San Diego, renowned for its stunning beaches, also offers a thriving off-roading scene and a wealth of opportunities for van life enthusiasts. If you have a van, San Diego is a must-visit. If you don’t, consider renting or buying a pre-built van and hitting the road.
Whether you're seeking exhilarating off-road adventures or peaceful camping spots with breathtaking views, San Diego has it all. In this guide, we'll take you through the top van camping spots in San Diego and popular day hangouts.
Best Van Camping Spots in San Diego
Necessary disclaimer: The following section provides general information and suggestions regarding van camping in San Diego. However, it is essential to note that regulations and local attitudes towards overnight parking can change over time. Therefore, we strongly advise individuals to conduct their own research and stay updated on the most current local regulations and guidelines.
San Diego is a paradise for van camping enthusiasts and offers a range of camping options to suit your preferences. Here are some top van camping spots in San Diego that are worth adding to your list.
1. Campland On the Bay
Campland on the Bay is a beloved campground that consistently claims the top spot in San Diego. With its beachfront location, full hookups, and dog-friendly atmosphere, it's the ultimate destination for campers.
- 📍 2211 Pacific Beach Dr., Mission Bay
- Amenities: Enjoy full hookups, direct beach access, a wide range of recreational activities, and facilities catering to dogs.
- Reservations: Book your spot on the official Campland website.
Why Camp Here:
Campland on the Bay provides the perfect blend of beachfront camping, convenient amenities, and a welcoming atmosphere for both humans and their furry friends. Dive into a world of activities, from beach fun to water sports, and end your evenings with cozy bonfires while surrounded by the stunning coastal scenery.
2. Silver Strand State Beach
Silver Strand State Beach boasts extensive beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. With full hookups available, it's a popular destination for camping, swimming, surfing, and various other outdoor activities.
- 📍 Coronado
- Amenities: Full hookups, beach access, and recreational activities.
- Reservations: Available on Reserve California.
Why Camp Here:
With its stunning beachfront location and full hookups, Silver Strand State Beach is a paradise for vanlifers looking to immerse themselves in coastal beauty. Spend your days enjoying the sun, sand, and surf, and unwind in the evenings with breathtaking sunsets over the ocean or bay.
3. San Elijo State Beach
San Elijo State Beach tops the list of must-visit van camping spots near San Diego. With full hookups, showers, and access to a stunning beach, it's a favorite among surfers, families, and vanlifers alike.
- 📍 Encinitas
- Amenities: Flush toilets, hot showers (paid), camp store, restaurant, amphitheater, RV hookups, pet-friendly, potable water, picnic table, fire ring, and grill.
- Reservations: Available online via Reserve California, up to 6 months in advance
Why Camp Here:
San Elijo State Beach offers a perfect blend of beachside camping, stunning scenery, and convenient amenities that make it a top choice for van campers. With unobstructed ocean views from bluff-top campsites and the soothing sound of crashing waves, it provides a tranquil coastal experience. Its proximity to the renowned Cardiff coastline, where surfing is a year-round activity, and the charming town center of Cardiff, with its local market, dining options, and unique shops, adds to its appeal. Whether you're seeking a serene beach retreat or an adventurous surfing getaway, San Elijo State Beach is the ideal destination for van campers looking for a memorable coastal escape.
4. Hearse Crew Camp
Hearse Crew Camp is a beautiful private campsite offering stunning 360-degree views and unique boulder formations. Although a bit challenging to access, this campsite is worth the drive for its breathtaking scenery and hiking trails.
- 📍 Jamul
- Reservations: Available on Hipcamp
Why Camp Here:
Hearse Crew Camp provides a secluded and picturesque setting for vanlifers seeking tranquility and natural beauty. Embrace the serenity of the surroundings, explore the hiking trails, and enjoy the remarkable views that make this campsite a hidden oasis.
San Diego Stealth Camping
Many San Diego van enthusiasts choose to immerse themselves in the city's natural splendor through the practice of stealth camping—a discreet form of overnight camping that allows you to connect with nature while exploring the urban environment.
