I am not a camper; in fact, I have often joked that I didn’t like camping because there was no room service (actually that was my mom’s joke). But it all changed when I became a parent. I still like a nice hotel, a luxurious bed, and room service, but camping is really fun. That said, I probably wouldn’t camp without kids – or without other families with kids. Because for me, the fun of camping is getting to be a kid – with my kid – connecting with nature, getting dirty, roasting marshmallows, dining under the stars. Of course, sitting around the fire and having a drink after the kids go to sleep is a nice perk.  And unplugging…that quiet time without phone, email, or social media really helps the brain reboot.

A few weeks ago we went camping with two other families at Fernwood Resort, in the heart of Big Sur alongside the Big Sur River bordering Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We set up chairs riverside and watched the kids wade in the shallow river, walking across the rocks to the other side, and splashing each other. We bought tubes at the camping supply store and floated in the river. Over time a mini rapid had formed, and we had fun drifting in our tubes downstream, bouncing off rocks and twirling in the water. The kids did it over and over and over again. So did the adults.

If you’ve seen a postcard of Big Sur, you’ve probably seen photos of the 80-foot waterfall and beach that was created from a landslide in 1983. We wanted to see it for ourselves and ventured to the nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We “hiked” the .6 mile roundtrip waterfall trail, which passes under the highway and then heads north around McWay Cove, overlooking the waterfall and beach and ending at an observation deck with a magnificent panoramic view of the Pacific ocean. There is no beach access but the views are worth it!

The next day we went to the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and “hiked” the one-mile trail to the Big Sur River Gorge, where the Big Sur River enters the park. We brought a picnic and sat on the huge granite rocks after exploring the various swimming holes.

We even went out to eat one afternoon to the family-owned (and very family-friendly) Nepenthe, which is perched on a cliffside with breathtaking views. The restaurant has a wonderful history, which includes Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and Henry Miller. In Greek, Nepenthe means “isle of no care,” and we did just that…we enjoyed a lovely meal and a stunning view…without a care in the world. We had such fun at Fernwood Resort that we’ve already booked a campsite for next year!

In fact…we had such a good time, we’re going camping again, this time to Camp Richardson in Lake Tahoe. What am I thinking?

Now that I have been camping, I know for certain that I prefer a campground that has toilets and running water, and a ready-to-go-fireplace. Easy access to electricity to blow up your air mattress isn’t bad either. Depending on the campsite, I recommend bringing bikes and scooters – they served as a major source of entertainment for the kids in Big Sur. Also, many campsites offer a variety of activities for the whole family, including junior rangers programs, nature walks and special campfire evenings. Make sure to check the calendar of events when you’re considering campsites.

We found this great app that we’re going to try for our upcoming trip (there are five families going this time). Moonlight is a free camping tool to make planning camping trips easier. You can invite friends to your camping trip and plan out each day of your trip with the meals and activities you want. It has all sorts of tips and even recipes for camping.

Here are few other helpful resources…

Camping Checklist  

Walk-in Campsites around the Bay Area  

Family Camping in California

Camping with Kids  

Reserve America  

The Comprehensive Guide to Camping with Kids

Share your favorite places to camp and camping tips with us!