San Diego Coastal Campgrounds
Mission Bay & North County
SD Beach RV Parks & Camping
San Diego’s mild climate means camping is available all year round. Winter storms can get windy and rainy, but most campgrounds are still open. From north county where the coastal cliffs overlook the ocean, to downtown bay side marinas w/ RV camping, to camping right on the sand w/ ocean crashing just feet away. Bike paths are common around downtown San Diego, so you can bring your bike or skates.
San Diego has 2 BAYS, both located along Interstate 5: The main bay downtown is called San Diego Bay (one of the deepest on the west coast) and the other a few miles north, is named Mission Bay (a man-made coastal waterway w/ green parks and paved bike trails).
Reservations are required at almost ALL coastal campgrounds, especially around holidays, any 3 day weekends, and all summer long. Tons of tourists flock to Southern California and this is a very popular coastline – with busy little cities and crowded beach towns. Beware: if you are seeking secluded camping – this would not be the place.
San Onofre State Beach Camp Pendleton or Camp Nuclear; I-5 freeway close
in between Oceanside & San Clemente, CA
There are numerous private RV resorts, some quite large, like KOA and GoodSam parks located in and around San Diego county. Most are metro-close and not located on the beach. This list is primarily coastal camping options for the San Diego region.
Camping out in the Santa Cruz mountains can be a magical experience. It is here where some city dweller first get a glimpse of the coastal giant trees. Towering above in several Redwood Parks, the hiking & camping are endless. Backpacking, day hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are all popular activities in this region.
NOTE: There is no off-roading, 4×4, OHV trails in these coastal mountains, so it will be more peaceful. Peace and quiet, remember that?
Since this mountain range is in between the Santa Cruz coastline and THE CITY, San Francisco, and situated right next to the mega-city “Bay Area”, you can always expect a few tourists about and lots of locals out enjoying their backyard (at all times of the year).
Make campground or cabin reservations as far in advance as possible. Summers are the busiest months!
Tent Cabins: Big Basin Cabins can be arranged at Big Basin State Park. Campgrounds can be found at all State Parks and some county parks. Private vacation homes are found nearby; a few small towns on Hwy 9 offer hotel accommodations. On the coastal side of this ‘mountain’ is the small community of Pescadero w/ Butano SP.
California has so much land and sheer beauty, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the vastness, much less the amazing and awe inspiring scenery. Snow skiing, kayaking, horseback, snowmobile, sleigh rides, dinner cruises, beer trains, wine tasting and so much more.
Drive California top to bottom (from Shasta to Baja) and you could be looking at months of prime vacation time. If you have that kinda luxury free time. If not, you might be looking for a local weekend of adventure, cave history or sightseeing. Total Escape has been featuring California tours for decades. We have something perfect just for you!
Being the largest State Park inside California, Anza Borrego has certain advantages. Lots of land to explore, abundant dirt roads, free camping and a very diverse terrain. Located in SoCal, this desert has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiasts, all year round.
Anza Borrego Desert
with hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore
SUV / 2WD / AWD / 4WD / 4×4 / OHV
The Anza Borrego desert, in east San Diego County, is quite large and very easily accessible from Southern California. The park spans mid-elevation, mountain foothills (3000′ elevation) down to dry lake beds near sea level. Large, vast and varied terrain – and full of vegetation in certain spots. Borrego Desert Wildflower blooms attract thousands of visitors between March-May each Spring.
While the majority of the dirt roads inside the ANZA DESERT are passable with a regular passenger car (on most days), some specific areas and routes are indeed considered “too hairy” and may require a 4 wheel drive. Rains change landscape fast in this region, so know before you go.
FLASH FOOD WARNING: Wet weather (anywhere nearby) can make a mild, soft, sandy wash into a wild, flowing river. On occasion desert washes are ‘washed out’ during big rain, often becoming mini rivers that can swallow your vehicle; Road and weather conditions can change suddenly in the California deserts. Wind can also play a huge factor in a selecting a decent camp site. Know the weather report in advance and always be on the watch for big clouds on mountains to the west.
