San Rafael: My First Experience Tent Camping

In July 2017, I had my first real experience with tent camping. I have been once before when I was really young, but I honestly don’t remember it. I honestly wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but it just so happened to be a pleasant surprise.



We were originally supposed to be taking this trip in May 2016, but one of my dogs ended up pregnant, so I got puppies instead.

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Due to the fact that we planned this trip for the first time last year, we already had most of our supplies.

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Tent pad
  • Bug spray
  • Knives
  • Lanterns
  • Air mattress
  • Cooking supplies
  • Chairs
  • Ice chest
  • Etc, Etc, Etc.

We ended up bringing way more than this. Unfortunately, we way over packed for our three-day stay.

If you are concerned about the quality of your sleep while camping, or you just aren’t sure what kind of air mattress you should get, I highly suggest you check out this article from regarding the best air mattresses out there.ย They have done extensive research on the topic, and I am sure that you will find it useful in your preparations!

Honestly, we probably used around half of what we packed. Since it was our first time camping, I guess it’s kind of understandable that we over packed. After all, you don’t want to be sleeping outside and not have everything that you need. In reality, you don’t need all that much.


Our camping spot was $35 a night at China Camp State Park in San Rafael, California. It is around 45 minutes to an hour from San Francisco, depending on traffic.

Setting Up

When we first arrived, we checked in and then walked up to our camping spot. They had clean trash bins that they supplied for campers to haul their luggage to their camping spots, which turned out to be a huge time saver.

Our spot was towards one end of the campground. We had the woods directly behind us and two other spots to either side of us diagonally. No one was super close, so it wasn’t like we were on top of each other which was nice.

As we were trying to set up the tent, it was extremely windy. We seriously had the hardest time getting our tent up due to theย wind.ย It took like 45 minutes, or 35 minutes longer than it usually would have. It almost blew away a couple of times before we finally got it stabilized.

Due to this difficulty, this caused an initial bad taste in our mouths. It was like we weren’t meant to camp. We got the rest of our stuff set up and settled in for the night. It turned out that the rest of the time that we were there was not windy at all, we just had bad luck setting up.



The weather during our time was pretty amazing to my standards. The highs were in the low 70’s and the lows were in the low 50’s. Our sleeping bags were rated at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so we lucked out there.

It was sunny in the days, and clear at night. We were fortunate enough to not have any rain during our first camping trip.

During one night in particular, it got into the 40’s. Our sleeping bags held out fine. It was noticeably colder than the other nights, but we still slept well and were warm enough.



Even though we were camping, I still wanted access to a daily shower. Luckily China Camp has showers for a small fee. It was 50 cents for 5 minutes. The water didn’t have a temperature adjustment, but it was warm and good enough for me.


There were three areas total with toilets, none of which were super close. We probably walked around five three minutes to get to them. This may seem like a lot in the middle of the night, but I will still definitely take it over nothing.

If the bathroom and shower doors were not closed at night, the neighborhood raccoons decided to go inside and have their version of a party.



Speaking of raccoons, there was one in particular that we saw a lot. We were sitting at our picnic table cooking s’mores one night and he just popped right up by our food locker. He was a little wary, but he definitely wasn’t terrified of us by any means. He got a little too close a couple of times, so we made some loud noise and he backed off.



During our time we also saw rabbits and deer.

A sign at the park also warns that you could encounter other various wildlife, such as bobcats and mountain lions.


Even though we brought cooking supplies, we ended up only eating snacks at the campsite and eating all of our meals out. Since we were near San Francisco, we usually left for a while during the day to explore other areas.


View from the tent


The camp had firewood for sale there for $10, so we took advantage of that one night. We built a fire for the sole purpose of cooking s’mores.

Final Thoughts

Overall, after this experience, I know that I would most definitely tent camp again. There was something that was peaceful about sleeping in the total dark and silence outside. It was actually some of the best sleep that I have had in a while. I’m sure that every campsite in every city or town is different, but I will definitely be giving this another try one day.


What are your thoughts on camping? Have you had any really great or really bad experiences with it?



