Many beaches forbid overnight camping. Illegally spending the night could even bring on hefty fines or worse -- a soggy tent during high tide. But don’t fret, there are plenty of top beach campsites where you can pitch your tent, and drift off to sleep under the stars with the sound of the waves in the distance. Here are our picks for great seaside campgrounds.
Assateague Island National Seashore
The protected seashore at Assateague Island stretches from Maryland into Virginia with camping permitted on the Maryland side. The park’s oceanside campsites are spacious and sandy, and just a short stroll on the boardwalk past the dunes to the beach. Walk-in and drive-in sites feature picnic tables, grills and easy access to restrooms, showers and clean water. After setting up camp, set off on a hike to catch a glimpse of the island’s famed wild ponies, collect seashells on the beach (limited to one gallon) or play in the surf. Campsite reservations (www.recreation.gov) are only required if visiting during prime season from April 15 through October 15.
Jalama Beach County Park
Less than an hour from Santa Barbara’s swanky shops and mansions, Jalama Beach County Park boasts more humble seaside accommodations. The sought-after campsites (some directly on the beach) are first-come, first-served. Campsites have basic amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings, and dogs are welcome for a small fee. The park has a cool California vibe with watersports such as surfing and surf fishing. If campfire food isn’t your forte, walk to the Jalama Beach Grill for the much-lauded burger topped with veggies and a special sauce that’s so special the ingredients are a mystery.
Long Key State Park
Experience a quieter side of the Florida Keys at Mile Marker 67 on the Overseas Highway with an oceanfront campground at Long Key State Park. Each of the park’s 60 sites overlooks an isolated stretch of the Atlantic Ocean. Relax on the beach or snorkel in the gentle waves along the shoreline. When you’re ready to shake the sand off your feet, set off for a 40-minute walk around the Golden Orb nature trail. Rent a canoe or kayak and navigate the 1.5-mile Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail through the park’s shallow lagoons. Park amenities include hot showers, electric hook-ups (for lighting or charging) and water at each site and some ranger-led activities. (Note: The campground will be closing September 6, 2011, for construction, but the day facilities will still be available to visitors.)
Myrtle Beach Travel Park
For millions of vacationers, summer isn’t complete without a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC. Enjoy the glory of the Grand Strand while sleeping under the stars at the ultra-family-friendly Myrtle Beach Travel Park. The kids can indulge in treasure hunts and day camps, while adults can cut loose with karaoke and line dancing. Meanwhile, the campground’s amenities rival many of the area’s hotels, with multiple pools, a lazy river, a cafe, a freshwater lake for fishing and a fully-stocked camp shop for groceries or forgotten camping gear. There’s even laundry services, which should come in handy if you and your brood visit in the summer when there’s a 7-night minimum stay.
Padre Island National Seashore
A short drive from Corpus Christi, TX, Padre Island National Seashore contains the world’s largest undeveloped stretch of barrier island. Take a few days to enjoy the natural beauty from your basecamp at Bird Island Basin campground. Reservations for RV and tent camping are available on a first-come, first-served basis year-round. You will need to pick up a camping permit (for a nominal fee) from the campground host or kiosk to enjoy the serene campsites and basic amenities such as fire rings and water. The area is known for its ideal windsurfing conditions at Laguna Madre, a protected hypersaline lagoon. Connect with WorldWinds Windsurfing for lessons and rentals. Once you pick your spot, review your packing list and add these additional items to your essential gear, plus extra-long stakes to secure your tent in the sand and warm clothes for the evening. And pay extra attention to weather reports as fast-moving storms are common along the water.