Camping in a perpetually sunny and mild climate? Say no more! San Diego’s combination of stunning sea and land is more than enough reason to plan a camping trip. Proximity to some of the best U.S. national parks, like Joshua Tree and Channel Islands, is just the cherry on top. “America’s Finest City” boasts not only world-renowned beauty but also historically rich neighborhoods, epic whale-watching tours, and a galaxy of tide pools to explore. Here are your questions answered for a camping trip near San Diego, California.
What’s the best time of year to go camping in San Diego?
San Diego’s climate is sublime, with year-round temperatures that hover between 50° and 80°. The city offers some of the mildest temperatures in the contiguous United States. Precipitation is highest from November to March, although the city doesn’t typically see more than two inches of rainfall, unless it’s an El Niño year. May through September is the best time to camp with no rain and mild weather. Practically perfection!
What should I pack for camping near San Diego?
Here are a few important things to bring along when you’re camping near San Diego.
- Bug spray
- Headlamps or flashlights
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Waterproof matches
- Biodegradable wet wipes
- Lip balm with SPF
Camping on the Beach
Camping on a San Diego beach is one of the most fun ways to spend a night in the outdoors around the city. Bring along a quick-dry towel and foldable camp chair for snoozing in the sand.
While San Diego itself enjoys a beautiful Mediterranean climate, the deserts nearby are dry and chafing. Remember your lip balm and lotion if you’re going to be pitching your tent in places like Joshua Tree.
What are the top outdoor activities near San Diego?
San Diego’s mild climate and average of 146 sunny days a year make it the perfect place to camp and explore one of America’s best-weather cities. Catching waves in the Pacific and kayaking through sea caves are just a few of the unique outdoor activities that San Diego offers. Here are some of the top outdoor activities to enjoy when camping near San Diego!
Whether you’re looking for ocean views on the Torrey Pines Loop Trail or chasing waterfalls at Los Peñasquitos Canyon, San Diego’s metropolitan area has over 120 hiking trails to uncover.
Pacific Beach is the best area in town if you’re a novice surfer, as the waves here are gentle. If you’re an expert or just want to see the best of the best take the plunge, head to La Jolla Windansea beach for some of the most daring waves in San Diego.
The La Jolla sea caves are the most exciting kayaking destination in San Diego. Hook up with a guide who can take you inside the seven caves, through craggy rock formations and emerald waters. If you’re lucky, a friendly sea lion might float by to say hello.
Different whales are migrating past San Diego’s shores in different seasons, giving you the chance to see them year-round. The best months to see whales are typically between December and March, during the gray whale migration, although blue whales are actively swimming off the coast from May to August. Book an ethical whale-watching tour with a reputable company and see these gentle giants for yourself.
San Diego is known for its tide pools and their microscopic, and not so micro, biodiversity. If you’re a nature lover, no trip to America’s Finest City is complete without taking a look inside these little biospheres. Starfish, anemones, barnacles, crabs, mussels, and dozens of other creatures make their homes inside these rocky outcroppings.
What major sights should I see in San Diego?
America’s Finest City has no shortage of amazing things to see and do. Thousands of acres of botanical wonders, historic missions, and lazy giant octopi wait for you to explore. Here are some of the best sights to add to your list on a camping trip near San Diego.
Balboa Park is San Diego’s botanical gem. Over 1,200 acres of green space house museums, historic landmarks, hiking trails, and alluring gardens. Rising above the palms is the historic centerpiece and icon of Balboa Park, the California Tower, originally constructed for the 1915 California-Panama Exhibition. Explore the myriad gardens like the Kate O. Cactus Garden, Japanese Friendship Garden, and Palm Canyon.
Possibly the world’s most famous zoo, the San Diego Zoo sees millions of visitors a year and is touted as the most-visited zoo in America. With over 4,000 animals to see, visitors can wander through the Lost Forest and Elephant Odyssey, or go on safari. The zoo had humble beginnings when many exotic animals were left after the 1915 California-Panama Exhibition.
Once the largest aircraft carrier of its kind, the USS Midway saw battle in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. Today you can explore the hangars with important aircraft, take a peek at the flight deck, and see what it's like to fly a fighter jet in the flight simulator.
Peer through the towering kelp forest and search for the Giant Pacific Octopus peeking out from its hiding place. The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a beautiful ode to the ocean and the research that continues to find solutions to the devastating impacts humans have had on it.
Calling all Lego lovers and roller coaster aficionados! Legoland is an amusement park, aquarium, and water park wrapped into one and has a little something for everyone, even the adults.
Home of the San Diego Padres MLB team, Petco Park is an incredible place to spend a summer evening, experiencing America’s favorite pastime with a hot dog in hand.
Housing paintings by famous artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse, as well as frequent special exhibitions, the San Diego Museum of Art is the best place in the city to seek artistic inspiration. Located within Balboa Park, this is a great addition to your trip.
As the first mission in California, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala is an important historic landmark for the city of San Diego. The mission has survived attacks by the Kumeyaay people and earthquakes. It still stands today, over 250 years old and an important reminder of California's past.
Are there any national parks or state parks near San Diego?
San Diego is a national park lover's dream destination. Only a few hours from some of the greats like Joshua Tree and Channel Islands and a half hour away from oceanic marvels like Torrey Pines, here are the best national and state parks to bear witness to in San Diego.
Named for Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to step foot in California, Cabrillo National Monument tells the story of the beginnings of modern day San Diego while showcasing its stunning natural environment. The New Point Loma Lighthouse is a particularly scenic place to stare out into the indigo abyss of the Pacific. Explore the tidepools at low tide for a kaleidoscope of creatures.
