommend having a good coach or an experienced friend show you the ropes, especially since it can be dangerous. Some of the most important aspects to surfing are picking the right board and the right location, and you need a knowledgeable person to teach you how to do this. Ducking under waves you don’t want to ride so you pop out on the other side is not easy, but it is a really important part of surfing. There’s also some surfing etiquette you’ll want to know about so you don’t annoy other surfers. “Dropping in” is stealing a wave from another ride. Many waves can really only support one rider so that they can can ride out different areas of power on the wave and enjoy the longest ride possible. If you drop in on someone else’s wave, you might limit their ride and harsh their vibe. You should also remember that in California, some beaches are more localized than others and could have a hierarchy of veterans who get to pick their waves first. Surfers aren’t as chill as you thought, huh?

In all seriousness, surfers are really laid back and great to hang out with. They helped me explore new areas of California that I might not have found on my own. They taught me the quickest ways to start my beachside campfires and showed me how to get comfortable on my board without drowning. Most importantly, they helped me choose my own board, which is a perfect fit for me. I’m never abandoning it, no matter how far from the ocean my travels might take me.

If you want to sample the California beach camping life for yourself, you sure have a lot of gorgeous options to choose from. Keep in mind that some might be for RVs only, and some beaches might not allow campers of any sort: tent, van, or RV. Not every beach will be campfire-friendly, especially if California is having a drought. This site has outlined loads of California beaches available for camping. It includes a few of my own favorite stops, like San Clemente and South Carlsbad.

California is simply gorgeous, from the scenery to the weather to the waves to the beautiful people. If you decide to go beach camping, I can promise you won’t regret it. And please make sure you catch a few waves for me. Happy camping!


Brittany is an adventurer, explorer, artist, and writer, and more yet to be discovered!