If you’re a devoted California camper, chances are you’ve set an alarm on a winter morning just to log on at 8 a.m. and score the summer camping spot of your dreams. Odds are almost as good that you didn’t hit “book now” fast enough to get your site before someone else did. 

The California State Park system includes a number of flat-out jewels among the approximately 15,000 campsites you can visit, but they are hardly hidden gems. Many of the state’s roughly 40 million residents have their sights on the same spots as you. 

“California State Parks are loved by many within and outside the state of California. The demand for camping and lodging sites often exceeds the available inventory,” the State Parks media department wrote in response to our inquiries about the toughest-to-book parks. 

We wanted to know what the most sought-after booking in the entire State Park system was. It turns out, that it’s not that easy to pull numbers on how quickly reservations come in. Instead, park officials offered up a list of the “most popular” sites this summer. 

The list below is an indicator of which locations are expected to be the most jam-packed this peak season, based on “total camping sites, available camping sites, and reserved camping sites.”

State Parks officials told us the list may feature a lot of smaller parks because they have lower inventory and can fill up quickly with fewer reservations than our largest campgrounds. 

Here are the most booked out of California’s 279 “park units” between May 1 and Aug. 31 of this year, looking specifically at campsites. The sites appear in alphabetical rather order, not in ranked order.

Spoiler: Californians like the beach. 

  • Bolsa Chica State Beach
  • Candlestick Point State Recreation Area – this facility has been partially open during the pandemic, likely skewing reservation data.
  • D.L. Bliss State Park
  • Donner Memorial State Park
  • San Clemente State Beach
  • Seacliff State Beach
  • South Carlsbad State Beach
  • Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area
  • Pismo State Beach
  • Turlock Lake State Recreation Area

It looks, however, like this “most popular” list is set in sand, not stone. Park officials pulled the same date range from a year ago, and found several other parks among the most popular in 2021: 

  • Butano State Park State Parks
  • Candlestick Point State Recreation Area – this facility has been partially open during the pandemic, likely skewing reservation data.
  • Doheny State Beach 
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods SP – Elk Prairie Campground
  • Pismo State Beach
  • Samuel P. Taylor State Park
  • San Clemente State Beach 
  • Silver Strand State Beach 
  • South Carlsbad State Beach
  • Turlock Lake State Recreation Area 

Those interested in joining the competition for the most sought-after sites will need to get going early. The parks operate on a rolling six-month window, meaning you’ll need to attempt booking your arrival date a full six months early for the most competitive sites. For example, each day of July opens up a new arrival date in January, six months from now. The booking window opens at 8 a.m. each day.