Family travel can be green travel as well. We had a blast staying at the San Diego Metro KOA for our kids’ fall break. It was a cost-effective way to visit San Diego in the off season. The campground was fairly empty, and, as is usually the case with all San Diego campgrounds, the weather was great. There’s a ton for kids to do at this KOA. It’s also located so it’s convenient to major San Diego attractions.
We wanted a quick getaway for a few days. We live in Tucson, and our kids have a week-long, mid-October fall break. San Diego is a convenient choice for Arizona residents. Many families in Tucson take advantage of their proximity to California, and San Diego in particular. It’s a 6 – 6.5-hour drive which makes it doable even for a long weekend. Sometimes us desert-dwellers just need to see the ocean. It’s always great to play at the beach for a few days.
San Diego off season camping
Peak season is expensive everywhere, of course, and hotels located on or near the beach are expensive year-round. We thought we’d try camping in San Diego for our October excursion. Over the summer, my husband and son camped at Silver Strand State Beach for their Boy Scout sailing trip. (They also had the opportunity to stay overnight on the USS Midway!) On their last night, they stayed at the KOA in San Diego. Everyone on the trip wished they’d had more time there.
I thought beach camping at the state park sounded fantastic. My husband thought it was fine but that there were better choices where you wouldn’t have to deal with all of that sand and the not-so-great restrooms and showers. He raved about the San Diego KOA, their grounds, and the amenities. My son really wished he had more time to hang out there.
So, when we were planning our fall break – a last-minute trip – we chose to stay at the San Diego Metro KOA. The address is 111 N. 2nd Ave in Chula Vista, California.
Activities for kids at KOA
We were there for four days and wish we had more time to enjoy all the amenities at KOA. Even if you stayed at a luxury hotel, you wouldn’t have all of these choices. What families will love is that there are things to do for older children who are often “bored” on vacations. The camp was laid out nicely, and we very quickly found ourselves feeling like it was home. They even allow your dog to come camping with you.
Things we did:
They have a well-maintained outdoor court with two nets. Even your little ones will be able to shoot with the adjustable nets. This is a great way for kids to interact with other kids too as they can have fun playing basketball or other games. We brought our own basketball but learned when we got there that you can borrow one from the desk with an ID.
Next to the basketball court is a big grassy field with a path surrounding it. You can bring a soccer ball, a football or croquet. The kids will have fun running around too.
There are two large jumping pillows. One is for younger children and the other is for older kids.
Bicycles to rent
Or bring your own bike. We saw kids on skateboards, roller blades and families with their own bikes and wagons. You can rent a variety of non-traditional bikes: 3-wheel, 4-wheel and 2 – 6 person bikes. These are great for families and extended families to explore the campground and spend time together. You can rent them by the half hour or hour.
You need to be careful and mindful of cars but there are all of these “streets” within the campground which make it super-fun for kids to explore and get exercise while they are in a contained area. If you visit here in the off-season, your kids will have an even better time cruising the streets. My kids and I rented bikes and had fun playing hide and seek on bikes on all the different roads throughout the campground.
Each bike has a raised flag attached to make it easier for vehicles to see them.
I was thrilled to see there was a pool table and air hockey in the arcade room, not just video games. This was a fun way to spend time with my kids and teach them billiards which they don’t get to play regularly. There are a few video games as well but it isn’t overwhelming. You can rent the billiards with an ID and for a very nominal fee.
There are two. There is a smaller one by the restrooms and a larger one by the pool. The larger one also has a covered area with picnic tables and room to run around. Families and groups will have fun hanging out in this section.
This is next to the game room. You will come in here to check in and check out. This is also where you rent bikes, billiard equipment and more. It’s a fairly large shop with fun souvenirs.
Things we didn’t do or have time for:
Swimming pool and hot tub
If we didn’t live in Arizona with our own swimming pool, we probably would have made time to use the pool. We swam in the ocean though so we didn’t want to swim again when we got back to camp. It’s a large pool with a hot tub off to the side. Adults can enjoy the evening, adults-only times for the hot tub. They will be closing this area when the new, larger aquatics center is finished.
New aquatics center
They are in the process of building a huge aquatics center. This will be an extraordinary space, comparable to fine hotels. If you didn’t want to leave the KOA grounds before, you really won’t after lounging in a chair or hanging out under one of their canopies. They are also including many green features.
This area will also feature a workout area and new women’s and men’s showers, laundry facilities, meeting room, and more.
