Get the starry nights, the campfire stories, the cozy sleeping bag, and all the best parts of camping in some of California’s most beautiful settings—but without the hassle of hauling loads of gear into the backcountry. These glamping (short for “glamour camping”) destinations give you the best of both worlds—a back-to-nature break from everyday life, but enough comfort that you won’t wake up with a sore back and covered in mosquito bites. And the settings? Wind-swept bluffs overlooking the Pacific, high meadows in iconic national parks, even a safari park. For most locations, everything, including bedding and meals, are included, though some sites require you to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow.
Less than an hour’s drive north from lavish Hearst Castle, along the spectacular Big Sur coast, is something a little more rustic: Treebones Resort, with 16 yurts perched on redwood platforms, each with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Step inside for some surprisingly swanky touches: queen-size beds, cushy couches, plus sinks, heaters and electric lights. Outside, deck chairs give you perfect perches for the jaw-dropping sunsets. Treebones also sports a full restaurant, a sushi bar, a heated pool and spa and an outdoor bar with that same ocean view, where you can kick back with a glass of wine or a local beer after a day of hiking, kayaking, or simply hanging out at the resort (massages and yoga are also available).
How about an overnight safari trip to see African animals just a half-hour drive north of downtown San Diego? On a “Roar & Snore Safari” at this remarkable facility (it’s the sister property to the San Diego Zoo), have a sleepover adventure in one of 46 comfy, safari-style tents that border an expansive grazing area for giraffes, rhinos, gazelles, antelopes, and other exotic animals. Look for special themes throughout the year, like kid-favourite Creepy Camp during Halloween (meet spooky, creepy critters and get special treats), or romantic, adults-only Valentine’s Day overnights featuring a candlelit dinner and wine. All overnights include special activities, an after-hours look at resident animals, a campfire program, dinner, snack, and a park souvenir. And when you wake up in the early morning? Have breakfast with views of grazing animals to photograph and view, long before the park is open to visitors.
Giraffes, cheetahs, javelinas, desert kit fox—these are some of the remarkable wild animals that will be in your desert dreams when you book an overnight at this unforgettable facility, in the Palm Springs region. March through May, guests enjoy a cracking campfire, then curl up inside your private tent (cots provided but you bring your own sleeping bag and toiletries) and listen for night sounds, or relax outside to gaze at a sky-ful of stars. Wake up to enjoy an exclusive private tour of The Living Desert, which showcases animals of the world’s deserts, then stroll through the site’s botanical gardens and explore a network of paths to head into the adjacent Santa Rosa Mountains.
Nestled within the giant sequoias of Kings Canyon National Park, roughly a 4-hour drive south of Yosemite Valley, snuggle up in an off-the-grid tent-cabin at a remote wilderness site. It’s a 1-mile/1.6-km hike from the nearest parking lot (longer hike-in routes are available), but once you get to the 8,282-foot/2,524-meter compound of tents—it’s nothing but glamping in mega-style. Dinners are five-course affairs with carefully selected wines and candlelight. Canvas tents are outfitted with luxurious rugs and blankets on cozy beds, propane lanterns, and, of course, stunning views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada just outside your tent flaps. After a hot breakfast, hike to mountain meadows, jewel-like alpine lakes, or high summits with commanding views.
Here’s a glamping experience like no other—one that requires some work to enjoy, but worth every ounce of effort. The work comes in the form of hiking or horse-packing to one or more of the five camps, open June through early September. Each camp is roughly 6 to 10 miles/9 to 16 kilometers apart; all are strung along the 49-mile/79-km High Sierra Camp Loop trail. But once you’ve arrived, the scenery—some of Yosemite National Park’s most spectacular high country around Tuolume Meadows—will make it all worth it. Plus, your fully outfitted cabin tent, complete with woodstove to ward off the chill at the 9,000-foot/2,743-meter elevation, means you’ll only have to pack in your personal items and toiletries. During your stay, enjoy hot dinner and breakfast, served family style with other guests—a great time to swap stories and hiking tips. Sack lunches for trailside picnics can also be ordered in advance.
Mountain bike through towering redwoods, horseback ride across coastal meadows, explore beaches and tide pools, then chill out in a fully outfitted safari-tent “bungalow” (plush bedding, electricity, and Wi-Fi) at this coastal eco-adventure lodge in Pescadero, a roughly 1.5-hour drive south of San Francisco. Appealing extras at this pretty resort spread out across meadows include an outdoor hot tub with views of coastal hills, and—to completely posh it up—a day spa offering on-site massages and body treatments. Besides tent cabins, Costanoa has snug cabins with fireplaces, skylights, and a group dry sauna, and traditional lodge rooms. The campsite includes outdoor grills and picnic tables, or head over to the Cascade Bar & Grill, for locally sourced seafood and produce.
With zip lines, climbing walls, teepees, and deluxe cabins, this isn't your typical just-off-the-highway group campground. Tucked into the coastal hills of Santa Paula, a little over an hour north of Los Angeles, features this campground, part of the nationwide KOA chain, with teepees that sleep up to 8 people, as well as tricked-up tent cabins (queen bed, futon, microwave, and mini-fridge). There are also deluxe and studio cabins with partial kitchens, A/C, and WiFi.
Campsite attractions aren’t your usual fare, either—zoom on a 1,400-foot/21-meter zip line, explore on family-friendly trails, and splash in a swimming pool.
Let the kids get a kick out of sleeping in a shiny silver bullet at this all-Airstream hotel. Several of the sleek trailers are fully outfitted for you and your family, with a little deck and Adirondack chairs outside, a gadget-filled kitchen and cozy quilts perfect for snuggling for story time inside, even shmancy toiletries that will make Mom smile. Each trailer also includes two cruiser bikes—perfect for special time with one of your kids to go explore Santa Barbara’s top sites—the wharf, the beach, and the bustling Santa Barbara Public Market, where you can pick up designer cupcakes, crusty artisanal bread, and other treats for supper back in your super-cool Airstream.
Santa Barbara is the original, but not the only, AutoCamp in California. You get a similar ambience at the new Russian River location in Sonoma County, but the lodging options are expanded, with 10 luxury safari tents in addition to 20 Airstreams. The activities are a little different too: Walk down to the Russian River to swim or canoe, play lawn games, or lounge by a fire pit inside or outside the mid-century-modern-style clubhouse. The 3,000-square-foot building also offers a store to stock up on snacks and local beer and wine.
Often ranked as one of the most magical glamping experiences in the state, this tree-shaded compound tucked into the coastal hills a half-hour northwest of Santa Barbara is one of those pinch-me destinations everyone should experience at least once (but we bet you’ll book a return before you leave). The setting is so private that it’s hard to believe that more than 100 cabins and safari tents occupy the hillside landscape of El Capitan Canyon, surrounded on three sides by the oceanfront and backcountry of El Capitan State Beach. (Note: Flash floods in January 2017 affected part of the campground—check El Capitan Canyon for the most up-to-date information.)
Choose from basic canvas tents built on wood platforms, or fancier cedar cabins with bathrooms and kitchenettes. All accommodations are situated along a wooded drive that leads into the hilly portion of El Capitan State Beach, where wildlife abounds. But the real draw here is the proximity to the coastline itself, where you can walk, bike, or drive under Highway 101 to access the sandy beach and tide pools. Complimentary cruiser bikes are available for guests; friendly staff can also arrange surf lessons, whale watching, kayaking, or wine tasting. There’s also a summer concert series on site, May through September.
Insider’s tip: Cook your own meals—there’s a store on site for groceries—or consider the market’s selection of gourmet-style prepared meals.