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Southern California via camper: Winter 2016 Highlights

Sunshine, citrus, and ocean time to wrap up our first winter in the pop up camper in Southern Cali

Southern California via camper: Winter 2016 Highlights

Posted September 16, 2017 by Bailey Mareu

After a glorious 6-week stay in Tucson, Arizona at the end of 2015 (the sunshine! the cactus! the desert!) we were ready to make our way to So Cal. 

To recap: we were planning to spend the rest of winter and spring 2016 working our way up the west coast (with the ultimate goal to hit our friends’ wedding in Seattle in late May). Looooong days traveling with the camper are not ideal, so we were planning on moving every week or two up the coast (4-6 hours every move) so put us in Washington by mid-May. We were a couple of weeks ahead of “schedule” (RVers use the word "schedule" very loosely) because we had to skip New Mexico due to lower than expected evening temperatures. 

We wanted to experience San Diego but this is where we ran into some serious RV park requirements we - to this day- cannot stand. Some requirements you might encounter at RV parks: the RV needs to be 15 or 10 or even 5-years old or newer (our camper was 20+); the people need to be 55+ (we definitely were too young); OR they just flat out rejected pop up campers. Instead of making our way directly to San Diego, we found a park (via Passport America) that we could stay at for about $150 for the first week  

Oasis Palms

Oasis Palms RV park is still 2-3 hours east of San Diego and about 45 minutes south of Palm Springs. It’s near the Salton Sea which has a very interesting history. And totally, actually stinks. I couldn’t get closer than 100 feet to the edge of the water because of the smell (dead fish). Oasis Palms is across the highway from the lake which was far enough that we couldn’t smell it! Phew. 

Oasis Palms is definitely one of our two favorite RV parks. While there isn’t much to do within 20-30 minutes, the RV park itself is worth a stop for pure relaxation. Pool? Check? Palm trees? Check. Amazing sunrises and sunsets? Check. Beautiful warm winter valley temperatures? Check. Acres of FRUIT trees free for the picking? CHECK YOU GUYS. This RV park is in the middle of citrus trees galore and late January is picking time. Oranges, lemons, nectarines, and grapefruit free for the picking. This certainly isn’t the only RV park in Southern Cali with fruit trees but it’s the only one we stayed at and definitely recommend. Additional perks:

  • EXTREMELY pet friendly. We were allowed to let Emmy roam around the fenced in pool area (and thankfully the manager thought it was funny when Emmy snuck her way into some rooms adjacent to the front office and scared her)
  • Rec room with large tv (perfect for watching morning KU basketball games; with fresh-squeezed orange juice mimosas!)
  • Decent, usable wi-fi (pretty much a unicorn in our RV park experience)
  • Delicious Mexican food nearby (we found a couple of great, authentic places in Mecca and Coachella - I got to brush up on my Spanish skills, too!)
  • Crazy cheap produce. It was January but the middle of growing season in the Southern California valley. 
  • We were day-trip-close to Joshua Tree National Park! Read about our day at Joshua Tree.


  • Disc golf was not really an option here. There was a course in Palm Springs that wound around a bunch of soccer fields but not really playable with lots of people (it’s not fun to play while worrying about hitting soccer fans with a disc…)
  • Not a ton to do. We stayed for two weeks because we loved the RV park - and the weather - but there really wasn’t much else to do there to justify a longer stay. Palm Springs has some good shopping but our budget was tight.

Jamul, California

After two weeks at Oasis Palms, we had decided to take our chances closer to San Diego. Instead of taking Interstate 8 into San Diego, we decided to take the scenic route. Unfortunately for Emmy, this is where we discovered she could get car sick. Our route - on highways 78 and 79 through the mountain range separating the coast and the valley where Salton Sea is located - was beautiful but also hilly and curvy. Several stops later, we felt awful for our poor kitty who clearly was not a fan of the more scenic route. 

Before we left Oasis Palms, we found an RV park in Jamul, CA which is on the eastern edge of San Diego - about 30-35 minutes from the Mission area of the city right on the ocean. The RV park we stayed at was quiet and nestled in the foothills. It took us about 10 minutes to get into town - aka the suburbs of San Diego - but the drive was incredible. Our ears sometimes popped during the descents and ascents.

The RV park was the cheapest you would find this close to San Diego. The amenities were slim and the shower house didn’t have a private space to change once you were done in the shower. Fortunately, not many people used it. (I actually don’t remember ANYONE using it the same time I was.)

On the weekends - we have to work, remember! - we ventured into San Diego for food and fun and ocean views. 

San Diego has a great KU Alumni group and we were able to watch three KU games with fellow alumni during our two weeks in the area. The watch party location was just a block from beach. Literally, a block. During one half time, I walked to the ocean and stood with my feet in the waves BECAUSE I COULD. 

In the Mission area, we tried some seafood (Oscar’s Mexican seafood had great tacos AND great ceviche) and visited the worst 9.0 Yelp rated place there probably ever was. We visited a couple of great places with outdoor roof seating, including Pacific Beach Ale House (complete with ocean view!)

Sahara Express was a Middle Eastern restaurant in an El Cajon shopping center that had GREAT food. The Hills Local Pub - in La Mesa -  had a good beer selection and pretty tasty burgers (not something we find so easily on the road!)

We were also able to try some great beer including a stop at one of Ballast Point’s many bars in the San Diego area. 

San Diego was great and the weather was a dream. I would have preferred to be closer to the ocean and the nightlife but that will need to wait for a winter when we have a newer camper and more money to spend on an RV park (we would need to plan on spending $1,000 or more for a month’s stay. 

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