Camping. It's the best way to become one with nature. No distractions, no stress... it's just you, Mother Earth, and Father Sky. How could it get any better than that? Adding in a beach, of course! Falling asleep to the waves lapping against the shore, waking up to the sunrise over the ocean, swimming and sunning all day, lighting bonfires on the sand... it sounds so perfect, why would you camp anywhere else?
Acadia National Park encompasses a good portion of Maine's coast, and while some of it is rugged and rocky (in a strikingly beautiful way, of course) there are a few great swim spots, like Sand Beach. At the park's Seawall Campground, you won't be more than a few paces to the ocean, allowing you to really experience the cool sea breezes and refreshingly salty air off the Atlantic.
At Assateague Island National Seashore, you can camp out on the beach... alongside wild ponies! As if things couldn't seem any more perfect, consider the fact that the park only even exists by a stroke of luck-- originally, the land was going to be developed into a resort community: Ocean Beach, Maryland. But, a severe storm came along and flattened the slowly progressing development. Rather than deal with the possibility of deadly storms randomly ripping through the resort island, the development firm sold the land to the government, who turned it over to the National Parks Service.
While the park has gorgeous white sand beaches and ocean water that's perfect for swimming, the island is best known for its herds of wild Chincoteague ponies that roam the beaches. There's a story that the wild ponies that inhabit the island are the descendants of a herd of ponies who survived a shipwreck, but it's more likely that local citizens were corralling their ponies on the island to avoid paying taxes on fences on the mainland, and these ponies are descended from those. The legendary ponies attract plenty of tourists, especially in July when a fundraiser is held where the ponies are herded, swim to Chincoteague Island, and then auctioned off as a fundraiser. The ponies that are auctioned off are corralled and cared for by the local volunteer fire department, but there's a herd that lives on the Maryland side of the park that's treated completely as wildlife and left alone to roam the shores.
Cape Lookout National Seashore is a picture-perfect North Carolina beach that makes for an incredible vacation. There's a scenic lighthouse to climb, a historic village to tour, seashells to find, and, of course, camping. You don't need a permit to set up a tent right on the beach, and even though that means that you'll be "primitive" camping (no showers, water, etc.) it's worth it for the views. They even have "rustic" cabins (no running water, no electricity, etc.) if you'd rather not spend hours trying to figure out how to set up your tent.
Huntington Beach State Park isn't too far away from Myrtle Beach, but it's like a whole other world. Quiet, peaceful, and offering awesome beach-adjacent camping, it's a great spot for relaxing. Plus, it's pet-friendly, and the campground has free wifi!
You could easily spend days exploring all that Sleeping Bear Dunes has. You can swim at the lakeshore beach, tube or canoe down the Platte River, climb the massive dunes, explore a historic village, or go for a bike ride or a scenic drive, among other things. Camp out at the National Lakeshore while you take some time to squeeze in as much fun as possible! Platte River Campground has hookups and sweet bathroom facilities, but the rustic campground, D.H. Day, has easy access to Lake Michigan... such a tough choice!
If you've got an RV and you want to camp on the beach, head to Camp Gulf in Destin. Their beachfront sites are, as they say, “as close as you can get” to the ocean, with the sand and waves right outside your door. They also have other sites that aren’t on the shore— which means less sand. Either way, you're never more than a 5-minute walk to the beach. They also offer some pretty rad amenities, like a pool, a spa, a bunch of activities, and tons more. Seems like an island fantasy, but it's an honest-to-goodness real life Kokomo!
Speaking of Kokomo, if you're looking to camp on a vacation in the Florida Keys, there are a few parks where you can set up a tent near the ocean. In addition to the campsite, hiking trails, and the two beaches, they offer glass-bottom boat tours of the coral reefs in the oceans around the park, and have a saltwater aquarium in the visitor center. It's a great spot to snorkel, kayak, or scuba dive, if you have the gear.
Padre Island National Seashore offers beach camping right on the Gulf of Mexico. There are a few nice campsites to choose from, and they have 64 miles of beach open for primitive shoreline camping. That means you can really spread out and get some privacy! Plus, you can spot turtles, hunt for seashells, walk among the dunes, and, of course, swim. It's a completely undeveloped stretch of coast, so if you're looking to get away from the kitschy boardwalks and rows of hotels and timeshares, this is your spot!
For incredible views of the famously breathtaking Big Sur coast, head to Treebones Resort. Renting a tent site here isn't cheap, but the scenery is absolutely mesmerizing, and you can use the resort facilities, which include a breakfast waffle bar, an onsite restaurant, massages, yoga classes, and tons more. If you don't want to bring along a tent, they have yurts, a cocoon-like autonomous tent, and a human nest. For real, go look it up.
Harris Beach State Park is famous for it's stunning coastal sunsets, and there's no better way to really enjoy one than at a campsite right on the beach. After you watch the big show, then set up a bonfire and make some s'mores as you admire the stars. They have tent sites, yurts, and full hook-ups for your preferred camping experience!
Unlike the country's other beaches, Shi Shi Beach remained untouched and undeveloped, making it the perfect place to spend a night listening to the waves. To get there, you'll need to first conquer a 3-or-so-mile hike through the woods until you reach the ocean. From there, you'll need to descend about 200 feet down a cliff, either with the help of a rope along the trail, or using tree roots for support-- but it's all worth the effort when you finally land on the beach. You'll definitely want to get a camping permit (you can get them from the Wilderness Information Center or the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station) and bring along a tent, because you won't find any more magic place to spend the night in the park than on Shi Shi Beach.
Shi Shi's rugged coastline provides the perfect conditions for tidepools to really form. Plan to visit during low tide, when the waters recede and leave behind shallow pools filled with exotic marine life. Green anemones, pink algae, seashells, starfish, clams, snails, even wolf eels and rock crabs can be spotted along the beach's rocky tidepools. Be careful of slippery seaweed and algae covering the rocks, and be careful to not disturb the wildlife too much-- although you're definitely welcome to pick up trash that's washed ashore!
You can also spend hours just getting lost along the rocky coastline. Dotted by caves and sea stacks, and covered with all kinds of marine life and plant life, the rocks along the shore also make for more awesome photography. One of the most prominent landmarks along the ocean is a sea stack known as Point of Arches. It looks especially breathtaking as the sun sets behind the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the best reasons to camp overnight-- and as an added bonus, the sunrise is pretty spectacular, too. Just be sure to check the tides before you pitch your tent!