Santa Cruz – Monterey Bay KOA Camping Tips

Disclosure: Post written in collaboration with Kampgrounds of America. All opinions are our own. 

Summer is here! We just couldn’t wait to get out for some rest and relaxation. The moment we found out Kampgrounds of America locations were opening back up, we couldn’t wait to book a stay. The first part of 2020 has been highly unusual. Like many others across the world, we have been quarantining and trying to be safe. I have only left the house once a week for essentials. Even leaving for that trip was stressful. Looking back, I really do not remember much from the month of April and May. Between my kids’ distance learning and my own school work, the rest is a blur. I haven’t really talked about it, but we went on a month-long road trip soon after. It was mainly to visit immediate family and being extra careful we do not get sick or our loved ones sick. Summer camping trips are always on our summer bucket list. This year we did not know it was going to happen, and when they open, we wondered if it was safe to do so.  

Big Sur Scenic Coastal Drive

We discovered glamping with Kampgrounds of America a couple of years ago when we stayed in an air conditioned Deluxe Cabin with bunk beds, kitchen, and full bathroom. It came fully equipped with dishes, linens, and towels. Since then, it has been really hard to go back to tent camping. The site also accommodates RV and tent campers.  We like KOAs, because it feels like camping without having to pack all the gear. We just have to worry about food. They have different KOAs too. There are KOA Holiday, KOA Resort, and KOA Journey. So far, we have enjoyed KOA Holiday and KOA Resort. We haven’t tried KOA Journey, but have learned that they are usually near the freeway and designed for quick set ups after a long journey for tent camping or RVs.

Elephant Seals Viewing Point near Cambria, California.

Santa Cruz/Monterey KOA is about a six hour drive from Orange County, California. (This location has a beach within a mile walking distance.) We left first thing in the morning to avoid some of the traffic in Los Angeles. We wanted to do a partial scenic drive which takes us up the coast from Cambria so we had to time it right. We took CA-46 from I-5 to Paso Robles and had lunch there. It is a good stopping point for lunch and gas, because after you start driving up the coast from Elephant Seal viewing point, you won’t have any cellular signal for several miles. What you’ll also want to consider is if you’re going to do the scenic drive, you want to do it while you have adequate daylight which is safer too. The views will take your breath away. We try to make this drive at least one time when we are in the area. It’s so beautiful.  

Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Deluxe Cabin with bunk beds and full bath.

This year we were fortunate to visit Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Holiday. Not all the amenities were available, but we still had a blast. After breakfast, we rented bikes and made it adventurous for the children. How many loops can you make within an hour? Too many to count! All we know is that our kids asked to rent bikes every time. They started with the four wheel and thought they were slow. Later, they switched over to banana bikes, and they were faster! Although they did not require helmets to rent, we recommend packing your own. It just feels safer. Everyone worked up an appetite so we went back to prepare lunch.

For lunch, we grilled burgers and made daytime s’mores. As it was warming up, it was the perfect opportunity to go swimming in their resort pool. Everyone were careful to social distance. When we had to walk around, we wore our masks. We asked around and there were two beaches close by. One of their beaches were within a mile. You can walk there or drive two minutes to get there. The other beach was two miles away. We went hoping we would see the sun set, but it was cloudy. Still, we enjoyed being on the beach and watching the waves. It was nice to just sit there and get fresh air. We really missed our beaches.

Helpful Tips

After we arrived at our campsite, the parking guard stopped us to give us a parking tag and instructions. You’ll need to wear a mask to check-in. They had tape on the floor to mark social distancing while we waited in line. The convenient store had essentials and souvenirs. If you forgot to pack firewood, they had them available for $15 per bundle. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. 

Important Note: Their deluxe cabin does not have a stove top or pots and pans, however, they have electric skillets available upon request. There is also a grill with propane at our site. 

TIPS: We often over-pack food and groceries. To reduce waste, I like to meal-plan and stop by the grocery store on the way up there. If you are traveling with a large group, you’ll want to meal-plan together weeks in advance. It is also a good idea to assess the situation before you shop so that you don’t have to make several trips. For example, we did not know about the stove top situation until we checked in. We didn’t learn about the electric skillet until we called the front desk. They had a Safeway about 20 minutes away so we were able to pick up what we needed. Their cabins had a Keurig machine and refrigerator. I picked up K-cups to make hot chocolate, tea, and coffee. We knew we would have friends over so I also picked up disposable coffee cups with lids.    

The thing about KOA is it can be more expensive than a hotel, because you are paying for usage of the amenities. Even though we were glamping, it felt great being outdoors and away from the city. At night when the skies are clear, we can see how bright the stars are, and you can enjoy how peaceful it is. During the day, we rented bikes and swam in their pool. This site has a new recreational area which was recently closed due to COVID-19. They also have KOA Express Fun Train (currently closed), Jumping Pillow (currently closed), climbing coconut palm trees (currently closed), outdoor cinema (currently closed), and more! You’ll want to visit their website for the most updated information. We hope that we get another chance before school starts to visit another KOA.

Interior Photos of their DELUXE CABIN with Bunk beds, Kitchenette, and Full Bath.

ADDRESS:

Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA, 1186 San Andreas Road, Watsonville, CA 95076, Reserve: 800-562-7701, Website: https://koa.com/campgrounds/santa-cruz/

Campground Amenities

  • 50 Max Amp
  • 90′ Max Length
  • Wi-Fi
  • Cable TV
  • Pool (Open Year-Round)
  • Hot Tub/Sauna
  • Propane ($)
  • Firewood ($)
  • Bike Rentals ($)
  • Dog Park
  • Laundry Room

RECREATION (as of 7/16/2020): Due to Covid-19 and county restrictions, you may find that the hot tub, game room, playground, and other amenities may be closed during your visit. We will update available amenities on the recreation page of our website, click here for details.

  • CLOSED – NEW Recreation Area 
  • RESTRICTED – Activity Schedule 
  • CLOSED – KOA Express Fun Train 
  • CLOSED – Jumping Pillow 
  • Bike rentals 
  • CLOSED – Climbing Coconut Palm Trees 
  • Campfire Time 
  • CLOSED-KOA Breakfast 
  • CLOSED – Outdoor Cinema 
  • CLOSED-Tie-Dyed T-Shirts 
  • RESTRICTED – Ice Cream Bike 
  • CLOSED – Zorb-Human Hamster Ball 

Note: The pool reopened the week we visited. For the most updated information, please visit their website or call their office.

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