How to Find the Right Camping/Glamping Site for You

The question I get most often after a weekend trip with Grace and Casper is: how do you find places to camp that are actually nice and not crowded/gross? Today I want to share what we've learned over a few years of getaways at different price points, distances from home, levels of rustic-ness, etc.


I have found that there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before planning a getaway, whether a year in advance or the day before leaving:

  • How far are you willing to drive?
  • What's the budget? Consider fuel cost here as well; a 6-hour trip each way will likely require at least a couple of tanks of gas
  • Special requirements? Such as: pet friendly; accessible; parking available nearby; kitchen or grill included?
  • How much do you want to rough it? Camping, glamping, or a more traditional hotel/home rental experience?
  • How lucky are you? Do you want to risk a walk-in only campsite, or for peace of mind, do you want to have a reservation in advance?
  • Finally, what gear do you have available? Do you need a tent/sleeping mat, or is that included with the rental?

Below, I am going to talk about my top tips for planning an amazing getaway on a variety of budgets and advance planning time. Overall, I hope this post encourages you that it IS possible to plan a great getaway a week or less in advance, and also inspires you to consider the incredible one-of-a-kind destinations you can experience if you plan a little further out.

Camping a couple of years ago in California wine country

Camping a couple of years ago in California wine country

Regular Old Tent Camping

This is the first type of camping or getaway that Grace and I did together, and it's still a favorite. Most campsites are government-owned and can be reserved through and Some states (such as Utah, I recently learned) have their own version that's pretty easy to find. The biggest tip and resource I can offer regarding government campsites is to check out On that site, you can see a picture of every campsite at any government campground! So for instance, if you see site #62 on the campground map and you think it looks good, you can go to and see whether it's actually nice or offers shade, etc. Also, most campgrounds have a Yelp and/or TripAdvisor review page (a lot of people think it's just hotels and restaurants!). If you're thinking about booking a campsite, I recommend searching within the reviews for the word "site." In my experience, this usually brings up a ton of reviews like "Site #21 is the biggest!" or "Avoid Site #10, it's right beside the restrooms." I have found some great sites within a campground by searching reviews.

Pros of camping at a campground: very cheap (almost always under $50, sometimes as low as $15/night); amenities such as restrooms, water, and firewood are usually provided; rangers and campsite hosts are around if that makes you feel better about safety.

Cons: sometimes crowded and some sites are better than others; you may sacrifice privacy; often fill up fast and it can be nearly impossible to snag a last minute site.

"Glamping" in a tent cabin in Big Sur

"Glamping" in a tent cabin in Big Sur

"Glamping" Using Private Land and Rentals

This category is the sweet spot that is probably Grace's and my favorite overall. We use two main websites to find private land to camp on and rustic cabins, treehouses, vintage trailers, etc.: Airbnb and Hipcamp. Many people I talk to think that Airbnb offers only houses and apartments to rent, but it actually has a decent amount of private campsites and more rustic accommodations! Tip for finding them: put in your preferred location and dates (along with any other filters such as Pets Allowed) into the Airbnb search function. Then click the box for "entire home/apartment" and lower the maximum price to $100-$200. This tends to pull up more rustic options as well as raw land to camp on. We have found some really cool places using this tool.

Hipcamp is lesser-known and often has last-minute availability. Quick example: a couple of days ago, Grace's friend from work (hi, Norma, if you're reading!) asked Grace for advice on planning a trip to Joshua Tree for Memorial Day weekend, which is only one week away. She would also be bringing her dog on this trip. Joshua Tree is an incredibly popular destination in Southern California, especially for a holiday weekend. Almost everything seemed booked. Enter Hipcamp--there were several places available within a mile or two of the park gates! In my experience, it's always possible to figure out something if you have the desire to get out of town and a willingness to try something non-traditional.

I recently found out about another website called GlampingHub, and I have also been wanting to try VRBO and HomeAway. If anyone has experience with these sites, I'd love to hear about it!

The adorable living room of an Airbnb we rented a couple of years ago in Joshua Tree.

The adorable living room of an Airbnb we rented a couple of years ago in Joshua Tree.

More Traditional Hotel/Home Rentals

Sometimes you just need the comforts of a hotel and all its amenities. Exhibit A:

Relaxing at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa was heavenly after several days of camping prior.

Relaxing at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa was heavenly after several days of camping prior.

As much as camping and getting out into nature is our thing, it is nice to treat yourself to something a little more luxurious every once in a while. It's especially fun when you can stay somewhere that combines being close to nature with access to a comfortable bed and all the amenities. For these places, a little more advance planning is usually necessary. Believe it or not, I booked some of the spots for our Alaska road trip a whole year in advance! Below I have listed a few examples of this type of accommodation (both hotels and home rentals) that we have enjoyed in the past or would like to go one day.