About voyagesofmine

Travels, Photography and Reviews from Knoxville, TN

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29 Comments on “San Rafael: My First Experience Tent Camping”

  1. Congrats on the adorable puppies and kudos to you for getting out there and doing your first tent camping excursion. Keep at it. Some of our best travel memories have been during hikes in the great outdoors. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I’m hoping for both! I have only been in the US and Canada so far, but I’m hoping to venture out to more countries at the end of the year. Thanks so much for your suggestions! I’m sure they’re incredible places.

  2. This was a fun post to read. I grew up camping, and it is such a normal thing, that I forget there are tons of people who have never actually been camping before. Thus, it was great to read an experience from a first time camper.
    I’ve had many experiences camping- both horrible and fantastic. If you thought wind was rough, wait till you experience a downpour of rain and a flooding of your entire campsite. It is not fun at first, but I will never forget that story!
    I hope your next experience is even better!

    1. I have been camping several times in a camper, but this was so different! I liked it so much more. Wow, I can’t imagine my entire campsite flooding! I’m sure though, like you said, it’s a story that you would never forget. Thanks so much for your comment, I am very much looking forward to my next experience ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I’ve only been camping once, and it was with a tour in Mongolia. So although we did set up the tents ourselves, the cooking etc. was done by the staff. This brought back great memories. We actually bought a tent ourselves after that but haven’t had a chance to use it yet! Oh, and that raccoon looks adorable. Guess they’re not that adorable in real life!

    1. Camping in Mongolia would be so interesting! I am definitely looking forward to using our tent some more! As far as the raccoon, it actually was pretty cute haha. I think him just being so unafraid of everything made him seem a little intimidating! Plus I didn’t want him to break into our stuff ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you get to use your tent soon!

  4. When I was much younger. I did some tent camping. The most memorable was waking up early at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. The air was pure and invigorating and the site was beautiful. But I had bad experiences, too, such as getting wet at Girl Scout camp wjen my sleeping bag stuck out of the tent a little during a rain shower.
    I can’t camp anymore – I’m too old and have back problems. However, I enjoyed reading about your first experience camping! I hope you have many opportunities to camp – it’s a cheap and fun way of being part of nature.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I would love to visit the Garden of the Gods one day. I have yet to experience camping in the rain, but I am sure that I will one day! I absolutely loved being out in the quiet of nature.

  5. I am so not an outdoorsy person, and I dread camping, though I did it a few times as a kid. Your experience sounds excellent, however, and I sort of (SORT of) envy it. I’m from the SF Bay Area so I know San Rafael well. Seems like an odd camping spot! Also loved the puppy slide show. Bravo!

    1. It was an interesting camping spot, especially being so close to everything. We wanted to camp in the southwest US originally, but due to the time of year, we felt it best to stick to camping in the northwest. It was pretty fun! I’d definitely do it again ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Love camping…with my family, Boy Scouts, Campfire and Cub Scouts…all over the eastern United States including during the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC. Nothing beats hiking, sitting around a campfire, cooking bacon & eggs, hot dogs or s’mores. Lots of stories, including sleeping in the Smoky Mountains amongst the black bears who raided the trash cans every night and smashed open your cooler if you didn’t suspend it with a rope from a tall tree.

    Once two young men decided to stick their cooler in their tent under their cot and were awakened when a black bear came in the tent after the cooler. One guy gave the bear a kick, broke his foot, the bear raised up, tore the tent out of the ground, and woke the entire campground with the screaming, bear growling, and the tent dancing its way right through our camp site. Fortunately, nobody got hurt, including the bear.

    Trust Calif. to charge you $35 a night and then charge you for a shower…a timer maybe to conserve water, but really now…what cheapskates!

    1. Iโ€™ve never actually seen a bear in person, so I canโ€™t imagine! I have definitely always heard to never keep any food inside of your tent, just in case something happens like what happened to those two men! That story alone will make me be extra careful with food next time.

      Even though we only made sโ€™mores, I must say there was definitely something satisfying about cooking outside.

      Thanks for your comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I think you should. I love camping on a tent and the RV. The problem with the RV is that sometimes you have so much that it doesnโ€™t feel like real camping. I almost feel detached to nature and camping itself in an RV sometimes. I try to go boondocking as much as I can so I can get a true feeling of camping and nature. Happy travels ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I am planning to go camping for the first time this weekend. I really hope I have as nice a time as you did. I have been looking forward to it for a while. Thank you for the post ๐Ÿ˜‰

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