San Diego

Peaceful Camping Spots for a Winter Weekend Getaway in Southern California

Get out of town and into nature.

daveynin/Flickr
daveynin/Flickr
daveynin/Flickr

While most of the country hunkers down under freezing temperatures, those of us who are lucky enough to live in Southern California are enjoying our relentlessly sunny weather. But as much as we love boozing by the beaches, hitting beer and taco festivals, and dancing on rooftop bars, sometimes we want to get out of town and back to Mother Nature. Winter is perfect for outdoor camping-from beachside surf spots to mountain hideaways and desert stargazing, we’ve got campsites to please nearly everyone. Of course, with so many enchanting places to visit, how do you decide where to spend your weekend or vacation? No worries, we’ve narrowed it down to these 12 great places you shouldn’t miss.

Be mindful that weather and other conditions can change rapidly, so you’ll want to check your park’s webpage before heading out, even if you’ve got a reserved campsite. And as always, follow camping’s golden rule: leave your campsite better than you found it.

Justin Meissen/Flickr
Justin Meissen/Flickr
Justin Meissen/Flickr

San Onofre State Beach

Distance from SD: About 60 miles
Distance from LA: About 70 miles
At the northernmost tip of San Diego County is San Onofre State Beach, home to two campgrounds and some of the best surfing in Southern California, with several surf breaks ranging from gentle beginner waves at Old Man’s to one of the premier surf breaks in the United States at Trestles. San Onofre Bluffs offers camping adjacent to the beautiful sandstone bluffs and campsites have a fire pit and picnic table, with cold outdoor showers, chemical toilets nearby, and an RV dump station. It’s open from May 16 through September 30. Further north and a bit inland, San Mateo Campground is open year-round and connects with Trestle Beach via a 1.5 mile nature path. Campsites include a fire pit and picnic table, and some have RV hookups for electricity and water. Hot indoor showers and flush toilets are available. Just east of San Mateo Campground is the San Mateo Creek, flowing towards the Pacific Ocean and adjacent to riparian and wetland habitats where you can see rare and endangered species, including the tidewater goby and arroyo toad.

bonandbon/Shutterstock
bonandbon/Shutterstock
bonandbon/Shutterstock

Mount Laguna

Distance from SD: About 55 miles
Distance from LA: About 170 miles
For those who are looking to get in touch with nature but still want access to some necessities, there are several campgrounds to choose from in the Cleveland National Forest on Mt. Laguna. Sites at Boulder Oaks and Cibbets Flat Campgrounds are first-come, first-served, but if you’re more of a planner, you can reserve spots at Burnt Rancheria and Laguna Campgrounds. There are plenty of mountain biking, hiking, and backpacking trails to explore in the area and if you need supplies you can always stop by the Laguna Mountain Lodge. It has a general store selling everything from beer to firewood, plus rooms and cabins if you decide to bail on the camping idea altogether.

La Jolla Indian Campground

Distance from SD: About 57 miles
Distance from LA: About 115 miles
Just a short drive North of SD County is the La Jolla Indian Campground. If you want to get away from the city for the weekend this is a great spot to enjoy some fresh air, build a campfire, roast some s’mores, and go tubing down the San Luis Rey River. Online reservations are required, and outside firewood is prohibited due to the¬†gold spotted oak borer, but there’s a general store near the campgrounds where it can be purchased, along with gas, food, ice and other necessities.

Manuela Durson/Shutterstock
Manuela Durson/Shutterstock
Manuela Durson/Shutterstock

Mount Palomar

Distance from SD: About 65 miles
Distance from LA: About 120 miles
If you’re into astronomy, you should check out the Observatory Campground on Mt. Palomar. You can explore the surrounding forest by bike or hike during the day and get up close and personal with the cosmos at night. The site is just a two-mile hike from the observatory itself and they have astronomy events at the campground on some weekends during the summer. The observatory isn’t the only reason to visit Mt. Palomar though; you can camp out in several other campgrounds on the mountain while doing a little stargazing on your own.

SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock
SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock
SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock

Crystal Cove State Park

Distance from SD: About 86 miles
Distance from LA: About 53 miles
If you want to do some camping near the beach without going all the way to Catalina, Crystal Cove State Park is an option not too far from San Diego right between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. There are several areas to camp within the park that will not only give you access to both the beach and backcountry hiking trails, but getting to them is a great workout. As with a lot of areas in SoCal, you can’t camp right on the beach here. You’ll park in the El Moro lot and then it’s a three-mile trek to the campgrounds up the hill. You can mountain bike, day hike, or check out the tide pools and lounge on the beach.

