Nothing channels the laid-back vibe of summertime more than heading into the wilderness to set up camp. S’mores by the fire, clear stars up above and the amazing sound of total quiet. Who’s ready to go off-grid and channel their inner wild child? We’ve rounded-up the best local campsites that offer something for every type of camper: ocean views, cozy cabins, lakes, swimming pools and so much more. Scroll through our top picks to plan your next adventure.
Kumeyaay Lake Campground
Located in Mission Trails Regional Park, along with some of our favorite hiking trails, Kumeyaay Lake Campground is open for camping on Friday and Saturday nights. Make a reservation for one of the 46 campsites for $24/night. Sites are outfitted with a concrete fire ring, drive-in parking, picnic table and mulch-covered tent area. The Park boasts 60 miles of hiking trails, shore fishing, boating and kayaking on Lake Murray, prime birdwatching at Old Mission Dam and more.
Insider Dirt: July 8th and July 22nd at 8:30 a.m., there's a 'Summer in Nature' free guided nature walk you can wake up to. Top tip: bring an umbrella or canopy for shade during the daytime.
You can even take a virtual tour of the campground here!
Two Father Junipero Serra Trail
San Diego, Ca 92119
If you're not the outdoor camping type but you still want the experience, Santee Lakes is your place. With ten cabins that offer the comforts of home only a short drive from the city, Santee Lakes may be the perfect introduction for families who are newbies at the camping experience. You’ll find fully equipped kitchens, air conditioning and even WiFi in all cabins. Floating cabins offer a beautiful deck and your own paddle boat to use whenever you please.
There are more than 100 RV spots along the lakes to choose from. Camping at Santee Lakes includes many perks such as a pool and a clubhouse with weekly potlucks, coffee and donuts and family nights. Cabin reservations for weekends go fast.
9310 Fanita Pkwy.
Santee, Ca 92117
Campland on the Bay
Is summer all about reuniting lots of friends with all the kids running around together? Campland on the Bay is a campground teeming with fun and excitement for all ages to enjoy. Complete with a two heated pools, a full calendar of scheduled events ranging from bingo to dodge ball, to sand castle contests, you won't hear kids whining, "Mom, I'm bored" here. Rent any kind of equipment you can imagine hourly or for the day from the marina: paddle boards, kayaks, surrey bikes and wave runners are just a few choices. There is a skate park, horseshoe pit and even an ice cream shop on site to delight all ages. At night, the festive entertainment continues with live music, dancing and light parades on the weekends. Prices range widely in the summer from $55/night for tent camping to $432 for a beachfront RV site.
Insider Dirt: Reserve a specific site or multiple sites together for an additional $25 fee.
2211 Pacific Beach Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92109
Did you know Lake Poway offers family campouts in the summer and spring for novice campers? Usually closed to the public at dusk, Lake Poway is taking reservations for camping along the lake’s shore for a few weekends in July and August that include such luxuries as a guided night hike, campfire with s’mores, a magic show and a pancake breakfast. Dust off your tent and pull out the sleeping bags. This is a great way to introduce kids to fishing, easy hiking and camping all within a short drive from home. Upcoming family camp out dates: July 8-9, July 22-23 and Aug. 5-6.
Insider dirt: Bring along dinner supplies to BBQ and a grill and charcoal.
San Elijo State Beach Campground
Summer wouldn’t be complete without lots of beach time for many of us San Diegans. If your family’s ideal fun includes boogie boarding, surfing, or biking, a campsite at San Elijo may be the perfect way to start or end your summer fun. This cliffside campground offers 162 tent and RV and sites, each with a picnic table and a fire pit. Some campsites offer breathtaking views of the sunset and the coastline. Parents need not worry about rip currents here. San Elijo is a great family beach with its mellow breaks and shallow water near the shore. Amenities such as the hot showers on site, as well as a taco shop, market and donut shop across the street are sure to keep all your family smiling.
Insider Dirt: As you can imagine, with ocean views and the coast at your doorstep, camping here fills up early. Make reservations. Walk-ups are not feasible during summer.
The Ranch at Bandy Canyon
Does your family love the idea of camping, but maybe the idea of “roughing” it in the great outdoors doesn’t sound so appealing? The Ranch at Bandy Canyon offers the perfect solution. Located in the heart of San Pasqual Valley, this rustic retreat allows you to enjoy all the comforts of home, yet be completely surrounded by nature. The Ranch offers everything from horseback trail rides to swimming, hiking, biking and more. And with cozy cabins and local wineries right outside your door, what are you waiting for?