Rock climbing wall
There is a fee for this activity and certain hours. We didn’t check it out because we were busy with other activities but it would be a fun thing to do. You purchase the pass for the day and enjoy climbing when you want to.
Sand Castle Cafe
We didn’t eat here because we brought our own food, but there is food and beverages for sale, including alcohol. Depending on the day, you might be able to enjoy a wine and beer tasting. There’s also an outdoor shooting gallery here that we saw but didn’t try.
Ping pong and horseshoes
We were told when we were leaving that there was ping pong and horseshoes there too… we didn’t even see it but how fun that would be! You can borrow the equipment at the desk with your ID. There’s so much to do while camping in San Diego!
Weekly activities calendar
These activities are the one thing you might miss if you visit here during the off-season. They have family fun activities year round but on a limited basis. We arrived on a Sunday and weren’t able to enjoy any of them. It was fine as we had plenty to do.
But if you are there for the full weekend or during the high season during the week, you might be able to enjoy tie-dye, cookie decorating, hay rides, flashlight lollipop hunts, movie nights, playing laser tag, barrel train rides, family games, story time, and so much more! The KOA will email you a few days in advance of your arrival so you can plan what you will be able to do. They really offer some cool activities… again, especially when it’s difficult sometimes to please tweens and teens. I’m sure my kiddos would have loved it.
Families enjoy being outside
The best part about all of these kids’ activities is that kids can be outside. They can do more than just sit in a hotel room watching TV or staring into a screen. They can choose from a lot of things to do.
The grounds are beautiful with trees, and it’s very clean.
Cost-effective vacation during the off-season
When we went to San Diego this trip, we were either enjoying time at the KOA — hanging out, playing at one of the above activities, preparing meals, eating, or around the campfire — or at the beach. We didn’t even visit any of the San Diego attractions which were so close.
We wanted to maximize our time at the KOA. This made it very cost effective for our family. Our expenses were gas to get there, our KOA accommodations, renting bikes and playing in the game room at KOA, and the nominal parking fee at the beach. That’s it! We brought our own food so we didn’t have the expense of eating at restaurants, which is a greener way to travel, too.
What’s great about this way to camp in San Diego is that there are different ways you can stay. This makes it viable for families on a budget as well as for those who want more of a glamping experience. No matter which option you choose, you still get to enjoy all of the amenities there. Your kids will have a fantastic time with all there is to do.
All of these options means there are different price points. You can bring your own tent, the least expensive option, and still enjoy all of the amenities as people spending a lot more for the deluxe cabin. There is Wi-Fi too.
Also is great is you can have all of the benefits of camping — the campfire, spending time making meals and enjoying time together — without investing in and bringing all of your own camping equipment.
Bring your camper or RV
They offer full hookups with different options to choose from. Maximum length is 70 feet.
- Pull through or back in
- With a patio or without
- Choose a spot with room for tents if you want the option to sleep outside or if you just want more room
- Most have asphalt site pads
Rent a cabin
The deluxe cabins at KOA have a bathroom with shower and partial kitchen. sleeps six and includes all linens; has TV and DVD player. This is a great mix for families who want to cook all of their own meals. You will enjoy relaxing on the porch and around your own fire ring. There’s even a gas grill. Some cabins offer a sleeping loft. There’s also an ADA accessible deluxe cabin that sleeps four.
We chose this option and absolutely loved it! We saw two of these on the property. These tents will be taken down and redone in late 2017 into 2018. They will be true eco-tents with solar and more. They will be on raised platforms.
Based on safari tents in Africa, our safari tent had four beds and slept six. There was plenty of room to walk around and stand, with a very high ceiling and a wooden floor and seven windows. We even had electricity. Among other things, we were able to use:
- Two lamps, small table
- Mini fridge
- Coffee maker
- Cooler, small fan
- Garbage can, bags
- Can opener, corkscrew, cheese grater, tongs, spatula, colander
- Grilling tools
- Silverware, sharp knives, cups, plates, mugs
- Pots, pans, trivets, cutting board
- Dish soap, sponge
- Washing bin, drying rack
- Six beach towels and six bath towels; hand towels, wash cloths
- All linens, pillows
- Broom, dustpan
- Drying rack – great for beach towels and swimsuits
The eco-tents are in the perfect location on the property with easy access to the showers and restrooms and even closer to the Kamper Kitchen. We loved sitting around our fire ring and at our own picnic table. There was a grill too but we used the electric one at the kitchen.