L.A. Nature Graphics/Shutterstock
L.A. Nature Graphics/Shutterstock
L.A. Nature Graphics/Shutterstock

Catalina Island

Distance from SD: About 86 watery miles
Distance from LA: About 30 watery miles
There is so much more to Catalina than just Avalon. Campsites are available both on the beach and further inland where you can enjoy the beauty of Catalina without dealing with a mob of tourists. Several locations on the island can be booked up to a year in advance, and you should definitely do that before taking the ferry all the way out there. They also have equipment rentals available so that you don’t have to haul all of your camping gear on the ferry if you don’t want to. Again, do this in advance or you might find yourself sleeping with your head in the sand. Your options range from tent cabins to primitive campsites and secluded boat-in camping.

Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Distance from SD: About 88 miles
Distance from LA: About 145 miles
The desert is not everyone’s ideal camping destination, but there is so much to see and explore in the massive Anza-Borrego State Park that you’re definitely going to want to stay a few days to check it all out. The park has four actual campgrounds, but if you have no need for picnic tables or flush toilets then there are plenty of free primitive camping spots and they also allow roadside camping if you really want to rough it. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Pictograph Trail to see rock paintings made by the Kumeyaay Indians thousands of years ago. Hellhole Canyon might sound like the last place you’d ever want to be, but the 5.5-mile trail leads you to Maidenhair Falls, a 20-foot waterfall close to Borrego Springs. There are also slot canyons, wind caves, and several other beautiful destinations out in the desert that you don’t want to miss.

Frederick James Whitner/Shutterstock
Frederick James Whitner/Shutterstock
Frederick James Whitner/Shutterstock

Lake Arrowhead

Distance from SD: About 130 miles
Distance from LA: About 80 miles
Camp out near Lake Arrowhead surrounded by the pine trees of the San Bernardino National Forest. While the North Shore and Dogwood Campgrounds are closed, yellow post remote camping is an option in the forest with the right permits. While you’re there, you should head down to the lake to take a dip, water ski, or take a boat out on the water, and take advantage of the list of hiking trails that will lead you all over the forest. Deep Creek Hot Springs/Goat Trail will lead you to (you guessed it) hot springs. You’ll also run into the Pacific Coast Trail which follows the creek along the way.

Mission Springs PCT Trail Camp

Distance from SD: About 134 miles
Distance from LA: About 110 miles
If you really want to get away from it all, come out here. The only way to access this campground is by hiking there from the Pacific Coast Trail or the Fish Creek Trail. There are two remote campsites out there that have nothing more than a picnic table and fire ring but plenty of fresh air and peace and quiet. You don’t have to be hiking the entire PCT to camp here, but you might get the chance to meet some interesting hikers who are resting for the night.

Keep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock
Keep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock
Keep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock

Tram camping

Distance from SD: 141 miles to the tram, plus hiking to campsites
Distance from LA: About 110 miles
Hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and take a ride 2.5 miles up the mountain in one of the world’s largest rotating tramcars. From the top you can hike to six campgrounds within seven miles of the tram. A permit to camp is only $5, but come prepared since none of these campsites have water available and there are definitely no stores nearby. While you’re there, you can take a hike up to San Jacinto Peak, the second-highest point in SoCal.

Dennis Silvas/Shutterstock
Dennis Silvas/Shutterstock
Dennis Silvas/Shutterstock

Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from SD: 164 miles
Distance from LA: About 140 miles
There are a couple of ways to experience Joshua Tree. One way is to book a room at a hotel in town, then drive through the park to “ooh” and “aah” at the scenery from the comfort of your air-conditioned car. The other way is to camp out in the desert to experience the total darkness of a starry desert night or a glorious J-Tree sunrise first-hand. There are nine campgrounds throughout the park where you can do just that. During the scorching summer months they are mostly first-come, first-served, but in the busier fall-spring season you’re better off making a reservation. If everything fills up, there is always the alternative to pitch your tent on the BLM land outside the park.

melissamn/Shutterstock
melissamn/Shutterstock
melissamn/Shutterstock

Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Distance from SD: 182 miles
Distance from LA: About 155 miles
To some the Salton Sea is a fascinating place to explore and check out the migratory birds, to others it’s just a creepy place in the middle of nowhere that smells pretty bad. No matter what your opinion is, there are places where you can camp at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Several actually. Since it’s a million degrees out there in the summer, their busy season is from November to May. There are RV spots that require a reservation, but visitors are welcome to tent-camp without a reservation any time.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†Twitter,¬†Pinterest,¬†YouTube,¬†TikTok, and¬†Snapchat.

Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.

Sara Norris is a contributor for Thrillist. 

San Diego

How to Celebrate Women’s History Month in San Diego

Check out female-led dance programs, pop up markets, beer dinners, and more events this March.

Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona
Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona
Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona

Women have played a huge part shaping San Diego into the city it is today. In celebration of Women’s History Month, there are a variety of events across the city that commemorate women’s contributions to our community and culture. Home to the Women’s Museum of California, which hosts events throughout the year, be sure to check out all the ways to support and honor women this month. From art exhibits to dance performances, pop-up markets and yoga, check out the best events to celebrate Women’s History Month in San Diego:

Photo courtesy of The San Diego Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of The San Diego Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of The San Diego Museum of Art

Discover works from overlooked women artists

Ongoing through November 7, 2023
Balboa Park
The San Diego Museum of Art currently has 20 modern and contemporary works of art on display from women who unjustly didn’t receive the same amount of fame as their male contemporaries. The museum’s Modern Women exhibit is your chance to see work from artists like Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner, who were overshadowed by artist husbands Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock but whose work has long deserved its own moment in the spotlight. The collection showcases pieces that range from acrylic paintings to photography, inviting us into an untapped artistic sphere.
Cost: $20

Practice Sun Salutations while supporting a good cause

Saturday, March 4, 10 am to 11 am
Pacific Beach
Make a difference in the lives of teen girls of colour while taking a yoga class at Kate Sessions Park. Organized by local nonprofit One Love Movement, all donations for the event go towards college scholarships for girls of the DETOUR F.A.N.C.Y. Expo & Leadership Academy, a mentorship program that promotes equity and inclusion in higher education for girls of colour. All while enjoying stunning views of Mission Bay.
Cost: Donation-based

Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona
Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona
Photo by Bianca Quirino Photography l Courtesy of Simplemente Chingona

Shop local women-owned businesses

Sunday, March 5, 1 pm to 5 pm
Middletown
What better way to celebrate the women in your community than by supporting their local businesses? The Women’s History Month Market, located in the FEMX Quarters venue, is a pop up market you don’t want to miss. The market will feature over 35 vendors from women artisans and you’ll find uniquely crafted sunglasses, jewellery, clothing, and more. The family-friendly (and pet-friendly) event will also include food and music.
Cost: Free

Drink beer crafted by female brewers on International Women’s Day

Wednesday, March 8, 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm
Escondido
Women were the original brewers of ale, after all, so it only makes sense to honour our past and present beer connoisseurs with dinner and brews. Located at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Stone International Women’s Day Beer Dinner features three courses, each paired with a tasty beer specially brewed by a team of women at Stone Brewery. The event is part of a larger global celebration for International Women’s Day, where brewers all over the world brew a speciality beer that supports The Pink Boots Society, a non profit that empowers women and non-binary people in the beer industry through scholarships and education. Grab your tickets while you can! 21+
Cost: $50-$70

Attend an exhibition celebrating female and non-binary artists

Saturday, March 11, 5:00 pm
Barrio Logan
Head over to the entertainment and community venue Corazon del Barrio and show your support to female and non-binary artists, whose art and music will be featured in the Diosa Art Show. Around 40 artists are on the bill at this all-ages event.
Cost: Free

Drink some pints for the pups

Saturday, March 11, 12 pm to 4 pm
Carmel Mountain
If you need another excuse to down some brews, Second Chance Beer Company is hosting its first ever Ladies & Pups Market for Women’s History Month. The brewery, which holds various events throughout the year, donates a percentage of its sales to animal rescue organizations in California and Arizona. The dog-friendly market will include pop ups from women-owned businesses such as Bold Bouquet, Wet Nose Pottery, and No, You Sit! Treats. For the occasion, Second Chance will serve Fistful of Gummies – Berry Edition, a rendition of their fruited sour beer created in collaboration with Pink Boots Society, an organization that supports women and non-binary individuals in the beer industry.
Cost: Free