The first Europeans who sailed along San Diego’s coast noticed a unique feature along one stretch of the cliffs, a singular grove of pine trees. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve was founded in 1899 and named for the species of pine tree that the explorers saw those hundreds of years ago. Come for craggy, coastal cliffs but stay to sit beneath the historic pine grove.
(2 hours, 45 minutes)
Welcome to the desert! Joshua Tree National Park offers the intrepid camper throngs of natural wonders to uncover. From the prickly Joshua trees themselves to gold mines and super blooms, this is one of the best places near San Diego to see distinctive landscapes. This park's unique terrain and climate means that there is a whole new can of worms in terms of preparedness. Watch for flash flooding, sun stroke, decrepit mines, and dangerous animals like rattlesnakes.
(3 hours, 20 minutes)
Located on a string of islands just off the coast of California, the Channel Islands have been nicknamed the “Galapagos of North America'' for their unparalleled biodiversity. Enjoy the hilltop lighthouses and natural sea caves year-round. You’re going to need your binoculars to catch animals from gray whales to pods of dolphins!
Where are the best places to eat near San Diego?
The origin of California-style pizza and well-known for its vibrant local wine scene and Mexican influence, San Diego is a foodie mecca in southern California. Year-round warm temperatures mean that fresh produce is bountiful and local ingredients are particularly tasty. Here are some of the best places to eat in San Diego.
With a pastificio, or pasta factory, on site at Cesarina, you know their traditional Italian cuisine is bound to be a taste of the country. Indulge in favorites like the Carpaccio Cesarina and Cavatelli alla Milanese with a glass of Italian wine to cap it off. They also offer myriad vegan and vegetarian options.
Herb & Wood
Herb & Wood is the perfect restaurant for an elegant night on the town. Highlighting San Diego’s Greek-like climate through Mediterranean inspiration and humble ingredients, Herb & Wood focuses on sustainability while providing a unique atmosphere to share a meal. Try their Australian wagyu strip for a sumptuous finale to your camping trip.
Ironside Fish & Oyster
Nestled in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego, Ironside Fish & Oyster centers on their delightfully fresh raw bar featuring rockfish ceviche and oysters on the half shell, while also offering locally caught specials like San Diego rock crab.
The Crack Shack offers up addictively delicious fried chicken sandwiches, fresh made biscuits, and schmaltz fries. This is the perfect place to hang out after a night of over-indulging in San Diego’s craft beer scene.
Named for the peculiar word associated with a novice surfer who pesters seasoned surfers, Hodad’s is one of the best burger joints in San Diego. A humble fast food shack, Hodad’s serves up basic American classics done perfectly. Grab a double cheeseburger, some onion rings, and their in-house Baja lager.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
This seafood taco joint is one of San Diego’s best to indulge in fresh ceviche and grilled fish and shrimp tacos. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood might seem simple but their flavors are refreshingly intricate.
Salud Tacos is a vibrant taco joint dedicated to Chicano heritage and cuisine. Try the Chicali Tacos, an ode to carne asada, or the Califas, meat and fries sandwiched in a tortilla with pico, guac, and sour cream.
What are some camping mistakes to avoid when camping near San Diego?
Camping in San Diego’s beautiful wilderness and the national parks nearby is one of the best outdoor experiences you can have in California. Keep the land pristine and make sure you’re safe with these mistakes to avoid when making nature your home near San Diego.
Not Following Fire Rules
Everyone is familiar with California wildfires and their ferocity, wiping entire cities off the map. Wildfire season in southern California typically ramps up from June to November, but a fire can spring up at any time. Unfortunately, many of these fires are caused by humans who didn’t take proper fire safety precautions. Avoid this crucial mistake by following signage in the national parks and adhering to campfire rules.
Forgetting to Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is an important practice to follow, especially when camping or backpacking in fragile environments like the desert. Pack out any and all trash, including things like banana peels or apple cores and especially toilet paper.
Ignoring Mountain Lion Safety
Mountain lion safety is important in the wilderness around San Diego. Keep small children close, and if you ever run into a mountain lion, never run and try to appear as large as you can. More often than not, mountain lions are more afraid of you than you are of them, and their reclusive nature means most hikers and campers never see them. Attacks, although rare, do occur.
Not Bringing Enough Water
San Diego has seen an increasing number of years with low water levels, making natural water sources difficult or impossible to find while hiking and camping in the backcountry. Always make sure to bring extra water with you on a hike. A good rule of thumb is a half liter of water for every hour of hiking, although you could need more if it’s a sweltering day. Salt sticks, Gatorade powder, or a Liquid IV are all great electrolyte replacers for hot summer days when you’ll be sweating.
What wild animals might I encounter while camping in San Diego?
By land and by sea, San Diego’s wildlife is abundant and diverse. Whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins, sharks, California’s state fish garibaldi, and octopus are all common sea dwelling creatures in the waters just offshore. Mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes, rabbits, foxes, and lizards are just a few of the land dwelling animals you might encounter while camping near San Diego.
As mentioned, whales migrate along San Diego's coast for most of the year and you can even see their spouts from the beach at times. There are several places with panoramic views over the Pacific Ocean that offer an even better chance to see them from afar. The Scripps Aquarium is one such place as it is perched on a bluff overlooking the sea. Bring the binoculars and keep an eye out.
Are there RV campsites near San Diego?
There are plenty of RV friendly campgrounds that make camping in San Diego not only a joy, but a breeze. From amenities like private cabanas, hot tubs, an arcade, bike rentals, and WiFi make RV camping in San Diego feel like a luxury resort. Some of the best places to set down roots are the Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay and Paradise by the Sea Beach RV Resort.