Sleeping under the stars. Roasting marshmallows over an open campfire. Waking up among the trees and the sounds of chirping birds. How does an urban camping novice bring the sweet pleasures of camping to her daughter?
The logistics of purchasing camping gear, and planning a safe excursion into the wild unknown for a few days can be a daunting task. Snippets of comedic and horror films about camping have been playing in my head ever since our daughter made her first request to go camping. Whether it’s over packing like the Griswold family, or insulting the locals as in Deliverance – overthinking can paralyze plans. I found that leaving my comfort zone (mainly my comfy apartment), and meeting the camping professionals at the KOA campground in Chula Vista made the experience simple and fun for everyone!
My daughter and I enjoyed a terrific adventure at the San Diego Metro KOA campground in Chula Vista, California.
I would describe the campground as more of a full-service resort. It is a large community with different lodging, eating and entertainment options. Everyone was super friendly, and helpful. I was struck by the diversity of the campers – all different ages and backgrounds coming together to appreciate a community in the great outdoors. There was even a shop to pick up camping essentials like fire wood and s’more ingredients, and logoed tee shirts and souvenirs.
There are a couple of different lodging choices at this KOA campground, including RV hook ups, bring-your-own tent spots, cool safari-style tents, rustic cabins or higher-maintenance cabins with indoor plumbing. Since we are easing into camping, this higher level of cabin was our preference.
Our “home away from home” in the woods was a deluxe cabin which had everything we needed. Equipped with a fully-loaded kitchen, bedroom with a queen-size bed, loft, pull-out sofa, separate sleeping area with bunk beds, a private bathroom and two parking spots. The cabin could easily sleep up to six. We invited some friends to come and camp with us one night and it was perfectly comfortable.
Living in California means we can camp year-round, especially with these cabin options. Heat, air conditioning and hot water are all provided. The cabin feels like a log cabin and offers a great option for families seeking a unique getaway in San Diego versus a hotel room.
We ate at the on-site Sand Castle Café. We sat outdoors and found plenty of choices to our liking from their Southern California style menu. I ordered the fish and chips, and my daughter ordered the hot dog off their kids menu. The food was hot and plentiful. They also offer you the option of take out so you can bring the food back to your camp site.
Fueled by our lunch we conquered the campground’s activities. The swimming pool was perfect for a quick dip. Plenty of bright yellow chairs and endless towels made lounging pool side fun and carefree.
One of the kid’s favorite activities seems to be the jumping pillow. These cool trampoline-type jumping mats are placed into the ground so there is none of the limitations of typical smaller trampolines with the metal framework. One pillow is for little kids, and another for bigger kids. I even took a jump to properly report on the action – it is a blast. Our suggestion is to get out jumping early in the day before the sun heats up the pillow surfaces.
KOA has an entire daily activity calendar, including arts & crafts, rock climbing, rocket building & launching, story times and more. Most require a small additional fee. There are also fun bike rentals available. My daughter tried out a three-wheel Fun Cycle and tired herself out whizzing throughout the campground loops. Pack your own helmet, or use the ones that they keep on hand.
I highly recommend packing lightly for your camping adventure. The campground’s General Store was well stocked. I bought wood and marshmallow skewers for the fire pit outside our cabin. The wood was delivered right to our campsite by 5:30pm. Never having earned my fire starter badge, I was concerned about building our fire. But it was so simple using the lighter and fire starters (also purchased at the store). This made me so happy since it is one of my favorite moments of my getaway with my daughter.
If you want to venture off the campground, there are lots of quick day trips to local sights. One day, we took a trip to Old Town to eat at Old Town Mexican Cafe. We watched employees hand-make tortillas. From there we browsed through the colorful, unique marketplaces.
For aquarium lovers, we highly recommend the Living Coast Discovery Center. Lots of hands-on experiences for visitors of all ages. Many of the animals are rescued. Viewing feeding times was an education, and then we stretched our legs on the adjourning natural trails. Make sure to borrow a junior backpack at the Aquarium’s Front Desk. It is loaded with resource cards, binoculars and other tools to engage kids with the exhibits.
Or if you are looking for good grub in Chula Vista, we recommend Tacos El Gordo De Tijuana (689 H Street) for delicious meals inspired by Tijuana street foods. I recommend the al pastor! Another yummy spot was MJ’s Yogurt Time and Deli – order the signature house fries for a real treat!
Overall our trip was a success. We would certainly return. Next time, I think we may try the tents for a more traditional camping experience. If you are seeking a high-end hotel, then this may not be your choice. But if you are looking for something different to engage with your family in nature and without all the electronics (don’t fret, the campsite is equipped with wifi), this may just be the answer.
Check out San Diego Metro KOA’s latest deals! Enjoy!
View more photos from our getaway!
KOA Hosted our two night stay for editorial purposes. Opinions are own.