As van life has exploded in recent years, many areas have been tightening regulations for overnight vehicles.
Check out our guide to stealth camping for tips on how to stealth camp responsibility, and be sure to check the latest local regulations before committing to a spot for the night.
Best Van Spots to Spend the Day Exploring San Diego
While overnight camping in your van is a fantastic experience, San Diego offers numerous day hangouts that are perfect for vanlifers looking to explore the city. If you're cruising around San Diego and want to make the most of your day, we've got you covered with a few extra hangout spots to add to your list. From picturesque coastal views to serene natural reserves, these places are perfect for soaking up the SoCal vibes and enjoying the best that San Diego has to offer.
1. La Jolla Cove
Nestled along the coastline, La Jolla Cove is a picturesque area renowned for its crystal-clear water, stunning sunsets, and abundant marine life. Find a parking spot for your van and take the opportunity to unwind while immersing yourself in the breathtaking ocean views. Don't forget to bring your snorkeling gear to discover the vibrant underwater world and swim alongside curious seals.
2. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Located on the edge of the city, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers a tranquil escape into nature. This coastal park boasts a network of hiking trails that wind through majestic cliffs and offer awe-inspiring vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Park your van at one of the designated areas, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on a memorable adventure, surrounded by the fragrance of pine trees and the soothing sound of crashing waves.
3. Coronado Beach
Known for its expansive sandy shoreline and gentle surf, Coronado Beach is a must-visit destination for vanlifers seeking sun, sand, and relaxation. Park your van near the beach, set up your beach chairs, and enjoy a day of soaking up the sun or strolling along the shoreline. Don't miss the iconic Hotel del Coronado, a historic beachfront hotel that adds charm to this already enchanting location.
4. Balboa Park
As one of San Diego's most beloved attractions, Balboa Park offers a diverse array of experiences for vanlifers. This expansive urban park is home to gardens, museums, performing arts venues, and more. Find a suitable parking spot and spend your day exploring the park's lush botanical gardens, visiting world-class museums, or simply relaxing amidst the serene surroundings. Be sure to check the park's calendar for any special events or performances taking place during your visit.
5. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
For breathtaking coastal scenery, make your way to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Park your van nearby and take a leisurely stroll along the park's stunning cliffs, adorned with picturesque rock formations and hidden coves. As the name suggests, this spot is especially popular during sunset, offering a mesmerizing display of colors as the sun dips below the horizon. Capture unforgettable moments and create lasting memories against this scenic backdrop.
6. Mission Bay Park
This 4,235-acre park is perfect for those who love water sports. With its calm waters, sandy beaches, and extensive bike trails, it’s the perfect place to park your van, grab a kayak or paddleboard, and enjoy a day on the water.
7. Fiesta Island
A chill island getaway right in Mission Bay, this place is a hot spot for vanlifers—especially when the founders of the Sekr App host their awesome van life gatherings here. You'll find plenty of space to park your van and mingle with fellow nomads. With breathtaking views of the bay, sandy beaches, and room for all kinds of outdoor activities, Fiesta Island is a dreamy spot to kick back, relax, and connect with the vibrant vanlife community.
8. Law Street Beach
Law Street Beach is the perfect spot for surf-lovers, and anyone who just wants a cool place to hang out for the day. Park your van along the parallel spots next to the beach and get ready to catch some epic waves. If surfing isn't your thing, no worries! You can still enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, bask in the sun, and soak up that salty ocean breeze.
9. Ocean Beach
Offering all the beachy goodness is the vibrant neighborhood of Ocean Beach. This place screams classic SoCal vibes and is perfect for a day of sun, sand, and good times. Grab your surfboard or simply lounge on the namesake beach, surrounded by surfers and sunbathers.
Have a furry friend with you? The doggy beach is the place to be! Let your pupper run wild, make new friends, and enjoy the dog-friendly atmosphere. While overnight parking isn't allowed here, you can park your van for the day in the large parking lot near the dog beach and make the most of the beachside fun.
Looking for more adrenaline-pumping day or overnight adventures? Check out our guide to San Diego's best overlanding spots and offroading trails, or feel free to contact us!