15 Best Places to Go Camping Near San Diego (By a Local)
Camping is such a unique and wonderful way to experience a place! Often campgrounds are in prime locations for access to the best hiking, views, and sites in natural areas. Plus, there’s something so fulfilling about eating outside around a campfire, stargazing before bed, and waking up to nature sounds.
I’m a San Diego local and, to help you find the best San Diego area campsites, I rounded up my 15 favorite places for beachside, mountainous, and desert camping near San Diego. So all that’s left to do is pick your favorite and pack your camping gear!
Table of Contents
- 15 Best Places to Go Camping Near San Diego
- San Elijo State Beach Campground
- South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
- Bluff Campground, San Onofre State Beach
- Bow Willow Campground, Anza Borrego
- Paso Picacho Campground, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Idyllwild Campground, Mount San Jacinto
- Font’s Point Wash Dispersed Camping, Anza Borrego
- Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree
- Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park
- Doane Valley Campground, Palomar Mountain State Park
- William Heise Campground, Julian
- Serrano Campground, Big Bear Lake
- Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
- Sycamore Canyon Campground, Point Mugu State Park
- New Camp, Salton Sea State Recreation Area
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15 Best Places to Go Camping Near San Diego
San Elijo State Beach Campground
No need to compromise when you’re in the ideal location with stunning ocean views, and tons of amenities.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 30 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online, 6 months in advance | Amenities: Flush toilets, hot showers (paid), camp store, restaurant, amphitheater, RV hookups, pet friendly, potable water, picnic table, fire ring, and grill.
Why Camp Here: San Elijo State Beach Campground is heaven on earth for those who love falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing. One-third of the 26 bluff-top campsites offer unobstructed ocean views of the 2-mile stretch of coastline.
This campground is a favorite among families, surfers, vanlifers, and RV campers alike and it books up fast, so be sure to make your reservation well in advance!
👉 This is a great campground if you’re also hoping to visit San Diego’s attractions, such as the San Diego Zoo and Downtown San Diego. Check out other fun things to do in San Diego.
South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
Epic views and access to a secluded beach make this campground a family favorite.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 35 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online, 6 months in advance | Amenities: RV hookups, showers, flush toilets, wheelchair accessible, camp store, potable water, dogs allowed
Why Camp Here: My family used to camp at South Carlsbad State Beach each year and I remember yearning for that summer week we would spend at the beachside campground. The sites sit perched atop the cliffs that tower over the secluded beach where my friends and I would swim, surf, and boogie board in the waves. Nothing beats waking up with those spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
South Carlsbad is a perfect spot to camp in groups or with family because it’s near enough to town to go grab dinner or necessities but also private enough to feel like you’re away from the bustle.
Before you go, be sure to bookmark Jess’s epic list of fun things to do and see in Carlsbad.
👉 Pro Tip: Carlsbad is also one of my picks for the best areas of San Diego to to stay in.
Bluff Campground, San Onofre State Beach
Wake up steps from the most secluded beach south of Los Angeles.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online, 6 months in advance | Amenities: vault toilets, potable water, RV dump station, cold outdoor showers
Why Camp Here: San Onofre State Beach comprises 3,000 acres of land and 3.5 miles of undeveloped beach, making it one of the least crowded beaches south of Los Angeles (and one of my favorite of the many incredible beaches around San Diego). While there are fewer amenities (no RV hookups or hot water), the Bluff campground is a paradise for anyone wanting to get away from the crowds and enjoy a relaxing beachfront stay.
👉 Pro Tip: For full RV hookups, try San Mateo Campground which is just a couple miles inland from San Onofre.
