This year, we spent the entire winter in San Diego. For the last two weeks of November and the first two weeks of March, we camped at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park, a beautiful and spacious county park in the suburbs.
The good? Very large, private, full hook up sites, with nice views of the surrounding area. (Click on any photo for full sized view)
During our visit in November, the surrounding landscape was sadly brown and dead after months of ultra dry conditions:
But when we returned in March, the tall grasses, bushes, and trees were quickly turning green:
While I won’t go so far as to break out the term ‘verdant,’ it was, unquestionably, a big improvement.
The local park down the street was nicely green too, and had a fun and welcoming dog park where we could get Thor some exercise and socialization.
The bad? During both of our stays at Sweetwater we dealt with ant invasions. It’s a known problem at the park, but we didn’t have any issues when we visited back in 2018. This time, however, we were not so lucky. And man, once they find a way in, it’s like an endless conga line of ants. Fortunately, on both occasions, we were able to quickly identify their entry point and spray the area with bug spray, but not before emptying all our kitchen cabinets and tossing a bunch of food.
Additionally, during our second visit, we had a good sized rainstorm and woke up the next day to a positively biblical number of snails all over the grounds.
That is super weird, right?
In addition to being all over the campsites, they were also all over the campground roads – which meant many got smooshed by passing cars and RVs.
Super weird AND super gross.
Anyway, other than that, it was all good. Our good friend from law school, Renzo, lives in San Diego, so he came over for “Outdoors-Giving”:
and Thor immediately identified his new bestie:
We also went over to Renzo’s house for a Covid appropriate “Garage-Christmas”:
Sandwiched in between our two visits to Sweetwater Summit, we spent three full months at Mission Bay RV Resort. We’ve stayed at Mission Bay twice before and have a very pronounced love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, it’s in a great location, right on the water, next to a large park, and it offers easy access to everything San Diego has to offer. On the other hand, it’s a ‘pack-em-in’ parking lot where you’re surrounded by RVs on all sides, and if you have a bad neighbor like we did during our 2018 visit, you’ll be in for a rough ride.
For the sake of comparison, here was our patio at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park:
and here was our patio at Mission Bay:
I know. It’s tough to decide which is more appealing, but take your time and give it some thought. You never know when the idea of staring at RVs while trying not to trip over your neighbor’s sewer hose might really grow on ya!
We lucked out in that, for much of our visit, the park was only about 70% full. When California shut down in December because of Covid, the government limited overnight camping to monthly stays or housing for essential workers. So, Mission Bay canceled a ton of their short-term reservations, which resulted in a very empty park. This was Christmas Eve – unthinkable a year prior:
Things picked back up again toward the end of our visit, but for most of our stay, we only had a neighbor on one side or the other, making things a bit more tolerable.
De Anza Cove
In addition to the tight quarters, Mission Bay RV is located in an area called De Anza Cove which has been undergoing extensive re-development plans for many, many years. In fact, as I understand it, plans to redesign the neighborhood were first proposed during the Ming Dynasty. Fortunately, things have really picked up since then and experts now anticipate project completion some time around humanity’s full colonization of Mars.
Seriously, I love San Diego but the city seems to excel at turning simple ideas into endless cycles of planning, hearings, lawsuits, red tape, and more planning.
The short version is there’s a large area of what should be prime real estate that is currently covered in old, abandoned, dilapidated trailer homes. Here’s a map:
The paved parking lot in the center of this picture is Mission Bay RV Resort. The land north of the paved parking lot and the entire peninsula south/east of the paved parking lot is full of abandoned trailer homes.
Here’s what that peninsula looks like from the north side of the cove at sunset:
Like I said, “Prime real estate.”
And here’s what all the abandoned houses on that prime real estate look like:
The homes go all the way back to the 1950’s and, at one time, the neighborhoods were probably pretty nice. However, over many years, the residents were forced out because the city wanted the property back – the land was never supposed to have been used for a trailer park and the city wanted to re-develop it. But that led to all kinds of legal wrangling and costly court battles. Those court battles dragged on for decades and finally ended when the last residents were forced out in 2016.
