Camping with Kids: Attempt One – ‘Easy’ Camping

old school camping

Camping in the 80’s. Are they really playing right next to the fire?

So, you might remember some time ago I was crowdsourcing camping ideas, well here is what happened!

I grew up camping all over California. I think my mom took me for the first time when I was only six months old. We’ve been meaning to go camping as a family for a while now, but when my youngest was born last year he had some health issues, so our plans were delayed.

As our daycare closes for a couple weeks in the summer, we decided mid-July was a great time to try tent camping for the first time. Initially, we booked a campsite out at Bodega Dunes State Park. I’ve probably camped here 20 times. It’s walking distance to a cute little marina, located in a smallish town with a great deli, a good variety of both nice and casual restaurants, and kid friendly beaches close by. Although these campsites are not right on the beach they are still quite sandy. And after a recent afternoon at the beach near Half Moon Bay, where my little one spent his time eating sand and drinking salt water – and subsequently throwing up all night, we decided that camping in the sand was probably not the best choice, so we canceled that site and started looking for other options.

Camping: little campsite at KOA

Our little campsite (before we had it all set up, and kid-proofed)

I did some googling and asked around (thank you for the tips!).

These were my camping criteria:

Camping: KOA Playground (with RV sites in the back)

KOA Playground (with RV sites in the back)

  • Within a 2-3 hour drive from home.
  • Running water – bathrooms and showers.
  • A pool (not required, but a nice option to have).
  • Close to some fun attractions.
  • Close to a beach.
  • Had space available when booking only a couple months in advance (keep in mind that most State Park Campgrounds book up nearly a year in advance).

We ended up booking the KOA at Watsonville. It’s located between Monterey (45 min) and Santa Cruz (20 min) and also 10 minutes from Capitola (super cute, very touristy, little town). Normally, I like to be a little more remote when camping, and although the KOA is a little way off the beaten track, once you’re inside the campground, you better hope you like your neighbors, ‘cause you’ll be having dinner right next to them.

Camping: KOA Deluxe Cabin

KOA Deluxe Cabin, a step up from the Camping Cabins, complete with kitchen and bathrooms.


Overview: There are a total of 10 tent sites. The majority of ‘sites’ (the other 200+) are these little cabins (no bathroom or kitchen) but they mean that you don’t have to bring a tent. Literally four walls, a roof, and a couple beds. There are a large number of sites for RV’s, in addition to a few ‘lodges’  (which do have kitchens and bathrooms) and Airstream Trailers that you can rent.

The Pros:

  • They have a camp store, in case you need more ice, beer, mac and cheese, towels etc.
  • The store has hot coffee and a microwave.
  • They run a little train for the kids a couple of times every day, which my boys loved.
  • There is a playground.
  • Lots of other kids.
  • Swimming pool and hot tub, although we didn’t get the chance to use these.
  • The staff were really great! Nice, helpful, and understanding when we had to cut our trip short…
Camping: Little campstore at KOA

Camp store at KOA, complete with coffee, water, extra clothing items, and adult beverages of course! Pool in the background.

The Cons:

  • The sites, even the plots for cabins and RV’s, are the smallest I’ve ever seen! And they really are right next to each other.
  • Because the sites are SOOO small there is really no place for the kids to play except at the playground, or in the road.

Would I stay there again? No, probably not.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Maybe. It is a good place to try camping if you’ve never been because it has so many amenities. So long as you set your expectations right, and know that you’ll be crammed in like sardines, it might be an ok place to start.

Do you have any tips for camping with kids? Or know of any really great, family friendly camping spots in the Bay Area?

And when you do go away…

About Michelle Laker

A California native; I spent 10 years living, studying, working, (and falling in love) in the United Kingdom. I returned to the Bay Area in 2011, with my British husband in tow. I am re-adjusting to life in the bay, feeling more like an expat than a local. I have spent my career working with international student & families. I love learning about other cultures, languages, and traditions. My desire to welcome newcomers, and help you make the most of your new life in the Bay Area comes from the unforgettable memories (and mistakes) I made during my time in the United Kingdom. If you've just arrived, and don't know where to start, email me ( I am happy to help!

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