This exactly describes where we’re camped at our first California State Park campground by the ocean: Leo Carrillo State Park, directly west of LA at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains.
We walk under the bridge with this mural (imagine dolphins jumping up to meet bald eagles, all painted by children) to get to the seaside cliffs and beaches and then we walk back out to get to the mountains, wound by trails made for views.
Our Campground: The First of Many Like It
We knew when booking this trip up the coast that CA state park campgrounds are going to be a challenge for our trailer. Like so many state park campgrounds across the country, these were built before people started traveling in big RVs, so the turns inside are all tight, the camping pads are short, and they’re crowded with tent campers (and here, surfer dudes who don’t bother with tents and just sleep in their trucks).
We just barely fit the trailer on our parking pad; to get it in we had to block traffic (which mostly was children barreling around on their bikes, scooters, and skateboards) and jimmy the trailer back and forth into the spot, then park with the truck in the street to unhitch, then move the truck to the overflow parking lot, which is really the public beach access parking lot.
Not having the truck nearby is a bit of a bummer since a lot of what we need each day is stored in it, but we got the trailer into the space, which was touch and go there for a while. We’ll see how it works next week at the next CA state park!
The upshot is we have the best spot in the campground, surely. It’s right at the entrance, which means the nexus of all children screaming by, all dogs being proudly walked, all rigs visiting the dump station right across from us. But the back of the site is dominated by a huge sycamore tree, and we have tons of space (I took the above shot while sitting out in the sun with Banjo; the tent is behind me), and plenty of privacy around us. State park campgrounds may have small camping pads and tight spaces, but they also are built around old trees that make you feel like you’re camping in the woods (just with screaming children all around. Have I mentioned the screaming children?).
This campground was built in the bottom of a steep valley that leads straight to the Pacific (you can see the campground running along the center of the photo, above). People cram themselves into their spots (often driving truly vintage vans and trailers, looking so so California) and then pack up wagons with chairs and boogie boards and children and head straight to the beach. Young people carry their surfboards by and exclaim, ”Dude, that’s a mother fucking Airstream.” And, somehow, every teen girl in the state is here slowly oozing around on her skateboard with her head cocked down, whispering into her cell phone. Every one.
Cold, Windy, Gorgeous, Beachy
The beach is a string of small ones set under cliffs, with perilous trails atop where you can peer down at the surfers and stand carefully to avoid being in the hourly photoshoots of couples and bikini models. Each beach has a lifeguard tower that’s empty; I’m imagining the place packed in the summertime.
We’ve bundled up and walked from the beach right at the campground north to the last beach we can access before it gets crowded (or private) at a Malibu beach. We looked for critters trapped in pools during low tide, but so far there’s mostly kelp, stones, and sea glass washed up.
The surfing is fun to watch though—these guys (and, I assume, women) are serious. I see them out there at dawn while I’m walking Banjo, and I see them out there at sunset. I guess all that working to catch the right wave is what helps them sleep so soundly in their truck cabs at night.
At sunrise I take Banjo to the dog beach two beaches down. She looks a little cautious but really she’s as excited as can be, taking a break from cracker dogging around like crazy.
That’s the only time here when Banjo can get out on a significant walk, since this campground and the dog beach are covered with dogs, all who seem as excited as she is and whom she probably should not run into. So, poor Banjo rates this place low as she spends most of her time in the trailer. She needs to get used to spending more time in the trailer though, for this is the first of several beach state park campgrounds for us in the next month.
With Banjo in the trailer, I get to say good night to the beach on my own, which is a quiet, singular pleasure.
We Found the Blooms
The state park runs through the Santa Monica Mountain Range for miles behind us, and one trail leads straight from the campsite to the top of John’s Mountain, and right now it’s covered in wildflowers.
I don’t know most of their names, but I do now know the famous California poppy (first photo).
We walked through flowers as tall as Tracy.
And we saw blooming prickly pear cacti, lizards sunning themselves on rocks, a glimpse of a mystery snake, and new birds for Tracy to add to his list, including the Lazlui Bunting.
So, the campground is a zoo, the beach is windy and cold, and the mountain trail is steep. Can you tell we hate it here? (Spoiler: it’s wonderful!)