Top Overnight Stays in California State Parks — No Tent Required

If tents make you tense and glamping makes you glum, you can still enjoy a pleasant overnight getaway in a surprising number of California State Parks — including Marconi Conference Center and State Historical Park in West Marin, although its 45 hotel rooms will be closed through August for major renovations. Here are nine of our other favorites, from north to south.


Point Cabrillo Light Station Historic Park

Point Cabrillo Light Station Historic Park

Enjoy the views of a lighthouse keeper without all the work in the restored former residences of the principal and assistant lighthouse keepers. The four- and three-bedroom houses with modern kitchens overlook the 1909 lighthouse and coastline from their spectacular perch on a headland between Mendocino and Fort Bragg; the smaller house is pet-friendly. Converted from sheds, two one-bedroom cottages (one pet-friendly) have similarly beautiful views, although only a microwave and fridge. No working vacation here — there’s no internet, cell service or TV signal. Cottages from $168 per night, houses from $1,024 for two nights (discounts for longer stays; three-night minimums on holidays and some peak periods. Reserve via

Gold Country

Columbia State Historic Park

Columbia State Historic Park

No need to rush through this Gold Rush-era town, or its vintage saloon, when you have the option of staying in either the Columbia City or Fallon Hotel. These two-story Victorian inns have modern conveniences like heating, air conditioning and private half-baths, albeit with showers down the hall. If you prefer more privacy, reserve one of the more modest, one- to three-bedroom cottages, built between 1870 and the 1930s. Rooms from $56, cottages from $129. 

Wine Country

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

One of the best bargains in Napa are the five restored vintage cabins and 10 yurts in this 1,900-acre forested park between Calistoga and St. Helena. The cabins (for two to four people) have fully stocked kitchens and bathrooms, while the simply furnished yurts (four to six people) do not allow cooking inside and share the nearby communal bathrooms and showers. All units require you to bring your own linens; some allow pets for an additional $20. On summer weekends, cool off in the spring-fed swimming pool. Cabins $125–$175 weekdays, $150–$225 weekends, yurts $65–$70 weekdays, $80–$85 weekends; two-night minimum on weekends.

San Mateo County

Pigeon Point Light Station Historic Park

In late May the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel resumed offering men’s and women’s dorm beds (up to nine people per room) and private rooms (one to three people) with shared baths, and family rooms (four to six people) with private baths, spread among four former Coast Guard home kitchens. They’re all in the shadow of the dramatic 115-foot lighthouse south of the charming village of Pescadero, home to Duarte’s Tavern and a grocery selling freshly made artichoke sourdough bread. Dorms $41, private rooms $143, family rooms $246. Reserve via

Monterey & Big Sur

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

This former YWCA summer camp near Pacific Grove boasts 13 Arts & Crafts-era structures designed by Julia Morgan, including a lofty dining hall and humbler lodges. Today it offers a total of TK modern and original rooms, some with wood-burning fireplaces and all linked by boardwalks that weave through a dunes preserve to the broad white sands of Asilomar State Beach. There’s no phone or TV. On foggy summer days, warm up with a glass of wine or espresso from the restaurant or café, or in the heated pool. From $187. Reserve via

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

The 62 cottage-style rooms, renovated in 2017, all offer decks with redwood forest views; suites for up to four adults may include kitchens or kitchenettes and fireplaces. Some rooms permit up to two dogs for an extra $50 per night. Guests who book directly get free access to three area parks. In summer, cool off in the outdoor pool. The year-round restaurant overlooking the creek has indoor-outdoor seating and an outdoor bar. Rooms from $274, suites from $354. Reserve via

Orange County

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park

One of the region’s largest surviving stretches of open space and natural shoreline, this park has 24 restored cottages, built in the 1930s and ’40s as part of a private community between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. Today, 10 cottages offer private dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens, while 14 are available as all-private rentals with unique layouts and decor (see for details and images). They’re among the most sought-after lodgings in the park system, so be prepared to book exactly six months in advance. Rooms from $40, cottages from $266.

San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente State Beach

Set on a bluff that’s just a short walk to the beach, the Holidays Vintage Trailers sport exteriors from the 1950s and ’60s and modern interiors that sleep up to four adults and one small child. The solar-powered trailers have kitchens with a sink, refrigerator and stovetop, plus USB chargers for phones and iPads; generators can be rented for more juice ($25). Towels, linens, coffee and beach toys are provided, but trailer bathrooms are now closets, so you’ll need to use communal facilities. Fido can come if he stays in your car or you bring a tent (sites accommodate up to eight people.) $209 March–October, $189 November–February. Two-night minimum on weekends.

San Diego

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

The former home of early San Diego settler Juan Bandini, built in 1827, is now part of the two-story Cosmopolitan Hotel, the second oldest building in this park that celebrates San Diego’s multiethnic heritage. At various points a stagecoach office, olive cannery and Mexican restaurant, it now operates as a 10-room bed-and-breakfast with lovely antique furnishings, air conditioning and private baths; some offer veranda access, clawfoot or copper tubs, and sunset views. While the popular restaurant remains closed, guests can avail themselves of fresh pastries with tea or coffee for breakfast, served in the saloon. Vintage thin windows means light sleepers should use the earplugs supplied in each room. From $229. Reserve via

Jeanne Cooper

Travel writer and guidebook author Jeanne Cooper lives in Hawaii, where she volunteers with the Hawaii Island Humane Society and St. James’ Community Meal.