A few places we've stayed and enjoyed: Ojai Valley Inn and Spa; Hotel Cote Vert (a little hillside country hotel in Waterloo, Belgium); this home rental in the San Bernardino hills; and this home rental outside Yosemite

Places I have booked and am excited to visit in the coming months: home rentals in Joshua Tree; Helena, Montana; Anchorage, Alaska; Portland, Oregon; and Berkeley, California (my Airbnb upcoming trips list is stacked, haha!); Opus Hotel in Vancouver; and this adorable cabin in the wild Yukon Territory in Canada

Places I dream of staying one day: this Airstream in the Malibu moutains; the Resort at Paws Up in Montana; Double Eagle Resort in June Lake, California; L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona; and Sundance Resort in Utah (all dog friendly!)

Best of luck planning your next getaway! As always, feel free to leave a comment or use my Contact page--I'd love to hear where you're going next!

Grace and I are going camping in Big Bear, California, this weekend--stay tuned for an update next week :)

Heart eyes for these cabin ceilings from one of our recent getaways!

Heart eyes for these cabin ceilings from one of our recent getaways!


My 5 Favorite Road Trips

Grace and I take little weekend getaways pretty often. We try to go camping or get out of town about once a month. When we can, we take longer trips, too. Today I want to recap my top five favorite road trips we've taken so far. I had a hard time limiting myself to just five, so I hope to share some details about other past trips in a different post later on! I could go on and on about these adventures, so grab a glass of wine or a hot mug of tea because this post is l-o-n-g. Without further ado, here are my top five (in no particular order):

1. Our weeklong road trip from Sonoma to San Diego (and a lot of places in between) in Summer 2015

Even though I just said these trips were listed in no particular order, this one is my favorite overall. We started the trip in Berkeley, California, where I lived at the time. From there, we went to Sonoma and enjoyed a private wine tasting on a hilltop (with Casper!) at Kamen Wines. That night, we camped in nearby Santa Rosa, California.


The next day we drove down the coast to Point Reyes and stopped for lunch at Hog Island, where we ate the best oysters on earth. We continued down to Big Sur and stayed the night in a tent cabin at Fernwood Resort.


If you're in Big Sur with a pup (or just on your own), don't miss Pfeiffer Beach (pictured in the last couple of photos above). It's stunningly beautiful and was mostly empty on a weekday even in summer. It's perfect for us because it's dog friendly, but it's not an off-leash dog beach--due to Casper's issues with other dogs, any environment where a dog can run up to him unexpectedly is a no-go for us. It's rare to find a beach that allows dogs but requires them to stay on leash, much less one as gorgeous as Pfeiffer.

After waking up in beautiful Big Sur, we drove further down Highway 1 to spend the night in Pismo Beach. Before we got there, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the charming pebble beach of Cayucos. Pismo was a random choice for us to spend the night (having never heard of it previously), but it ended up being probably our favorite campground of the trip. We stayed at North Beach Campground. The sunset from that night, shown below, is the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen in my life, and I still think about it all the time.


The next day we drove to Ojai and stayed at the lovely Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. It's pet friendly! Casper was treated like royalty. This was our one "splurge" night of the trip, and as you'll see from the photos below, it was so worth it. One of our favorite touches: at check in, there is a sign telling the exact time of that night's sunset (the "pink moment" sign in the photo below). We planned our dinner that night around that time, choosing to eat at one of the on-site restaurants, Olivella, which had just opened that week!


Our last two stops of the trip were a night in Joshua Tree at this Airbnb and then a final night in San Diego at Grace's aunt's condo before returning to Grace's house in LA. This was our first big trip with Casper, and I'm still so thankful for how smoothly it went and what an unforgettable time we had.


2. Yosemite National Park, Spring 2016


Looking back, it's amazing to me that this trip happened. We went to Yosemite for the first time during my final spring break of law school, and we only had about a week in advance to plan it, find a place to stay (with an 80-pound dog in tow), etc. The reason for the last-minute chaos was because I had originally been planning to go to Turkey for my spring break as part of a delegation of students from Berkeley. I studied abroad in Turkey during undergrad, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to go back. However, the trip was cancelled at the last minute because of a string of bombings in Istanbul and Ankara. I digress--but it's relevant to the extent that if you're attempting to plan a Yosemite trip with only one week's notice, it IS possible!

