I chase weather. I go where it’s cold, raining, snowing…anything but sun. Living in the desert for 22 years has taken it’s toll on me and I’m over it. Therefore, I like to travel where the weather is not going to fry my soul if I walk outdoors.
But anyways, that’s what brought Wynston and I to San Diego for a van life trip – weather in the 70s. The San Diego area is about a 5.5 hour drive from our house, which is super close for us! When you’re used to driving 12+ hours to visit a beautiful spot, only having to travel less than 6 is awfully appealing.
I decided to book a stay at the San Diego Metro KOA. If you aren’t familiar with KOAs (I definitely wasn’t), they are family-oriented campgrounds with lots of activities and amenities.
I’m attracted to KOAs because they give you the ability to camp with the amenities of a hotel such as showers, bathrooms, electric hookups, activities for the family and often a pool and cafe. At most KOA campgrounds, you can camp in a cabin, tent or RV. Some even have tiny homes and yurts. Whatever your style is, the KOA probably offers it.
I hadn’t been to San Diego since I was a teenager, so I was especially excited to visit. I wasn’t really sure what to expect of a campground in the middle of an ocean “city,” but I gave it a whirl, and it was worth it.
Exploring San Diego in Our Minivan Camper
San Diego and the surrounding areas are incredibly dog-friendly. I have noticed that the western part of the country definitely caters more to pet parents and their animals. The dog-friendliness made it easy to explore San Diego without any issues.
Now I will share the notable places that Wynston and I visited, and why I liked them.
Wynston and I setup camp at the San Diego Metro KOA for 4 nights and 5 days. We checked in on a Monday and checked out Friday, which allowed for a lower traffic week overall.
Here is the list of pros and cons I created from our first experience:
- Very clean and kept up. Staff comes around to clean up areas that previous campers have left.
- Bathrooms and showers are in great shape and offer plenty of hot water.
- There is a dog park with agility equipment. It isn’t the nicest, but it’s a great spot for the dogs.
- Lots of shade and walking areas.
- Sand Castle cafe offers breakfast and lunch, and dinner depending on the day. The food is delicious!
- There is staff and help available at all hours of the day in case you need assistance.
- There is a store, ice and propane just in case you forgot anything or need to stock up.
- It is loud. There are people everywhere, so the campground doesn’t truly quiet down until after 10pm.
- The crows and other birds were even louder in the mornings. They were so loud that I had to close my windows at one point! They also poop all over everything.
- There are lots of children since KOAs are family-oriented. That’s okay – it just taught me I need to go during the week and in the off-season.
- TONS of dogs. This generally wouldn’t be a con, but I am not trusting of people and their dogs in public anymore. So too many big dogs makes me nervous.
- There is no privacy. Each campsite is right up against the neighbors, so be prepared to get cozy.
- The free WiFi was so bad that I ended up just having to use my cellphone hot spot for internet.
KOA campgrounds are wonderful if you want a camping experience with a side of amenities and convenience. You may not get the peace and serenity you’d have while disperse camping, but you will have a ton of fun!
After camping at San Diego Metro KOA, we met my dad and stepmom in La Jolla to stay for a few nights. We stayed at the Empress Hotel and spent our days walking around town.
- Boutique hotel with a luxurious charm.
- Friendly staff.
- Gorgeous rooms with comfortable beds.
- Two sit-down restaurants.
- Parking is absolutely terrible. You have to park on the street, if you can find a spot.
- No pool, laundry room, convenience store or vending machines.
- No ocean views.
In my opinion the Empress Hotel was not worth it for the money ($200/night) but it was a beautiful hotel. While I wouldn’t stay there again, I did enjoy the experience.
All of the restaurants we ate at were within walking distance of our hotel.
- Fun atmosphere.
- All seating is outside and set up along the street.
- Good views.
- Excellent beer list.
- Delectable food
- Not dog-friendly. The space is VERY small and cramped so it’s not suitable for dogs.
- The best burger around.
- Lots of yummy beers.
- The best garlic fries I’ve ever tasted in my life.
- Sports playing on TVs and fun bartenders.
- Dog menu with your pup’s choice of chicken or meatballs and rice or broccoli.
- Good portion size.
- Menu isn’t extensive, but it’s tasty.
- Delightful atmosphere.
- Dog-friendly beach area.
- Also has a fenced dog park.
- Can park directly on the ocean (no nighttime parking)
- People were spaced out pretty well so it wasn’t overcrowded.
- Large dog-friendly patio area
- Extensive dog menu options
- Friendly service
- Lots of menu options and great food
Living Room Coffeehouse
- Located in La Jolla
- Dog-friendly patio
- Absolutely delicious breakfast food
- Family operated
- Also a smoking lounge (above the restaurant)
Other Notables from Our Trip
We were lucky enough to get a visit from our friend Patti while we were in La Jolla. She started following Wynston and I on Facebook earlier this year when he was attacked. Patti drove an hour and a half to have lunch with us, and it was so special. We love you, Patti!
We also got to have family dinner with my dad’s childhood friend’s son, Matt. Matt is my age, and he’s stationed in the Coronado area with the Navy. That was a fun evening!
My dad joined Wynston and I to pay the sea lions a visit. There were a plethora of them chillin’ ocean side in La Jolla Cove. While the sea puppers radiated a gnarly stench, they were so much fun to see up close. Wynston was not interested, but my dad and I sure were! It was a memorable experience.
The van performed extremely well on this adventure. I learn new helpful tidbits on each trip I take in our minivan camper conversion, and I can make changes and adapt accordingly. My van has truly become my happy place.
With all that being said, we loved our trip to San Diego so much that we’re going back! This time, we’re heading there with my mom. We will be staying in a hotel for a few nights, then camping again. I can’t wait to return and take my mom to my new favorite burger joint!
Have you and your dog ever been to San Diego?