8 Places to Camp in San Diego Near the City Limits

Campgrounds abound in San Diego, both in the hills and by the beach.

San Diego's outdoor beauty makes it a perfect region for camping. What makes it even more unique is you don't have to venture any farther than a few minutes from downtown to find yourself enjoying the great outdoors. Whether it's on the picture-perfect beach shoreline or nestled in the foothills within city limits, camping in San Diego can be a very "city" thing to do. Here are some campground suggestions that are all within 30 minutes of the San Diego city limits.

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    Camping by the beach in San Diego County
    ••• Camping by the beach in San Diego County. Gina Tarnacki

    Located on the San Diego coast between Cardiff and Encinitas, San Elijo State Beach offers swimming, surfing, showers and picnic tables. The narrow, bluff-backed stretch of sand is situated on one of the most desirable stretches of the San Diego coastline and has a nearby reef popular with snorklers and divers. The campgrounds accommodate tent camping as well as RVs and trailers up to 35 feet. One of the most popular sites in the county, San Elijo sells out early each year, so reservations are a must during the summer season. Reservations can be made online. San Elijo State Beach extends along Coast Highway 101, three-quarters of a mile north from San Elijo Lagoon's entrance channel.

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    If you want to camp right on a flat, sandy beachfront, Silver Strand State Beach is for you. Silver Strand offers extensive beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Camping, swimming, surfing, boating, water-skiing, volleyball, and picnicking are popular activities. Anglers can fish for perch, corbina, grunion and yellow-fin croaker. Camping is available only for self-contained vehicles, motor-homes, or trailers. Vehicles that are not fully self-contained will be turned away. There is no tent camping available. The beach is located 4.5 miles south of the city of Coronado on Highway 75. The park is located on the sand-spit that forms the outer edge of San Diego Bay between Coronado and Imperial Beach.

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    If you don't mind a densely packed campground, Campland on the Bay gets you outdoors without leaving the city core. Located on the shores of Mission Bay and part of Mission Bay Park, Campland has been a vacation spot for families since 1969. The property camp sites range from primitive to full hook‑up RV. The campground is well-appointed and well-maintained with lots of amenities to keep the family occupied, including a marina with 124 slips plus watercraft and bicycle rentals. The campground is located at 2211 Pacific Beach Drive, on the northern shores of Mission Bay.

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    If more primitive amenities are your idea of real camping, then the Kumeyaay Lake Campground within Mission Trails Regional Park is the experience for you. Open on Friday and Saturday nights only, campers have their choice of 46 sites that have no water or electricity for tents or recreational vehicles. Each site contains picnic and food preparation tables, a fire box, tent pad and parking space. Water, bathrooms and hot showers are provided nearby. The campground is part of more than 5,800 acres of chaparral, oak woodlands, mountains and grasslands that make up Mission Trails Regional Park, and the setting makes it hard to believe you are within the city limits. Located off Mission Gorge Road at Two Father Junipero Serra Trail in San Diego. 

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    Camping at Santee Lakes is like camping in your own backyard. 300 full hook-up campsites are nestled in the foothills of Santee, just 30 minutes from downtown San Diego. The chain of small man-made lakes and recreation preserve are an acclaimed water reclamation project. Well-known for its convenient day fishing, the campground includes swimming pools, playgrounds, boating and fishing. Located at 9310 Fanita Parkway in Santee.

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    If you prefer to take along your horses on your camping trip, Sweetwater County Park offers you a perfect campsite only 20 minutes from downtown. The Summit Site, atop a hill overlooking the Sweetwater Valley, offers modern campsites – including some with corrals for equestrians who want to bring their horses and explore the miles of trails in the area. Campers, trailers, motor homes and tent camping are all options at the sites, all of which have water and electricity. Trailers as long as 45 feet will find plenty of room here. Hot showers are available for all campers. Located at 3218 Summit Meadow Road in Bonita.

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    If you're an avid camper, then you've probably been to a KOA campground. The San Diego Metro KOA offers resort-style camping, with landscaped grounds, paved roads and 200 full-hookup RV sites with free cable TV and Wi-Fi. There are also well-appointed cabins to rent. It's a great family camping experience with special activities in the summer months that include hayrides, all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts, outdoor movies, entertainment and lots of other fun events for the entire family. Located at 111 North 2nd Avenue in Chula Vista.

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    If fishing is a big part of your camping experience, then the Lake Jennings Campground is ideal. The campground at Lake Jennings Park has a variety of campsites available including hookups and primitive tent sites. A large group site is also available with terrific views of the lake and surrounding area. The campground is open year-round. Lake Jennings Park campers are also just a few steps from some of the best fresh water fishing in San Diego County. Fishing is available from the shore below the campground seven days a week or by boat during regular operating hours. A fishing permit and license are required.

Updated by Gina Tarnacki on June 23, 2016.