Bow Willow Campground, Anza Borrego
Sleep beneath the darkest sky and best stars in San Diego County.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 45 minutes | Google Maps | Reservation: First come first serve | Amenities: fire rings, no RV hookups, vault toilets, shaded area, picnic tables, for rings, pet friendly
Why Camp Here: Anza Borrego is a stunning desert state park in eastern San Diego that boasts unbeatable stargazing, hiking trails, slot canyons, and giant metal sculptures of creatures rising from the sand. It’s one of my all-time favorite places to camp in San Diego because it’s such a drastic change in scenery from the coastal city. Plus there’s so much to explore!
I love Bow Willow campground because, with only 16 sites, you still feel like you’re still remote. It’s important to note that the campground doesn’t always have running water, so always come prepared with drinking and all necessary water.
👉 Pro Tip: In 2018, Anza Borrego was recognized as an International Dark Sky Community, which means the pitch-black skies offer the best stargazing in San Diego!
Paso Picacho Campground, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
The best home base for exploring the trails in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV dump station, no RV hookups flush toilets, showers (paid), potable water, picnics, fire rings, pets allowed only in campground.
Why Camp Here: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a giant playground for any outdoor enthusiast! The state park, which lies east of San Diego has tons of hiking trails and is one of the premier mountain biking areas in the county. The most popular hikes, Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak (the second-highest point in the county), have trailheads right in Paso Picacho Campground!
👉 Read Next: Check out this article for more hikes in and around San Diego!
Idyllwild Campground, Mount San Jacinto
You don’t have to leave San Diego county to stay in a peaceful, quaint mountain town.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV hookups, potable water, showers (paid), toilets
Why Camp Here: Idyllwild offers the sense of peace and tranquility unique to charming mountain towns. The town is nestled in the alpine forest high up in the San Jacinto Mountains where nature lovers can take advantage of the trails and wildlife spotting.
Idyllwild Campground is an ideal location right in town, with access to trailheads within the grounds. The sites are nestled within the trees which provide privacy and shade.
Get planning your trip with McKenna’s guide to what to do in Idyllwild.
👉 Pro Tip: I never go camping without my solar charging Luci light.
Font’s Point Wash Dispersed Camping, Anza Borrego
Want to sleep in the desert under the stars? No reservation, no problem!
📍 Distance from San Diego: 2 hours | Google Maps | Amenities: none
Why Camp Here: Dispersed camping is an awesome option if you don’t need any amenities because no reservation is needed, and you can often find a secluded spot to set up! My favorite place to set up is on the wash that leads to Font’s Point overlook in Anza Borrego.
If you have lots of people in your group or get the camping bug but can’t find open sites anywhere, this is the way to go! But be sure to bring plenty of water, safety equipment, and beware that you can get stuck in soft sand along the wash.
Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree
A campground light on amenities in a prime location for exploring the wonders of Joshua Tree National Park.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 3.5 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Guide to Staying in Joshua Tree | Reservations: Online only | Amenities: No RV hookups, vault toilets
Why Camp Here: Joshua Tree is one of the closest national parks to San Diego. You’ll find a stunning landscape to explore and tons of things to do and activities in Joshua Tree. While Jumbo Rock is the largest and most popular campground in Joshua Tree, I prefer the smaller Ryan Campground.
While it does not offer amenities such as showers or drinking water, the camping area is gorgeous, intimate, and is close to tons of trails.
👉 Pro Tip: When I know I won’t have electricity for a while, I always bring a power bank like this one.
Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park
Watch the sunset over the pacific without leaving your camp chair.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online | Amenities: RV hookups, hot showers (paid), toilets, pet friendly (only in campground)
Why Camp Here: Crystal Cove State Park, located in Orange County, offers 3 miles of beach, and 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness just begging to be explored. Moro Campground is located in the park atop an ocean-front bluff that offers breathtaking views of the ocean, and there’s nothing like sitting in front of a campfire and watching the sunset over the pacific ocean.
The unique offering of Moro campground is, besides the normal tent and RV sites, the grounds also feature primitive hike-in tent camping in the wilderness, which provide a peaceful escape from the urban surroundings.
