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Perfect for summer vacation this year: 7 California RV parks good for beginners

Sunset at Temecula Vail Lake KOA campground in Temecula.
(Clint Bell)

Beaches, mountains, deserts. California has it all. And you don’t need to get on a plane to visit them.

The Golden State — home to more national parks than any other state, as well as 280 state parks and 1,200 private RV parks and campgrounds — is open again for touring. (California still has a stay-at-home order that urges residents to delay nonessential trips).

And in a COVID-19 world, camping and RVing might be the hottest vacation trend of the summer.

Most visitor destinations were closed during the early days of the pandemic but are reopening now and throughout the summer. Many have made changes to allow for social distancing and have enhanced cleaning procedures. (Call ahead before you visit.)

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“Counties are reopening for leisure travel with public health modifications to lessen risk,” said Caroline Beteta, president of Visit California, the state’s tourism organization, adding that “RV travel can give vacationers the freedom to explore the state on their own terms and with lower risk.”

For road-trip inspiration, we’ve highlighted seven RV destinations, many of them easy drives suitable for novices. In most cases, you can reserve a pull-through site, which means you don’t have to back up that 40-foot monster.

Beaching it

A view of the marina from Campland on the Bay in San Diego.
A view of the marina from Campland on the Bay in San Diego.
(Campland on the Bay)
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Campland on the Bay: San Diego has a beach-town vibe, unlimited outdoor adventures and a booming craft beer industry. See it all on a trip to this longtime RV favorite on the shores of Mission Bay. It’s close to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the Gaslamp Quarter, La Jolla and other attractions. And, of course, there are water sports, including jet-powered skiing, water-skiing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

Info: 2211 Pacific Beach Drive, San Diego; (858) 581-4260. From $130 per night for a standard site; two-night minimum.

Waterfront RV Park in Huntington Beach.
Waterfront RV Park in Huntington Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Waterfront RV Park: Everybody knows Huntington Beach is a great place to spend a few summer days. Nice pier, fun shops, campfire rings on the beach. Unfortunately, you can’t camp on the sand. Waterfront RV Park offers only asphalt camping, but hey, it’s across the street from the Pacific Ocean. You’ll be very close to other rigs, so if that’s a problem for you, look elsewhere. If not, cross the street to catch a wave, sink your toes in the sand or walk along the shoreline.

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Info: 21871 Newland St., Huntington Beach; (714) 536-8316. From $80 per night, with a two-night minimum on weekends.

With the coronavirus crisis roiling vacation plans, some are turning to travel that allows for social distancing, including RV camping. This reporter tried it.

Inland/mountains


Temecula/Vail Lake KOA: Hiking and biking trails are the draw here, with more than 200 acres of parkland in the vicinity. There are several Temecula wineries within a 10-mile radius of the park; Old Town Temecula, with its museums, antique shops and historic attractions, is nearby. Grounds are spacious and pretty.

Trailer at Temecula Vail Lake KOA campground in Temecula.
(Clint Bell)
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Info: 38000 Highway 79 South, Temecula; (800) 562-1873. From $65 per night.

Sequoia RV Ranch: There are 14 campgrounds in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks — two High Sierra wonders — but none has RV hookups. Novices may be happier at Sequoia RV Ranch, which has full hookups (including cable) and pull-through sites. It’s in Three Rivers, five miles from the entrance to Sequoia, in a rural, hilly area with lots of trees. You may get lucky and snag a site along the North Fork Kaweah River.

Info: 43490 North Fork Drive, Three Rivers, Calif.; (559) 561-4333. From $64 per night.

Lake Isabella/Kern River KOA: Get a taste of the other California, where working cattle ranches and endless vistas of farmland compete for attention. Lake and river sports are nearby and are the attraction. The Kern River Valley is known for whitewater rafting, fishing, horseback riding, jet-powered skiing, sailing, kayaking and tubing. The campground backs up to the Audubon Kern River Preserve and gives off-road fans access to miles of trails.

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Info: 15627 Highway 178, Weldon, Calif.; (800) 562-2085. From $42.40 per night.

First-timers don’t always find their initial trip to be easygoing. But get the hang of it and you’ll be hooked.

Central California


Santa Margarita KOA: Head north on U.S. 101 through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo to the rolling hills surrounding Santa Margarita Lake Recreation & Natural Area, offering thousands of acres for hiking, biking, fishing and boating. The KOA is not lakefront but has access to trails. Other nearby attractions are Hearst Castle (still closed) and Morro Bay. The rural park has many trees and dirt RV sites.

Info: 4765 Santa Margarita Lake Road, Santa Margarita, Calif.; (800) 562-5619. From $70 per night.

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Pacific Dunes Ranch RV Resort: Get lost in a sand dune at this off-the-busy-highway RV park. It’s adjacent to Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve, where a wide expanse of tall, undisturbed dunes leads to the ocean, a 30-minute hike or a 10-minute drive by car. Or visit nearby Pismo State Beach, home of a butterfly grove, where monarchs swarm starting in fall. Campsites are clustered close together on a dusty plateau. Some have excellent views of the dunes or surrounding countryside.

Info: 1205 Silver Spur Place, Oceano, Calif.; (877) 570-2267. From $68 a night.


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