Feathers will fly at this seaside sleepover, and it won’t be from a pillow fight. McGrath State Beach
in Oxnard is home to one of the most amazing bird refuges in California, and its cushy coastal campsites and vast secluded sand dunes make its 295 acres a tranquil respite from urbanity. Pitch a tent at one of the park’s 174 sites, grab your binoculars, and head to where the Santa Clara River meets the Pacific. A half-mile boardwalk through a jungle of cottonwoods, willows, and thick reeds spills out at the bountiful Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve. More than 200 species of birds utilize this vast area for feeding, nesting, resting, and mating. Two of its most common dwellers, least terns and snowy plovers, are endangered species. You’re also likely to spot pelicans, osprey, and black-necked stilts milling about while double-crested cormorants—noted for their deep-water dives—spread their wings for drying, and hawks circle above looking for a quick meal. Migrating merganser ducks were spotted here in June, and rumor has it they may still be around. Just don’t ruffle their feathers with the chicken dance—you may get quacked.
Less than a quarter-mile from the campground lies a beautiful 2-mile beachfront, a sandy sanctuary without the crowds.
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McGrath State Beach is located in Oxnard. Take Hwy. 101 to Seaward Ave. (exit 68). Cross to the west side of the freeway and turn south on Harbor Blvd. Proceed 3 miles to the state park entrance on the right. The hike into the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve begins from the day-use parking lot at the northeast corner of the campground. Camping in McGrath is $35 per night; day use is $10. For reservations, visit reserveamerica.com. Areas of dunes may be closed to protect nesting grounds, but there is always waterfront to enjoy. The campground is dog-friendly. Photo by Dept. of Parks and Recreation.