By then, the area was in complete disrepair, and it’s only gotten worse since.
Today, there are over 100 homes that are actively decaying. Collapsed roofs, separating walls, broken windows, loose bricks, torn down fences, and lots of damage from squatters. Oh, and the homes are believed to be full of asbestos and possibly other toxic chemicals.
In the meantime, the city has been trying to decide what to do with the entirety of De Anza Cove. Some people want to make the land accessible for public recreation while others want to turn all or part of it back into marshland – especially in light of expected challenges due to climate change. This has brought out different interest groups and led to years of planning commissions, consultants, studies, and meetings, all of which culminated in a 2019 proposal that would have resolved at least some of the issues, but that proposal has also been mired in difficulties. The end result is little visible progress has been made on removing these rapidly deteriorating homes.
So, what does all this have to do with our stay at Mission Bay RV Resort?
Well, as part of this long convoluted process, the fate of Mission Bay RV Park is basically up in the air. The private company that used to manage the campground for the city walked away when their contract ended (the campground has always been owned by the city, but was managed by an outside company). Rather than signing a new contract with a new management company, especially in light of all the uncertainty, the city agreed to let another local RV park called Campland, manage it. This has resulted in some noticeable changes.
For one thing, their check in process (at least for monthly stays) has turned into a convoluted, confusing, red tape filled ordeal involving lots of paperwork, multiple visits to the front office, and an overly complicated billing process. In what I expect is an attempt to avoid potential legal issues (read: landlord/tenant protections), the city has turned the process of registering and staying in a monthly campsite into something only slightly less onerous than adopting a child.
In addition to all the paperwork and hoop-jumping, guests are also subjected to a 20 minute exposition on why the park’s wifi is terrible. The nightly rates to stay at this “resort” are very high, so people get upset when the wifi doesn’t work. Therefore, the folks at the front desk try to head off complaints with a very lengthy explanation blaming the pandemic because, as everyone knows, you can’t fix the internet during a pandemic. Really, if they were being honest, their 20 minute explanation could be distilled down to a 10 second: “this place is probably gonna get torn down and we’re not spending any more money on it.”
In the meantime, under the old management, the park had a private security company manning the front gate and driving around the park at all hours. They were (legitimately) concerned about unsavory characters hanging around the abandoned trailer homes and creating issues within the high priced RV park. And these guys took themselves and their marching orders very seriously. In fact, the first times we visited, we found it all to be a bit much. They were all over people about everything. However, now, with the new Campland management, security has gone in the polar opposite direction.
These guys could have rolled up to the gate…
and the Campland security guards would have waved them through with the same disinterested nod they give everyone.
That disinterest carried over into the park itself where we saw plenty of unkempt sites and inconsiderate behavior that would have been corrected under the old regime.
It really made us miss the “I take my job far too seriously” folks.
Anyway, it probably seems like I hate Mission Bay RV Park, and I do. But I don’t. Because if you ignore the dilapidated houses of horror to your left and, instead, look to your right, you just might see the most stunning sunset of your life:
And just down the way from the RV park, there’s an enormous off leash dog area called Fiesta Island that brought Thor endless joy:
and just a couple miles in the other direction are some of the most scenic beaches and boardwalks in the country
and the world’s most delicious poke bowls:
And that’s the whole thing about San Diego: It can be a giant pain. It’s expensive, it’s overpopulated, things can take forever. But if you’re willing to put up with a bit of that, the neighborhoods are fun, the hikes are interesting, the coastline is spectacular, and the food and beer rarely disappoint.
Entertaining Ourselves During the Shutdown
We got to Mission Bay on December 1, and on December 6, the governor pretty much shut down the whole state.
Prior to the 6th, counties had been operating with certain Covid restrictions based on their individual case positivity rates, but when the numbers started going out of control, the government tossed that whole system and, instead, started focusing on ICU capacity. Additionally, the government broke the state into regions, grouping together neighboring counties under the theory that they would share hospital space (ie: if Los Angeles’s hospitals were overrun, they would naturally reach out to San Diego County to help them handle patient load. Therefore, it made sense to track ICU capacity for certain localities together.)
