Sunday, August 21, 2011

Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay KOA Campground Review

This was a hard review to write, normally my camping experience involves a location in the mountains or one of the great state beach campgrounds that dot the California coast.  We decided to change it up on our last annual Thanksgiving camping trip and give the KOA Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay a try. I’ve heard good things about this private campground located a few miles north of Watsonville on highway one.  This place is huge and has a lot of activities to keep the family happy.
Koa Santa Cruz best campsite
This private campground is packed with the following amenities some of which require a additional fees. Call in advance, before you make reservations as some of the activities are seasonal.

  • Pool Swimming Pool at KOA Santa Cruz
  • Jacuzzi
  • Video games
  • Game rec room
  • Mini market
  • Landry
  • Jumping pillow (the kids love this)   
  • Koa Santa Cruz jumping pillow 1Coffee cart
  • Small fenced dog parks
  • Basketball
  • Game room
  • Mini golf
  • Bike rentals.
  • Ping pong Mini Golf at KOA Santa Cruz
  • TV room
  • Dog wash (self-serve)
  • Kiddie train
  • Playground
  • The recreation hall can accommodate up to 150 people so a large group functions like a family reunion can be hosted here with ease.
Photos for Monterey Santa Cruz KOA

Best time to Visit
At the time of our visit (Thanksgiving weekend 2010) the park was sparsely filed. From what I hear the place get's crowded in the summer being in such a great location on the California coast.   I'm not sure if I would brave the crowds to spend time here in the summer as we camp in a tent trailer. Your best bet is during some of the slower months in the spring and fall.  In talking with  one of the employees, she recommended coming in early June if your plan to spend time here in the summer.

Best Sites
The campground has all types of sites, from simple tent sites to large 50 amp hook up sites There are several pull thru sites with large patios.

Koa Santa Cruz Best campsite 6As with most private campgrounds in California,  privacy between sites is poor. Some sites are better than other with shrubs and trees between them.  if you have a tent trailer or small RV, sites 99, 68, 67,213 214 and 215 would be worth checking out.  Please note there is a additional fee for site specific reservations.  The tent camping area is more like a group type arrangement.  Tent campers will be sharing a large grass area with multiple campers.  This might work well if you have a group of tent campers such as a scout or youth group.

Cabin Rentals
 Photo Credit: by Vicky Mougenot

Like other KOA campgrounds in California the KOA has several different variations of camping cabins.  These are a cross between camping and a motel and sleep 4 to 6 depending on the size of the unit.  Make sure to bring your bedding and some of you camping supplies.  This location also has camping lodges which are equipped with a bathroom, limited kitchen facilities, linens and bedding.
What to see if the trailer life is for you.  this location also has a airstream trailer for rent which Includes a queen bed, two singles, TV, bathroom, kitchen with utensils and microwave.

Bath facilities
The bath facilities are spread about the campground and at the time of our visit were sparkling clean.  The bathhouse included multi-stall toilet facilities and multiple wash basins.  There are also multiple private showers with plenty of hot water.  The facilities we encountered were well maintained.

I usually don’t talk about cost in my campground reviews as these vary and are normally not a budget buster when on vacation. I would consider this one of the more expensive places in California for camping.  The cost for sites varies on the type of sites and the time of the year. Prime time in the middle of summer is going to run you from $55.00 to $125.00 per night for a campsite.

There is no fishing at the campground, surf fishing is available at many of the nearby beaches.  The closest  municipal pier for fishing is Seacliff State Beach Pier north on highway one.

Since this is a private campground, I would call for the most current policy.  At the time of our visit pets were accepted on leash and must remain in the RV or tent during the evening.  Some of the camping cabins and lodges are pet friendly.

Overall Impression
Over the years I have wanted to camp here but cost was a factor with us.  We  also camp in a tent trailer so the thought of being shoehorned in between a couple of large RV was not overly appealing  I did a drive by visit back in 2009 during Thanksgiving weekend and based on the sparse number of people I decided to camp there for Thanksgiving weekend 2010.  If you look in my photo section you will see a few of the more private sites in the park.  Would I go here again? Yes I would try to stay during the off season.  Would I go here in the summer, probably not unless it was just for a overnight stop.  If you have stayed at this park please leave a comment so others can get a better overview of your stay here.
During our visit there were multiple group activities and events such as bingo and potlucks to get to know your fellow campers.

The staff at this private campground is top notch and very friendly.  While their price is at a premium, the staff goes out of their way to make your camping experience special. 

Perks such as nightly trash pickup, firewood delivery are a nice bonus Manresa State beach is located about a 1/2 mile down the road.  I personally like Rio Del Mar beach just north of the campground on highway one as it is dog friendly beach and I can find a spot to park, even on the busiest weekends .  If you have additional questions please contact me at, as always comments regarding this campground are always welcome and appreciated.


  1. Wow, I like the way you cover all the bases, from cost to shelter to entertainment, Very nice reviews. I'll bet you have quite a few good camping recipes too. I'd like to invite you to share some of your experience on our site. we are trying to enhance someone else's camping trip through the experience of a fellow camper.

  2. Downgraded our reviews after our attempts to resolve a poor experience with one of the managers there didn't come to fruition. We met some great neighbors from out of the country. We were embarrassed when a KOA employee (later turned out to be one of the managers) interrupted our conversation to complain about our kids using kids' chalk to draw a simple hopscotch design on the pad where the RV sits on top of. He said he didn't want other prospective RVers to think it was a "trashy" campground. We were all stunned. The kids chalk washes off in seconds and certainly wouldn't have bothered anyone who came here for the reportedly "kid friendly" nature of the park. Not to mention no one would see it because an RV would be covering it. With some of the speeding cars and unleashed dogs running around the campground unchallenged, we felt this was not keeping focus on what's important. When we contacted the manager Linda, we found out this employee who confronted us was her husband. She was very defensive and said his recollection of events was totally different. I won't go into all the details, but the 5 independent customers to this event apparently mis-perceived the manager's intrusion. A simple apology to us for making a mistake would have sufficed. As a result, we have no plans to return to this park. When being charged $108 a night for an RV pad, we expect a little better customer service.

  3. This looks like a wonderful place to visit. I'm especially impressed by the cabins and amenities!

  4. We camp here about once a year - its within 10 miles of our house and makes a nice weekend with the kids and their friends. We usually go on the Mother's Day weekend when its a 2 for 1 nite deal. It is crowded that weekend and a bit of a party atmosphere but as a mom taking the weekend off of cooking and cleaning makes for a fun time.

    We usually camp in primitive sites so this is a different type of camping for us.

    We have not had a bad experience in over 8 years of going. We usually get a spot next to the playground (we have kids) and they can play at the bounce pillow without worry. Pool is warm year round and hot tub a fun way to get to know others.

    The reason we don't go more often is the cost.

    Thanks for the review!