Warm autumn weather means there’s still plenty of time to book your spot at a campsite for the ultimate adventure. Nothing beats heading into the wild for a camping trip to create memories that will last a lifetime. We’re showing you where in the wilderness to cozy up by the campfire and pitch a tent at our favorite family-friendly campsites in and near San Diego. Read on for the best spots to cook up some s’mores in the great outdoors.
Lake Poway Fall Camping
New to camping but want to see what sleeping under the stars in nature is all about? Then don't miss the Lake Poway Fall Camping series, where you'll get to bask in outdoor fun with other families. Set up your tent and explore the park by hiking the many trails, fishing at the lake, cruising the lake on a motorboat, or relaxing by your campsite. Fishing permits and boat rentals are not included, but may be purchased at an additional cost. Cost is $25 per car.
Date: Sept. 13th & 14th; 1 p.m. Fri. to 10 a.m. Sat.
14644 Lake Poway Rd.
Poway, CA 92064
El Capitan Canyon
Camping is made easy in an adventure yurt. Deer, birds, trees and nature surround your clan at this camp area with plenty to do. Take a 30-minute hike to the beach or a morning walk to feed the llamas and goats. You'll find a camp store and restaurant full of amenities. Further, truly glamp it up by ordering a bbq kit delivered right to your campsite. Then, fire up the grill and eat up. This yurt is located about four to four-and-a-half hours just north of Santa Barbara and it features one queen bed and one twin day bed with a twin trundle, which can accommodate a family of 4 comfortably. Electricity inside the yurt and bathhouse amenities are located only steps away. Also, included are a private picnic table and fire pit with a removable grill for both grill dining and a cozy campfire. Cost is: $175 to $225
11560 Calle Real
Santa Barbara, CA
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 pedal boat to use whenever you please.
There are more than 100 RV camping spots along the lakes to choose from. Camping at Santee Lakes includes many perks such as a pool and a clubhouse. There are also 7 playgrounds for kids including a Boulder Adventure Course, a Sprayground, a Tot Lot, a Mega Tower and a special playground for kids with disabilities.
The Sprayground is open during Park Hours and is $2 on weekdays and $3 on weekends for a wristband to play the entire day! Be sure to wear sun protection at all times. Swim footwear is recommended.
Note: 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 swimming 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 $59/night for tent camping to $388 for a beachfront RV site.
2211 Pacific Beach Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
William Heise County Park
If you're enjoying a day in Julian, why not extend your trip and go camping at William Heise County Park, just a five-minute drive from downtown Julian? You'll find 8 miles of beautiful trails for hiking, horseback riding or biking. Set up camp in one of the 14 wilderness cabins that have propane fireplaces, lighting, table and chairs and bunk beds. If you'd rather rough it, there are also 42 tent sites.
Insider Dirt: Book a cabin long before your intended stay, as they sell out months in advance. Bring your own bedding/sleeping bags and blankets because mattresses and linens are not included on the wooden bed frames in the cabins.
4945 Heise Park Rd.
Julian, CA 92036
Click here to watch a video on this serene camping locale.
San Elijo State Beach Campground
Our list wouldn’t be complete without including a beautiful beach campsite in San Diego. If your family’s ideal fun includes boogie boarding, surfing, or biking, a campsite at San Elijo provides the perfect backdrop. This cliffside campground offers tent and RV 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 showers on site, a camp store and family programming are sure to make you all happy campers.
Insider Dirt: As you can imagine, with ocean views and the coast at your doorstep, camping here fills up––so be sure to make reservations.
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 kitchenette 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 another gorgeous 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. Our fave part: the stairway that leads straight to the beach! 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 sleepy 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's a range of comfy tents: Classic, Vista and Premium you may choose from. All sleepovers include camp activities, an after-hours look at the wild life of the Park's animals, guided walks, a campfire program, dinner, an evening snack, breakfast and a Park souvenir.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Does fall mean fresh air, hiking and getting off the beaten path with 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.
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.
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 $10 per vehicle. Speaking of vehicles, top off your gas tank before getting there since there are no gas stations on the mountain.
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: 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
–– Cherie Gough, Nikki Walsh & Beth Shea