Photo courtesy of Women's Museum of California
Photo courtesy of Women’s Museum of California
Photo courtesy of Women’s Museum of California

Attend a ceremony at the Women’s Museum of California

Saturday, March 18, 11 am to 1 pm
Rolando
Perhaps San Diego’s largest Women’s History Month event, the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes local women for their achievements in the community. The annual event, which takes place at Joan B. Kroc Theatre, is a project of the Women’s Museum of California, a museum dedicated to educating the public about women’s contributions through history with exhibits, programs, and events. Over 100 women have been inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame since the program was founded in 2001, and this year’s class includes notable women like activist Norma Ch√°vez-Peterson and Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. The event includes a VIP brunch followed by the Induction Ceremony. Be sure to purchase tickets early to secure your spot.
Cost: $20-$150

Join a community of local women and get inspired

Monday, March 20, 5 pm to 7:30 pm
Miramar
The Women’s Speaker Series at Alesmith Brewing Company is a monthly community gathering where local women come together to support one another in achieving professional and personal goals. The event includes a social hour followed by a selected speaker. For this month, the Women’s Speaker Series features career coach and small business owner Laura Bashore, who will share her insight on how you can advance your career or business. Make sure to reserve your spot before attending!
Cost: Free

Come hear about the roles San Diego women played during World War II

Tuesday, March 21, 1 pm to 3 pm
Mission Valley
In the early 20th century, many women were not allowed or expected to be the breadwinners for their households, but things suddenly changed with the United States’ entry into World War II. Here’s your chance to learn about the real experiences of women who lived through WWll and how they navigated through it all. Presented by Oasis San Diego, head over to Mission Valley Library to attend this in-person event.
Cost: Free

Photo by Carly Topazio l Courtesy of The Rosin Box Project
Photo by Carly Topazio l Courtesy of The Rosin Box Project
Photo by Carly Topazio l Courtesy of The Rosin Box Project

Attend a ballet program choreographed entirely by women

Thursday, March 23 ‚Äď Saturday, March 25 & Monday, March 27, 7:30 pm
Liberty Station
Experience not one but three world premiere ballet performances at The Rosin Box Project, a contemporary ballet company that works to redefine the concept of dance and how it’s experienced for both artists and audiences. To coincide with Women’s History Month, TRBP is kicking off its 2023 season with Empower, a female-led ballet program choreographed by TRBO Residents Lauren Flower, Bethany Green, and Carly Topazio. The program, which takes place at Light Box Theater, offers a fresh take on dance by pushing the boundaries of traditional ballet. Your ticket includes a post-show reception.
Cost: $45

Hear music by a little-known female early 20th-century composer

Friday, March 24, 6:30 pm to 7:45 pm
Balboa Park
While you may not be familiar with composer Alice Barnett Stevenson, she played an integral part in San Diego’s music scene during the early 1900s. Stevenson was an active member of various music organizations at the time, and she composed art songs for voice and piano and performed at schools all over the country. Her home became a hub for local recitals from visiting musicians, and was also where the San Diego Symphony was founded. This month, you can hear her compositions performed live for the first time in nearly 100 years at the San Diego History Center. Selected works by Stevenson will be performed by musical scholar Katina Mitchell and pianist Yewon Lee. Be sure to reserve tickets ahead of time.
Cost: $25-$40

Listen to Black San Diego women discuss important community issues

Saturday, March 25, 12 pm to 4 pm
Valencia Park
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Friends of Malcolm X Library are hosting Ain’t I a Woman, an event featuring Black women who will be speaking about their professions and discussing the challenges faced within the workplace and the community while offering suggestions on how to further enhance and embrace equality. The event includes a Q&A panel discussion, door prizes, free raffles, as well as music, poetry, and dance. Seating is limited so be sure to reserve your spot early.
Cost: Free event. Lunch purchase is $15.

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Michelle Harris¬†is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Over the years her writing has also appeared in¬†Atlas Obscura,¬†Mental Floss, and¬†Audubon Magazine. When she’s not busy typing, she enjoys hiking, road trips, and cooking vegan food.

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