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While San Diego is our favorite place to be, we understand the need for a quick getaway (especially when tourists flock during the summer). Luckily, there are plenty of places within just a few hours to pop a tent and kick back next to a bonfire. Here are our favorites that you can’t miss.
Oh, Joshua Tree — what a magical place. The desert park looks like a place straight out of a sci-fi movie with gnarled Joshua trees and giant boulders. The park is perfect for scrambling across these humungous rocks all day and stargazing in the complete darkness of the night (but don’t stay up too late and miss a famous Joshua Tree sunrise!). Our favorite campsites in the park? Jumbo Rocks or Indian Cove.
Some may see the Salton Sea as a creepy abandoned ghost town in the middle of the desert that smells like dead fish, but we see it as a preserved part of history and a place to check out the thousands of migratory birds that flock to this man-made inland sea (we’re positive people). Pop a tent, roast some weenies, and practice your bird calling skills. Fitt Tip: don’t forget to check out Salvation Mountain on your way back to San Diego. Due to acts of nature, areas of Salton Sea may be closed. Consult the Parks Service before heading out.
Head to Mount Laguna—just under an hour away—for a touch of nature close to downtown. Part of the Cleveland National Forest, Mount Laguna offers access to the Pacific Crest Trail for your own wild adventure, filled with dozens of butterflies and birds. After hiking or mountain biking at 6,000-feet elevation, cozy up in a tent at Boulder Oaks, Cibbets Flats, Burnt Rancheria, or Laguna Campground. Not a tent gal or guy? Laguna Mountain Lodge offers cabins.
Just 45 minutes away from the heart of downtown, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a car camping (or RV) getaway that offers trails, waterfalls, and dozens of wildlife critters like deer and turkey. Feeling particularly adventurous? Backpack into the Arroyo Seco “primitive” sites for a no-frills experience in the wild.
While desert camping is not for the faint of heart (especially during the summer), Anza-Borrego is an adventurer’s paradise filled with wildflowers, slot canyons, 20th century homestead sites, rock paintings from the Kumeyaay Native Americans, miles of hiking trails for all levels, and our personal favorite: the Maidenhair Falls. After adventuring all day, bundle up (the desert gets cold at night!) in your tent at one of the four campgrounds. Not ready for your adventure to end? Anza-Borrego offers a few first-come, first-served primitive campsites and allows roadside camping as well.
Looking for a rustic retreat to relax in nature? Head to Camp Ribbonwood in Warner Springs, just over an hour outside of San Diego. This safari tent (probably better furnished than your apartment) offers an outdoor experience with some creature comforts of glamping. Plus, the tent neighbors a nearby trail, so you can tire out your legs out before spending time in the jacuzzi built on the deck.
Want to get out of the city, but not ready to rough it? La Jolla Indian Campground is for you. Just a short drive north, this campground is the perfect place to build a campfire, roast s’mores, go tubing down the nearby San Luis Rey River, and enjoy a beer at the campground’s sports bar.
If you want an African safari without leaving San Diego County, head to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for the Roar and Snore Safari — a stay in the savanna with some creature comforts. Get an up-close, after-hours look at free-roaming rhinos and gazelles while staying in glamping-style, furnished tents within the park.
Want to camp, but not a mountain person? Head to Crystal Cove State Park just a few hours away in Orange County for a beachside break with a view of the Pacific from the bluffs. And if we’re camping here, we wouldn’t leave without exploring the huge expanse of tidepools — and maybe a dip or two in the ocean!
Take a short seaside saunter up the coast to San Elijo State Beach. This campground is situated on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific and is just a short walk from the waves, which are a surfer’s paradise. So make sure you bring your board.
Hop in the car for two hours for a getaway under the ponderosa pines in Idyllwild. This small town is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains and offers dozens of trails for hiking and rock climbing, plus a few good lakes for fishing. Up for a challenge? Head to the top of San Jacinto Mountain for the perfect 360° view.
Lay down your sleeping bag lakeside in Big Bear’s Serrano Campground. Here, you can spend the weekend hiking, kayaking, or paddleboarding on the mountain’s glassy lake. Feeling inspired by the elevation? Stop at Holcomb Valley to get high (easy, guys) — this is a mecca for rock climbers.
Not ready to rough it, but still want to brag about sleeping under the stars? El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara is your place to be. Stay in furnished safari tents, yurts, and rustic cabins alongside El Capitan Creek. It’s a getaway in nature with all the comforts of home.
Camp under a canopy of towering pines that will make you forget you’re anywhere close to Los Angeles’s notorious traffic. This first-come, first-served campground in the Angeles National Forest sits alongside a seasonal stream and near dozens of trailheads (our favorite: the Burkhart Trail).
This one’s for you, trail runners. Get a solid scenic run in around Dripping Springs Trail in the Agua Tibia Wilderness with views of Vail Lake and Temecula Wineries (#rungoals). Finish at your campsite, then unwind and stretch out next to a campfire. It’s the perfect, quick runcation.
If you want a Sierra Nevada camping experience without the drive, head to Palomar Mountain State Park for a night or two under pine, fir, and cedar trees. Trails in the park offer views of both the ocean and the desert, but if you’re not into hiking, spend a day fishing at Doane Pond. The best part, though? The views from the nearby Palomar Observatory.