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The 10 Best Campsites Within an Hour of San Diego

Grab your tent, pack a cooler, and head outdoors to commue with nature and sleep under the stars
San Diego campground and campsite at Mount Laguna in East County
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

It’s an oft-heard boast among Californians: In SoCal, you can, if you’re so inclined, visit the beach, the mountains, and the desert in a single day. But be honest—when was the last time you took advantage of the ecological diversity the San Diego area has to offer? 

If it’s time to “touch grass,” as the people living inside our phones instruct, the San Diego area offers an awe-inspiring range of environments for REI Co-op members and bedroom rotters alike, with options for tent, cabin, and RV camping. Add “sleeping under the stars” to your summer bucket list—here are 10 of the best campsites within an hour of San Diego.

Campground at South Carlsbad State Beach featuring a truck with a tent in the back
Courtesy of California State Parks

Grab Your Gear

Before deciding to brave the wilderness, be sure you have more than just a six-pack and a bundle of firewood from the grocery store. Camping takes some effort and planning, and we don’t need you pulling a Revenant on government land.

Your personal camping checklist should include items for sleeping, whether that includes a tent, blankets, camping pillows, sleeping bags, or a hammock. Always overestimate how cold it will get at night. 

Food, water, and cooking supplies can make or break your trip. Ensure you have enough for the amount of time you intend to be out, and secure it safely if you’re staying in an area with bears and other bold wildlife. If you plan on hunting or fishing for your dinner, bring an extra can of corned beef hash just in case it isn’t your luckiest day. 

Lamps, lanterns, and flashlights will ease your eyestrain when you make your way from the dying campfire to bed and can save you from a potential injury.

San Diego campground and campsite  at Mount Laguna in East County
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Where to Go Camping in San Diego

Sweetwater Summit Regional Park

With a dual view of the Bonita Golf Course and the Sweetwater Reservoir, this campsite is perched high up, near the red-tailed hawks that circle the nearby summit. The trail on this mountain, affectionately nicknamed Cardiac Hill, offers a switchback inhabited primarily by marathon trainers and local horseback riders. An added bonus is the Klimt-esque blanket of flowers draping the sides of the hills nearby.

Go For: Friendly horses & swooping birds of prey
Time From Downtown San Diego: 20 minutes
Address: 3218 Summit Meadows Road, Bonita
Reserve Your Campsite

San Diego campground and campsite at Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado, California featuring birds
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Silver Strand State Beach

Panoramic views of San Diego Bay? Yes, please! Coronado, a consistently crowd-pleasing beach, has its prime public campground set on the Strand, giving campers a chance to watch fishing boats and Navy ships pass in the distance. Across the street from the campsites is the marsh within the bay, which also serves as a nature refuge and a great early morning jog for those who need to get a run in. The paved camping spots are an added benefit for those with trailers and RVs—no need to engage that four-wheel drive when parking your rig.

Go For: Ghostly egrets & Top Gun vibes
Time From Downtown San Diego: 20 minutes
Address: 5000 CA-75, Coronado
Reserve Your Campsite

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

Our resident supercampground, Santee Lakes hosts hundreds of full hook-up sites, as well as a 190-acre park surrounding the lake. While closer akin to a camp resort, Santee Lakes still offers a fair amount of disconnect from everyday life, as well as privacy from the hundreds of others on the campgrounds with mature trees providing natural barriers and shade for individual spots. The spaciousness also makes it easy to have as many or as few people in your camping party as you please.

Go For: The middle-class-fancy experience
Time From Downtown San Diego: 25 minutes
Address: 9310 Fanita Parkway, Santee
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San Diego campground and campsite  at San Elijo State Beach on the cliffs in Cardiff
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

San Elijo State Beach

A crowd favorite across North County, this campground sits perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Get the real beach bum experience with an early morning surf or a dinner cooked over the fire with a sunset backdrop. It’s no surprise San Elijo is completely booked for months in advance, but plan accordingly.

Go For: A weekend living like Moondoggie
Time From Downtown San Diego: 30 minutes
Address: 2324 South Coast Highway 101, Cardiff
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South Carlsbad State Beach

The coastline in Carlsbad is already flush with activities, which makes this campground ideal for all your beach trip hobbies. A convenience store is on the grounds, vending often-forgotten items. Prepare to spend a full weekend surfing, swimming, even geocaching (new hobby to add to my list?) not too far out of town.

Go For: Tiring the kids out before bedtime
Time From Downtown San Diego: 35 minutes
Address: 7201 Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad
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San Diego campground and campsite  at Kumeyaay Lake Campground near Mission Trails Regional Park
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Kumeyaay Lake Campground

Any hiker in San Diego will tell you the best treks are found at Mission Trails, so why not camp there, too? Anyone could get lost on these trails by spending a weekend working towards the park’s Five Peak Challenge (but you actually won’t get lost, since there is still cell service out there). Only Friday and Saturdays are open for overnight camping.

Go For: Leg day, or rather leg weekend
Time From Downtown San Diego: 25 minutes
Address: 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, Mission Trails
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Lake Jennings

Fishing in San Diego, while dominated by the pier scene and excursions to Baja, is not limited to just the ocean. A rare find in this neck of the woods, the expansive Lake Jennings is regularly stocked with an abundance of trout and catfish, depending on the season. It makes for a gorgeous chance to have your Walden moment.

Go For: The catch of the day & Hudson River School–level scenery
Time From Downtown San Diego: 35 minutes
Address: 10108 Bass Road, Lakeside
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Lake Cuyamaca and Cuyamaca Ranho State Park
Courtesy of Lake Cuyamaca

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

To many locals, a trip here may feel like a repeat of an either spectacular or dreadful 6th grade camping experience, depending on how much you were picked on as a child. But you don’t need to worry about someone putting bugs in your bunk this go-around at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Take a trip around Lake Cuyamaca and take in the scenery to distract yourself from how much the toilet in your reserved cabin looks like the one you got swirlied in 30 years ago.

Go For: Healing your inner child
Time From Downtown San Diego: 50 minutes
Address: 14592–14674 CA-79, Julian
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Potrero County Park

Less than 10 miles away from Tecate lies an oak grove nestled at the base of Potrero Peak. This campsite offers more solitude than other parks, with less camper foot traffic. Potrero is meant for relaxing and indulging in a total lack of access to Instagram notifications. Though there are a few hikes available in the area, this campsite is golden for those who are in it to just sit outside and photosynthesize. 

Go For: Monastic peace & ancient trees
Time From Downtown San Diego: 50 minutes
Address: 24800 Potrero Park Drive, Potrero
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Laguna Campground

This classic camp setup in the Cleveland National Forest is ideal for those who want to break in their new hiking shoes—or at least say they did. Easy access to the Pacific Crest Trail will give you a better reason to say you’re “outdoorsy” on your dating profiles. If you’re not all too committed to hoofing it up some mountains for hours, try scaling just one hill up to the San Diego State University Observatory for one of their Saturday star parties.

Go For: Intensive cardio & the chance to flex your astronomy knowledge
Time From Downtown San Diego: 60 minutes
Address: Los Huecos Road, Mount Laguna
Reserve Your Campsite

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