We thought this safari tent was awesome and were stunned to learned they will be replaced with even better ones. We are looking forward to visiting again when these are completed.
Camping cabin – 2 room
Sleeps up to six people; need to bring linens; no kitchen. Outside you will enjoy the picnic table, porch with swing, and fire ring.
Cabin – 1 room
Sleeps up to four people. You will need to bring linens and towels, etc. There is a porch with a swing, your own fire ring and picnic table.
Like all the other options, you also have options even when it comes to tent camping at KOA. There are tent sites with electricity and water and those without. Some sites have sand, mulch or grassy areas.
The Kamper Kitchen at KOA makes it easy for you to cook meals. There are three workstations, each with an electric stove top and a double sink. This area also has a large propane grill; propane included.
This area was very clean. Most guests cleaned the water that inevitability splashed when they washed produce or cleaned their dishes and pots, etc. The only things this area could benefit from would be a recycling bin and some towels to wipe down the sink areas. Many people did clean up after themselves but many did not.
This area is lit up at night as well. (At least until 10pm. I was asleep so I’m not sure if it was lit all night. Quiet hours are 10pm – 7am. The people around us all kept to these quiet hours.)
There are BBQ grills at most sites as well. There are also large sinks to wash pots and pans near the restrooms.
Restrooms and showers
The restrooms and showers were very clean, well-lit and in a good location. Again, we were there off season so everything was very pleasant; there weren’t lines, noise, crowds or chaos.
This San Diego KOA was in a convenient location to many beaches and attractions. Because of this, it really makes it a fantastic choice for visiting San Diego in the off season or anytime.
Areas for improvement
We didn’t see any recycling cans on the property, and there weren’t any by the Kamper Kitchen. There may have been recycling at other areas in the park but we didn’t see them.
Also in the Kamper Kitchen, we would have liked to see a can or something to dispose grease. I would imagine campers are pouring it down the sinks, in the plants or in the garbage.
Bring a basketball, scooter, skateboard — whatever your kids excel at — and a helmet. They will have fun being outside in somewhat unstructured activities while the adults can relax, visit and prepare meals.
What we did when we were at KOA
- Unpacked and explored camp
- Kids jumped on jumping pillow
- We played basketball
- Make dinner
- Campfire and s’mores
- Slept in
- Jumping pillow
- Silver Strand Beach with picnic
- Grocery shopping (we brought some food with us)
- Jumping pillow
- Make dinner
- Fire and s’mores
- Rented bikes
- Jumping pillow
- Silver Strand Beach (with snacks)
- Jumping pillow
- Slept in
- Started packing up
- Jumping pillow
- Check out
- Arcade including playing pool/ billiards
- Drive home
We are excited to return soon when their new pool area is completed. It seems like it will be a high-end pool experience. There will also be upgraded showers, restrooms and laundry facilities as well as a meeting room and workout room.
We are hopeful this KOA remains a place for green travel.
Ways to travel green
Camping is great way to enjoy green travel. You reduce your impact on the environment when you cook your own meals at your site. When you make one trip out for groceries and cook your meals onsite, you greatly reduce emissions, waste and may even eat healthier.
Here are some things we did to be earth-friendly:
- Brought our own reusable water bottles
- Refilled water from KOA sinks
- Brought food instead of eating in restaurants and fast food places
- Brought our own reusable plates and cutlery not realizing our safari tent (soon to be eco-tent) included them for use.
- Enjoyed simple things like preparing meals, eating meals together and cleaning up together afterwards instead of major attractions.
- Carried out our recycling to recycle at home. (We didn’t see recycling there.)
Going to this KOA was a welcome change from the commercialism is staying in hotels. It’s a much greener way to travel as well. Usually at the end of a day or sightseeing we would come back to our hotel room and turn on the TV. Here, we left the electronics at home and enjoyed playing outside, electronics-free.
Usually we spend a lot of money staying in a hotel and are barely there. At KOA, you will want to stay there and hang out — it’s all part of the experience.
The kids will have a great time. It’s a wonderful place for families and groups.
San Diego in the off season
While it’s a big vacation for others in the country to go to San Diego, living in Tucson we feel it’s practically in our backyard. When the kids have a long weekend from school or a few days after the break, it’s great to be able to just drive on over to San Diego. Often we don’t need to plan it out like we would if we were flying. We just pack our suitcases and go.