Doane Valley Campground, Palomar Mountain State Park
San Diego County’s very own Sierra Nevada Campground.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online | Amenities: tables, fire rings, flush toilets, showers, potable water, pet friendly
Why Camp Here: Palomar Mountain State Park lies in northern San Diego County and is not only an awesome camping destination but also one of my favorite day trips from San Diego. With an average elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, it’s one of the few areas where you can camp in a Sierra Nevada-like landscape without leaving Southern California!
Doane Valley Campground is nestled in a coniferous forest and is the perfect home base to explore the mountainous forest and meadows, go fishing in Doane Pond, and hike to Boucher Hill Fire Lookout.
William Heise Campground, Julian
San Diego County’s most family-friendly campground.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Reservations: Online | Amenities: RV hookups, fire pits, hot showers (paid), potable water
Why Camp Here: William Heise County Park Campground boasts 104 campsites as well as 14 cabins who prefer to sleep in a bed with a roof over their heads. The campground has all the amenities you could hope for, including horseshoe pits, making it the ideal camping experience for the whole family. Besides the hiking and mountain bike trails in the campground, you can also easily make a quick trip into the historical town of Julian to grab a famous pie.
👉 Read Next: Julian is one of my favorite weekend trip destinations! Check out other weekend getaways near San Diego here.
Serrano Campground, Big Bear Lake
Embrace the spirit of summer camp at Serrano Campground.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 45 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV hookups, flush toilets, showers, fire pits, potable water, pet friendly, bear boxes
Why Camp Here: Serrano Campground is located on the north side of gorgeous Big Bear Lake and is a great jumping-off point for tons of family fun and summer lake activities like fishing, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming. With over 100 campsites and easy access to the lake, Serrano Campground gives off the nostalgic feeling of summer camp.
Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Stay within walking distance of rolling hills, tidepools, and coastal caves.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 2.5 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV access and RV dump stations, toilets, showers (paid), pet friendly, camp store
Why Camp Here: Leo Carrillo State Park, located just north of Los Angeles, has 1.5 miles of stunning beach ideal for water activities and exploring tidepools, coastal caves, and reefs. The campgrounds are just a short walk from the beach and giant sycamores provide shade and privacy for the 135 sites.
In addition to the beach, the park also boasts gorgeous backcountry with hiking trails, including Yellow Hill Trail which leads to an awesome ocean view.
🚙 Have an RV? Check out McKenna’s guide to the best California RV parks.
Sycamore Canyon Campground, Point Mugu State Park
Get all the natural beauty associated with the Malibu hills without the opulent price tag.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 3 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV access and dump stations, no RV hookups, flush toilets, hot showers (paid), fire pits, picnic tables
Why Camp Here: Located in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains, Sycamore Canyon Campground offers access to the rolling hills and is also within walking distance to Point Mugu beach. The campground, dotted with sycamores and oaks, is a quiet and less crowded camping option than the more popular Malibu campgrounds farther south.
👉 Pro Tip: Head down to Point Mugu beach for sunset and bring firewood to take advantage of a fire pit on the beach.
New Camp, Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Camp on the starkly stunning shores of the largest inland seas.
📍 Distance from San Diego: 3 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Amenities: RV hookups, toilets, showers
Why Camp Here: With 130 miles of shoreline, the Salton sea is one of the world’s largest inland seas and is a popular spot for camping, kayaking, and bird watching. Plus, the eerie landscape is one of the most unique in southern California and is a stunning photography destination.
There are a few campgrounds along the shore of the Salton Sea, but it’s generally agreed that New Camp is the best for its views, amenities, and proximity to the main trails and sites.
🏕️ Read Next: 11 Best Places to Go Camping in California
Take your pick between waking up next to the beach, under a forest canopy, next to a lake, or in the desert… or don’t!
That’s the beauty of camping in Southern California!
Oh, and if you liked this article, be sure to check out all my free San Diego travel guides.
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