KOAs are not primitive camping (or ‘camping’ as I was raised with). They are more like RV parks with tenting capabilities. Generally speaking I prefer solitude to amenities, but when traveling on the cheap and with children, these really are great. For $30-$45 a night you have a spot to park your tent and cook your meals and a convenient starting point for enjoying the lovely city of San Diego and surround areas for example. The KOA in Chula Vista has a play ground, a pool, a cafe, quad cycles that you can rent, jumping pillows, a climbing wall, and best of all- trees and grass. The kids thought they were at an amusement park. Showers and restrooms really aren’t awful to have access to either. Also, there are sweet little cabins available if you feel like a little luxury.
We paid extra to have a more out of the way site without any neighbors (it also happened to have electricity and water), but there were various tent camping spots available. Our site has wood chips, the other tent sites have grass.
The next morning we woke up and packed up right away. It took us 15 minutes to get to the San Diego zoo, and we even beat the crowds to a choice parking spot near the entrance.
When you are traveling on the cheap and trying to cover many miles, taking the time to pick out the perfect campground in an unfamiliar wilderness (or city) doesn’t really make sense. Pulling over at the nearest safe spot so you can eat and sleep and the kids can burn off some steam does. I will also add that both of the KOAs we visited on this trip were extremely quiet. It seems that quiet hours are either strictly enforced or respected or both. I am so pleased to have discovered such a convenient and affordable way to have room and board on the road and on the fly.
This state park is 1.5 hours south of LA and 30 minutes north of San Diego. It is busy, and reservations must be made well in advance of your visit. We reserved our spot in May for this October visit. You want a spot overlooking the beach and not one of the spots sandwiched between the other campers and the road. But once you have carefully studied the campground map, looked at campsitephotos.com (that’s what I do anyway), and made your reservation (around $40 a night), here’s what you can expect.
These spots are pretty tight and some have trees/shrubs separating them from the others, some not so much. We had 163 near the end of the park. It faced the road on one side (rather than other campers) and the beach on the other. Next time I’ll book earlier and get one with shrubs on both sides, probably the one right in between the bathroom and the path down to the beach in the 160s.
Our neighbors were a very large crowd of many families. People stuffing as many of themselves and their stuff into one spot seemed to be pretty common. The good news about this is that with the sound of the ocean, you actually don’t hear too much from your neighbors unless they are very close by. I am an extremely light sleeper, and I faired just fine and better in this busy campground thanks to the endless crashing of the waves. Get a nice awning with a side wall, and you can pretend you are alone on the bluff with the Pacific Ocean.
These spots are perched high above the beach, and it is truly a lovely the view marred only by a utilitarian chain link fence. Perhaps California can spring for something more attractive someday. The sites each had a picnic table and fire ring. We spent three days and two nights and will be returning.
The walk down to the beach was 5 minutes for us. Once there, the crowds were minimal. The water was perfect for the heatwave. My skin is still tingling with the memory and my mind’s eye occupied with my boys’ faces as they played in the waves.
There were restrooms that were cleanish, most lacking hand soap so bring your own. The showers required quarters so we skipped them. The laundry facility has three small machines which we eagerly out to use. There were periodic spigots for rinsing off sand. There was a little camp store with the expected t shirts and souvenirs, but also and more importantly they had ice.
A final perk is the accessibility to Carlsbad. There are many restaurants very nearby if you are tired of camp cooking. We checked out Pizza Port on the recommendation of my sister. The place was massive with rows of shared picnic tables and semi frenzied guests acting a little lord of the flies-ish in acquiring spots. Many families, much stimulation, and children everywhere. The good news about that was that no one cared when my travel weary children forgot their table manners. My 1 year old actually was involved in a minor baby brawl (he lost) with a larger baby wearing only pajama bottoms.
Does the U.S. love road trips? Yes it does! Our country is large. Our terrain and culture is varied. Our parks are many. We love automobiles. And it is the ultimate in democratic travel. Everyone with a road worthy vehicle can partake. Gas is currently way more affordable than plane tickets for a family of four. And I like to think that some of the mythological American still exists. The rugged individualism, the ‘go west and find prosperity and adventure’ the fierce independence of what we thought we once were. But I digress.
Trailer packed. Roof top tent mounted on trailer. Futon in Subaru. Our two-bedroom-road-trip-camparu was ready. Both kids had runny noses, one had a cough. Just under 1,000 miles of road, most of it the long dry desolate desert of Arizona lay ahead of us. We would be enjoying many climates, from cold mountain air, to desert heat, to sandy beach humidity. And we set off on the adventure.