Insider Dirt: As for meals, since there is no on-site restaurant, you’ll want to bring plenty of snacks, drinks and easy-to-make meals that don’t require a stove. There’s a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker in your cabin, as well as BBQ grills available near the pool for anyone to use. The office can also coordinate dinner delivery from a local restaurant or guide you in the right direction if you’d like to dine out.
The Ranch at Bandy Canyon
16251 Bandy Canyon Rd.
Escondido, Ca 92025
South Carlsbad State Beach Campgrounds
This is a beautiful beachside spot for camping with views of the ocean on the west side. Each large site offers a fire pit with a grill grate and a picnic table. There is a campground store where you can pick up just about anything you need: RV supplies, boogie boards, firewood and fishing gear. Don't miss the shaved ice stand on site. For more beach campsites in San Diego click here.
Insider Dirt: All wood burning fires are prohibited where established fire rings are not provided. Propane fire pits or butane burners are permitted.
Roar and Snore at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Get a VIP tour of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! Stay overnight and wake up to grazing gazelles and still sleeping rhinos. The Roar and Snore Safari at the Safari Park offers campers an African safari without ever leaving San Diego. The campground overlooks the Park's 50-acre savanna and gets you up close and personal with the free roaming animals. It's the kind of camping that requires cost of admission, but we think it's worth it!
Insider Dirt: There are 44 comfy tents around the campground. Choose from classic (safari themed decor) to premier (fully equipped with beds and heaters). Themed camp-outs from adults only to all ages are offered Friday through Monday. The family night is best suited for families with children 3 and includes family-friendly camp activities and an after-hour look at the animals.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Does summer mean fresh air, hiking and getting off the beaten path for your family? Just a 45-minute drive from San Diego, Cuyamaca State Park with Green Valley Falls and Paso Picacho Campgrounds offers an easy getaway from the rush of city life. The campgrounds offer about 80 large tent and RV sites, each with a picnic table and a fire ring and water spigot (no hookups available). Several nice, basic cabins with wooden bunk beds and a wood-burning stove offer flexibility to visitors. Restrooms with flush toilets and pay showers are available in the campground. We advise you to bring a shade structure to help keep cool and come well-equipped. There is no store, only firewood and ice is for sale from camp hosts. This is car camping at its best for families with small children. With trailheads nearby, explore the wooded areas that offer lots easy day hikes. Sorry, no dogs or horses on trails. Or head in the car to Lake Cuyamaca which is only a 5-minute drive, or 20 minutes down the road to Julian for some apple pie.
Insider Dirt: The locale's website advises: "the two family camps, Paso Picacho and Green Valley, are open and on the reservation system spring through fall. Green Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet and has a creek which runs through the middle of the campground. The day use area offers sets of cascades and shallow pools, great for water play on hot days."
Mount Laguna is only an hour drive east from downtown San Diego, but with a 6,000-ft elevation, you'll feel like you're a world away. If you have little ones who love biking, this is the spot for you. It’s filled with trails for all skill levels, but has plenty for beginner mountain bikers. Be sure to bring your binoculars and camera because the area is a mecca for bird watching and home to many unique butterflies.The area offers lots of different campground options, including spots for tents, RVs and group sites.
Insider Dirt: If you need a break from baked beans and roasted marshmallows, visit local eatery, Pine House Cafe and Tavern. The reliable menu, craft beer and friendly service make it the perfect stop after a day of hiking and biking!
Palomar Mountain State Park
One of the few places in Southern California with a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere, the park is filled with large pine, fir and cedar trees. You can camp, picnic and hone your fishing skills by luring trout out of Doane Pond. Be sure to bring your hiking gear. There are a number of trails that lead to amazing views of both the ocean and the desert. Don't forget to visit Palomar Observatory located on the east side of the mountain. Leave Fido at home; dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed on the trails. Reservations are highly recommended for camping during peak season. Day use fees are $8 per vehicle. Speaking of vehicles, top off your gas tank before getting there since there are no gas stations on the mountain.
Insider Dirt: If star gazing is high on your list of activities at Palomar Mountain, consider attending an Explore the Stars Party. Campers and day use visitors are welcome to use high powered telescopes with local astronomers on these special event nights offered once a month in the spring, summer and fall.
Where’s your favorite place to set up camp near San Diego? Tell us in the comments!
–– Cherie Gough and Beth Shea