In practical terms, once the shutdown started, restaurants were restricted to take out and delivery only, personal care services (salons, etc.) were shuttered, and there were capacity restrictions on regular retail. However, unlike the spring shutdown, the government left parks, trails, beaches, and playgrounds open, and encouraged people to get outside and get exercise.
For us, this meant we basically kept to ourselves and spent our time walking and jogging around the park next door, taking the dog to Fiesta Island, and neighborhood hopping – one of our favorite things to do anyway. We revisited some places we’d been before and explored new neighborhoods. Fortunately, the weather was “San Diego perfect” throughout our visit, so we always had good reason to head outdoors.
This is a happening little neighborhood right near the airport. And when I say “right near,” I mean, “right near”:
This neighborhood had lots of young people, plenty of nightlife, several breweries, and a welcome assortment of places to get cannolis. Win win win. Before the shutdown, the neighborhood’s business district encouraged restaurants to build large seating areas on the sidewalks and streets, so once the shutdown was over, the neighborhood came alive again.
We visited Little Italy several times during our stay and really enjoyed the overall vibe. We even wondered whether it might be an option for us to settle down there one day:
Oh, and to answer your question, yes. Of course. Obviously.
Bobbing sailboats, gleaming skyline, the U.S.S. Midway, a larger than life rendition of the famous kissing sailor photograph (which, to my former prosecutor mind, is nothing more than evidence of an assault), and sunset views along the waterfront.
What’s not to love?
This “island” (in reality, a peninsula) is home to the legendary Hotel Del Coronado. The hotel was famously used in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. Today, it is a resort which caters to the very wealthy, because some like it pricey.
The surrounding neighborhoods are beautiful too. There are many different styles of architecture, and all of them are jaw dropping:
Additionally, wherever you are on the island, you can see and hear all manner of military aircraft overhead as they take off and land at the nearby naval air station. It basically provides a free daily air show.
Speaking of free shows, we returned to this beautiful coastal area to take in the views and check up on the local seal population. Fortunately, they seemed pretty content with their lives of beach bumming. Slackers.
This spunky, funky, neighborhood feels like one of those places that will eventually get super popular and price out all the cool, independent local businesses and residents. For now, it’s one of the more “reasonably priced” neighborhoods in San Diego. Even better, it offers a central downtown area full of neat shops and is within reasonable walking distance of Balboa Park. It’s got a lot going for it and it’s where we’d probably consider if we were to actually try to live in San Diego. (Click for full versions and captions.)
We completed several hikes while in the area, but the most memorable was Potato Chip Rock (the most memorably terrible was Cowles Mountain – not because it’s a bad hike, but because we made the boneheaded decision to visit on a Saturday when everyone else was there. Big mistake). There are two ways to get to Potato Chip Rock. Both are lengthy climbs, but the Woodson Trail on the backside is a bit easier. The trek is full of big boulders:
“find the hiker” photo opportunities:
snow for the dog…
and ends with this one-of-a-kind Instagram-ready payoff:
(The drop from the rock to the ground is like 40 feet, so not definitely deadly, but not definitely not deadly and falling from it would definitely definitely ruin your day.)
San Diego Wrap Up
All things considered, San Diego ended up being a pretty good place to spend the winter. While our timing was less than ideal (the shutdown went from December 6 to January 25), we were happy to be in a place where the sun was shining and we could get outside and stay active. We found local San Diegans to be very responsible, if not exactly 100% on board with the governor’s decisions:
During the shutdown:
After the shutdown:
(This bar obviously has a large snarky banner budget.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend time with several folks we wanted to see, nor do many of the things that we would have liked to do, but no one has gotten to do what they wanted this past year, so no whining from us. We’ll just add them to our always-lengthy list of reasons to return to ‘America’s finest city.’
Next up: Death Valley National Park
Where we stayed (these are reviews from 2018 with a couple updates):
Sweetwater Summit Regional Park, Bonita, California
Mission Bay RV Resort, San Diego, California