Deep sand washes, steep sandy hillsides, boulder passes, rock yards to boulder hopping, soggy bottoms to straddling ruts, the deserts of SoCal are indeed fun and challenging. Enjoy your public lands responsibly and pick up some litter, stay on the trail and do not target shoot inside park boundaries.
To find these off-roading areas: OHV routes, camp areas and gear heads galore. Or try avoid them. Keep reading.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park itself is NOT AN OFF ROAD PARK. If you want the free-for-all, open, OFF-ROAD areas, with sand dunes and terrain to explore, then the list above should help. Some places can be secluded and private for camping, and only one Jeep may pass by (for the whole weekend).
On the other end of the spectrum, most OHV camping areas are closer to paved routes and busy w/ motorized activity. On weekends, traffic, events and crowds are the norm. ATV, dirt bikes, buggies, quads, jeeps, families, RVs. Often, a big noisy scene.
Seeking to travel to distant places to avoid crowds? then this site can help point to the best destinations. Follow links, browse images, get a decent topo map – and discover private desert camping for free.
other awesome anza trails & canyons
most w/ 2WD access; high clearance vehicle is preferred (and as usual, 4WD may be needed in storm conditions). Not all 4×4 routes will be signed. Signs get washed away in desert areas, so don’t count on them. Have a good hard-copy, topo map handy – just in case.
Wetlands in the desert? Not that rare, water does flow downhill. Some established well-traveled roads may have added gravel to the soggy marsh areas, but many water crossings are bare, and vulnerable to erosion. Try to avoid driving in and around water. DRIVE SLOW through water where route crossing is obvious. Wildlife need these water sources to survive, so don’t muck it up.
Palm canyons and large boulders are numerous in this desert, water sources scarce. Camping near palms can be limited to walking distance. Several palm oasis camps along San Diego County Road S-2, some RV accessible. Even the county-run Hot Springs Park has some palms. Of course, Palm Canyon is the State Park Campground. Visitors Center headquarters in downtown Borrego Springs has the most popular hikes, hotels, restaurants, with abundant campground camping. Very walk-able town. Super hot during summer, triple digits!
back roads: weekends
Weekends are always busier than week days, in general, all over Cali. Keep that in mind when seeking seclusion. Camping in Anza Borrego desert is always best at least 2 miles off the pavement, well away from the traffic on the highway and for those masses seeking the easy camping.
OPEN-CAMPING: camping outside of developed campgrounds, also referred to as ‘primitive camping’ is quite common in Anza Borrego desert. Many Borrego Camping Areas are accessible with regular cars, close to main roads and usually have no bath rooms, or facilities. The further you drive from the pavement, the more likely you are to encounter obstacles like boulders, deep ruts, soft sand and uneven terrain.
step 1. kill your television
step 2. get outside everyday
step 3. sleep overnight, under the stars
For those who may be still trapped in TV-Land, welcome to Total Escape, a dedicated web site all about the “real world” of wilderness and non-fiction, California style.
Before I started my web business people would suggest to me that I need to write a book. So I naturally chose the world wide web. Now decades later, they are still asking the same question. “Why don’t you write a book on this stuff?”
I say “I did, it’s online. On the internet already. Go look.”
Puzzled, they would turn away.
Total Escape was created in the web 1.0 days (1996), so I could easily keep track of my many travels, the awesome destinations, my recommendations, my travel logs, zillons of photographs, camping trips, the back roads, signs, maps, GPS, all of it. I worked my day job doing 3D & then moonlighted starting this small web biz. My biggest draw to the internet format at first was being able to update outdoor info instantly. Secondly, it was the ability to work from anywhere w/ a phone line. (56k anyone?)
No toxic inks, no newspaper. No glossy mag. No waste. Just free digital energy about outdoor destinations, transferred across the cyber waves, just for you the avid Escaper.
