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Pitch your tent in paradise: camp in Big Sur

The Big Sur coast has the most beautiful camping in the world. That fact is so well known that in summer, it can seem tough to find a spot to unroll your sleeping bag. But here's a secret: There are still campsites available--you just have to work to find them. Better yet, book now for fall; you'll beat the crowds and score the best weather of the year.

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Big Sur Campground and Cabins

At this redwood-shaded private campground, the Big Sur River is the biggest draw. (Hot showers come in second.) Reserve well ahead for weekends or get on the waiting list.

STATS: 81 sites from $29.

INFO: 831/667-2322.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Great for kids--the park has a nature center and softball field. Weekend reservations fill by spring; try midweek.

STATS: About 200 sites from $25.

INFO: www.parks.ca.gov or 831/667-2315; www.reserveamerica.com or 800/444-7275 for reservations.

Andrew Molera State Park

You schlep your stuff 1/3 mile to camp here, but the beach access makes it worthwhile. Monday or Tuesday is most promising in summer.

STATS: 24 primitive sites, $9; first come, first served.

INFO: www.parks.ca.gov or 831/667-2315.

Ventana Big Sur Campground

This private campground has secluded sites among mature redwoods; summer midweek slots are often open. Book a massage at adjacent Ventana Inn & Spa.

STATS: 80 tent and RV sites from $27 Sun-Thu.

INFO: www.ventana campground.com or 831/667-2712.

Limekiln State Park

Beach sites are too close to the State 1 bridge; go for the inland sites among the redwoods. Midweek is your best bet.

STATS: 33 sites, $25.

INFO: www.parks.ca.gov or 831/667-2403; www.reserveamerica.com or 800/444-7275 for reservations.

Kirk Creek Campground

The prettiest campground in California. Hopeful campers wait to snag spots as soon as others leave--try 11 a.m. Sunday or midweek.

STATS: 34 sites, $20; first come, first served.

INFO: www.campone.com or 805/434-1996.

Plaskett Creek Campground

A good place if you didn't make a reservation or are with friends. The sites are too close together to feel private; some don't have much shade. But across the highway is stunning Sand Dollar Beach.

STATS: 96 sites, $20; first come, first served.

INFO: www.campone.com or 805/434-1996.

Nacimiento Campground

This and nearby Ponderosa are good inland options; primitive dirt sites have good hiking access.

STATS: Nacimiento has 9 sites, $10; Ponderosa has 23 sites, $15; all first come, first served.

INFO: www.campone.com or 805/434-1996.

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