We spent two days in the park, staying a short drive outside the gates in this dog-friendly Airbnb. I cherish the memories of our visit, and I can confidently tell you that we did Yosemite RIGHT. Our strategy primarily involved waking up early and beating the crowds. Simple as that. I plan on writing a separate post just on Yosemite tips (even in the low season, it is an extremely popular destination and the amount of crowds can make or break your experience--especially with a dog). Since I'll go into detail about Yosemite later, I'll just leave you with a few photos of our time there for now :)


3. Pinoeertown Cabin, Memorial Day 2015


Probably the most life-changing trip we've taken so far was to an off-the-grid cabin near Pioneertown, California, which is sort of in the Palm Desert/Twentynine Palms area. Grace planned this trip as a surprise getaway for us and Casper. The reason it was such a meaningful trip was because of the profoundness of the silence and alone time there. Getting to the cabin involved driving five miles down a dirt road, and the cabin itself runs totally off well water and generator electricity. It is quite literally "off the grid." There is no cell phone service or internet. We spent the weekend star gazing, making fires and roasting marshmallows in the little wood-burning stove, cooking amazing meals (with all ingredients brought in with us--there's no grocery store or other people for miles and miles), playing Scrabble, Grace playing guitar, napping, talking about things that matter, and taking little hikes from right outside our front door. Everything about it felt like pure magic. It's from this trip that our love of quiet, wild getaways really grew. The vastness of the frontier surrounding our cabin and the way it made us feel even partially inspired one of Grace's tattoos.

Grace found the cabin on Airbnb, but sadly, it is no longer available to rent. However, there are some similar looking places nearby that we want to check out at some point.


4. Treehouse in Ojai, California, Spring 2017


This is one of the most recent getaways we've taken, and it's a favorite for a few different reasons. We found the treehouse on Hipcamp, which is an awesome resource for private campsites and rustic cabin-type properties. We booked the place on a whim when we were craving some time outdoors, but we didn't really know what to expect. What we found is that along with the treehouse property comes an entire mountaintop near Ojai, California, covered with stunning oak trees. There is a beautiful insulated treehouse for sleeping, 40 acres of land for Casper to roam, an al fresco dining area with a grill, prep tables, etc., a fun rope swing, a hammock, badminton, frisbee golf, croquet, and even a little bathroom setup with running water. From the mountaintop, you can see the Pacific ocean and the Channel Islands if the weather is clear. It's incredibly lush and green, which is a very different environment from a lot of camping in Southern California. It's also one of the shortest drives for a getaway--only about 2 hours from LA. 

One of the funniest memories from this trip is the experience of getting Casper up into the treehouse. There's a ladder that was fairly simple for Grace and me to scramble up, but for a four-legged travel companion, it was extremely tricky. What ended up happening is that Grace would sit at the top of the ladder, on the treehouse platform, while I would lift Casper up and push him into Grace's waiting arms. There was a lot of trial and error involved. But it was worth the pulled muscles to have sweet Casper up there with us. We definitely plan on going back, maybe even with a big group of friends since there's so much land for people to camp in tents in addition to the treehouse (which can sleep about 4 comfortably).


5. Our First Ever Camping Trip in Summer 2014


Last but not least, I have to mention our first ever camping trip together: the trip that started it all. Way back in Summer 2014, we didn't even have Casper yet! Summer was waning and I wanted to do something special before I had to go back to Berkeley for the school year, so I planned this trip as a surprise for Grace one weekend in July. I grew up camping with my dad, but Grace had never been. We camped at Fairview Campground in the Sequoia National Forest, about three hours north of LA. I'll never forget that evening--we cooked over an open fire, roasted marshmallows, and just as we were turning in for the night, a light warm summer rain started to fall and pitter-pattered on our tent all night. The Kern River also runs through the back of the campground, and before dinner, we sat on rocks beside it, dipped our feet in, and had some wine. It was dreamy. We've since been back to Fairview Campground with Casper and we LOVE it. It's our favorite campground in Southern California. I plan on doing a separate post just about this "home base" campground of ours and how to find your own!

While on this trip, we also hiked the nearby Trail of 100 Giants, which is a great way to see the giant redwoods in Southern California. Many people think they're only up north, but it's not true! Sequoia National Forest is a gem and not at all difficult to reach from LA.


Honorable Mention: Sausalito, January 2017

It's impossible to keep this list to just five trips. A final shout-out goes to Sausalito, where we recently spent a weekend with Casper at Grace's aunt's charming guest house (Grace has relatives in the best places. No joke, her cousin lives in The Bahamas and we are trying to figure out a way to get there, too!). The photos below from our trip speak for themselves to convince you that Sausalito is well worth the visit if you're in the Bay Area. To us, it was even worth a 6-hour drive in its own right!

Amazing photo taken by Grace's Aunt Annie, right from her back patio! Sausalito is magic.

Amazing photo taken by Grace's Aunt Annie, right from her back patio! Sausalito is magic.

It's so much fun for me to recap these trips. Thanks for reading! If you are planning a getaway to any of these places, feel free to use my Contact page to get in touch, and I'd be happy to share more tips with you.