We’ve traveled from Tucson to San Diego two other times for our kids’ school breaks. It’s a great way to experience San Diego without the crowds.
The first time we went was for our kids’ rodeo break, a four-day weekend at the end of February. We went to Legoland California for two days and spent time at the beach. The second time was like this trip, over fall break in October. Our kids took surfing lessons, and we all enjoyed the beach. We really enjoy visiting San Diego in off-peak, less crowded times.
We are lucky in that our kids’ school has non-traditional school days off. Many families in Tucson, and probably in Arizona statewide, take off to California to enjoy theme parks, national parks, and the beach.
Aside from the scouts trip, the other times we visited San Diego, we stayed in hotels. This time we wanted to camp and to travel more green. We were also able to save money by not staying in a hotel. We also saved money by bringing our own food and not eating in restaurants.
San Diego in the off-season
If you can swing it, it’s a good idea to visit San Diego in the off-season. If you are going to an attraction, they are a lot less crowded. They are often less expensive too. Many attractions raise their rates during peak seasons and holidays.
The San Diego Kids Go Free offer runs in October. It depends on the attraction, but most offer free admission to children with a paying adult.
Major attractions in San Diego
When you visit San Diego in the off season, you can take advantage of great deals. These are close to the San Diego KOA so you can camp in San Diego while enjoying these great sites:
- SeaWorld San Diego
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps
- San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park
- San Diego Zoo and Safari Park in Escondido
- Legoland California
- USS Midway Museum
Other San Diego attractions
- Gondola tour
- San Diego Harbor Tour with Flagship Cruises or Hornblower Cruises
- Trolley tours
- San Diego Air and Space Museum
- San Diego Automotive Museum
There are so many opportunities to explore art, archaeology, history, architecture, botany, music, photography, science and more in San Diego.
Traveling from Tucson to San Diego
Depending on how often and how many times you stop, you can usually make it from San Diego to Tucson in about six and a half hours. Door-t0-door from our home to the Metro KOA in San Diego is 419 miles.
Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch
There are some unique tourist sites to explore along the way, if you have time. There is Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch along I-10 in Picacho, Arizona where you can see and feed ostriches, goats, donkeys, stingrays, and even rainbow lorikeets, a type of parrot. You can also tour a monster truck.
Yuma, Arizona is also a great stopping point. It’s about 180 miles from San Diego. It’s a great rest stopping point to refill gas and get some food to break up the drive.
Many families traveling from Tucson to California may opt to spend the night in Yuma. In Yuma, you can visit the Territorial Prison for a tour. The Territorial Prison was built in 1876. You can learn about the prisoners and see the conditions here. You will even get to go in prison cells. We brought our kids here when they were eight and ten years old, and they enjoyed it.
We had a guided tour but there are self-guided tours as well. There is a well-organized inside museum filled with history.
You will also want to check out Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farms. Be sure to get a world-famous date shake or other date products.
San Diego Metro KOA review
We had a fun and relaxing trip. It was the type of vacation that afterwards, you don’t feel like you need a vacation; you actually feel like it was relaxing. It’s a wonderful place for kids, especially over five. Bring bikes and scooters. You will really enjoy it if you visit during the off-season when it’s much less crowded. Your kids will have a ball safely riding around the KOA roads and around the grassy area by the basketball nets.
You could easily make this your big yearly vacation — in a cost-effective way. Go to the beach, then at KOA you can swim at the pool, play at the playground, enjoy a nightly campfire, jump on the jumping pillow, bring your scooters and bikes to ride around. The fun is pedaling through camp more than the bikes themselves though they are very unique and fun. Just know it will add up quickly if your kids want to do this everyday.
From seeing all of the maintenance workers cleaning and up-keeping the property/grounds and cabins, bathrooms, and kitchen, you can tell this KOA is a large employer. The staff was friendly as well.
Camping in San Diego
You will enjoy staying at this San Diego KOA. When we weren’t at the beach, we were at our eco-tent, preparing meals, or having fun exploring the grounds which made it a very cost-effective vacation to San Diego. We saved money and traveled green by not eating out in restaurants. We loved visiting San Diego in the off season to avoid the crowds.
The KOA is in a convenient location, with easy access to major San Diego attractions and tourist destinations and several beaches.
We are eagerly awaiting the chance to stay in their new eco-tents and to check out one of their cabins as well. We felt like we were a world away from our regular lives.