Then came the buy-out offers and seasonal magazine ideas from sources in San Diego. By late 2003, none had solidified. Several print magazines did however mention totalescape.com in a few articles, which resulted in some nice traffic spikes. Eternally grateful for the early on-lookers and participants!
Quite personally, I had already had my share of smelly inks, papers & paints in art college. Working in a computer career field, I was fully aware of the web in the early 1990’s. I was ready for the computer age & the internet. Eager in fact! Ready to make that leap from graphics & print concepts over to web windows was all I thought about for years.
I did not want to print anything; waste anything. I wanted my biz to be state of the art, futuristic – so here I am, 20 years later. WOW. Thousands of photos, hundreds of destinations, all local to California. All by itself, Total Escape is a Parks and Recreation Magazine online.
Wanna vacation near a lake this season? So does everyone else in California.
“Mountains” & “lakes” are the top camping destinations sought by most web surfers. Be prepared to search for your ultimate lake side camp. Summertime is prime time at all water sources, so make your reservations, or better yet – find a secluded lake all to yourself. (4×4 may be required).
Lakes area recreation & camping sites in California
Central Coast rural and rugged coastline, south of Big Sur, California. Very touristy destination; Tickets for tours required.
Historical Re-Enactments @ Riley’s Farm A real working apple orchard near Los Angeles; offering living history programs; re-enactments of scenes from the American Revolution, Civil War & Old West. Dinner, holiday shows, restaurant & tavern.
in the Central Coast Winery region of Paso Robles CA
Warmth is in the air and the earth is abundant for harvest. The colors have turned and it is time to celebrate a year of hard work by harvesting the new vintage. This colorful, three-day celebration is a combination of individual events held at over 100 wineries throughout Paso Robles Wine Country. Wineries from the region open their doors for an array of activities, including culinary arts and wine pairings, traditional grape stomping and barrel tastings, to name a few. There is no other time like the harvest in Paso Robles, come enjoy your wine country experience at the Harvest Wine!
The only On-The-Water Fly Fishing Faire in the Western States. 3 ½ days of everything flyfishing. Classes for the complete novice all the way to tuning up the long distance cast for masters. Learn to tie your first fly. Catch your first trout on the fly. Maybe even let them go! On-the-water workshops with area guides from Bishop to Bridgeport, streams to lakes. Also tours, films and events for the non-anglers so the whole family can enjoy.
Off road destination, palm canyon in Baja California Norte
East of San Diego
SW of El Centro / Mexicali
Imagine a palm oasis canyon in a remote area of the Baja desert; Cool springs that feed the lush landscape with huge boulders & cliff diving waterfalls. With each campsite featuring it’s very own custom hot springs tub. This place was a paradise 20 years ago, but is now over-developed w/ large groups, parties and camping families. If you can handle the 30+ miles of unimproved dirt roads, this spot is worth a visit mid-week. Winter months are prime time to visit the desert. Temperatures are moderate, days are pleasant & midweek has minimal tourists. Avoid holiday weekends as crowds a can get rowdy and disrupt the peaceful setting. Summer is triple digit heat for months. This canyon is hard to reach and inside a third world country, but well worth the distant journey.
Plenty of great hiking and petroglyph canyons, cool pools and waterfalls, granite boulders, soothing warm waters & gorgeous desert scenery. Summers are usually roasting out here, so plan your vacation accordingly. Palalpas (built for shade) add to the charm & unique look. Each campsite is unique & has a different lay out. Reservations are recommended.
A family run set of campgrounds within a steep palm canyon. Hot Springs are piped to individual pools at each campsite for a maximum of privacy. A cold creek runs through the canyon as well, feeding the palm grove below & waterfalls way up canyon. A desert oasis set upon the slopes of the Sierra Juarez Mountains in Baja.
getting there is a journey –
Recommended high clearance vehicle, sport utility vehicle, or truck. The last 35 miles of the trip is through rough & rugged sandy roads.