Things I have learned since leaving three days ago:
1. Yes. It is a long haul with small children.
2. Yes. It is worth it.
3. KOA campsites are your friend. They are everywhere. (Middle of nowhere, middle of city). They are easy to access from the highway. They are cheap. They are quiet. They have bathrooms and playgrounds.
4. Do not try to make good time on such a road trip. Plan for many stops and long stays so the kids enjoy themselves and don’t make you pay from their car seats.
5. Whatever your set up, if you decide the next campground you see is the one you want to sleep at, and your kids are asleep in their car seats- you will want to be able to set up beds quickly. Lightning fast. Our first night, we stopped driving around 9:30. By 9:45, both boys were asleep in their respective beds and J and I were enjoying a beer under the starry desert night of AZ. (This involved futon in the Outback and a roof top tent on a trailer). An airstream would be easier. But we can’t tow one with our 4 cylinder outback and we can’t afford one/ don’t have time to renovate one we can afford.
5. Absolutely indespensable items:
- A good attitude and flexibility.
- Organizational skills. Do not bring anything that you can’t keep organized. Three camp meals a day with two little ones, and getting everyone dressed will make you crazy unless you run a tight ship. (Or it does me).
6. Things I didn’t think I really needed until I used them on this trip:
- An awning. We have th REI Alcove and it is great. Shade is obviously important. The optional side wall gave us privacy in the crowded campground. We backed the car right up to it, shading the car and providing a living room of sorts for the car bed. I stretched the sidewall over our car windows at night for added privacy.
- Our berkey go water filter. We can fill our plastic 3 gallon water can up at any campground faucet and have plenty of clean and safe water to drink. Keeping hydrated is so important, this keeps the cost and waste down of endless plastic water bottles
- The out sunny aluminum folding table. (Pictured above) It is tiny, and it is a tad shaky at times, but we ate every meal there. It’s big enough for my 6’1″ husband and small enough for our one year old. It folds in a flash and is lightweight. We actually never even brought our camp chairs out.
- A fan. Yes we froze in the high desert at night, but once we reached the coast, California was in the middle of a heatwave. A car at night can get stuffy under the best of circumstances. Our little fan powered by an incredible 8 D batteries kept the air moving just enough to make the paltry breeze moving through the two open windows feel good.
All in all the trip has been wonderful. We are already planning another even longer trip next summer. The kids are absolute troopers and watching them experience the ocean for the first time has been amazing. We our leaving our beach campsite and heading to the city next. The world is wide and time is short. I’m so pleased to be able to introduce the joys of travel to these boys and not have to wait until we can afford it.
It has been a number of years since J and I upset our lives and our goals in search of what we wanted. I think it an appropriate time to re-visit what birthed this blog, how far we have come, and where we now want to go.
Sometime in 2012 after the birth of little boy number 1, I lay in bed nursing said child while J was off in a studio class for his Masters degree in Landscape Architecture. I was nearing the end of ‘maternity leave’ (10 weeks of unpaid leave from the local Public Defenders office), and crying every time I thought of leaving my still very small and very helpless infant in the arms of someone else while I ran off to defend people in court for crimes they did and did not commit. I stumbled across the New York Times article described and linked in the ‘about’ page to this blog.
The perhaps too romanticized (or perhaps not) protagonists in the story were old people on the Greek island of Ikaria. Old because they managed to live long lives. And celebrated in the article because of their longevity. They woke up naturally, they gardened and climbed mountains (or steep hills) daily. They drank tea and ate vegetables from these mountains and gardens. They napped. They sat and drank wine and ate goat cheese and laughed with friends in the early evenings. They lived near family and their community was close.
This life struck me as beautiful, peaceful, natural, ideal. I shared it with J. And it got into our heads and under our skin. The courtroom and its hard wooden benches filled with people mired in a variety of problems ranging from the tragic to the annoying repelled me. The stress of J’s studio critiques and how much time they took away from our newborn dramatically decreased his zeal for his chosen path. We wanted another way. We wanted Ikaria.
And so we burned it all down, sold the house and moved North to the small beautiful town where I grew up. And here we are. He is building his landscaping business slowly. He spends his days cultivating beautiful gardens and witnessing their owners’ delight in them. On some days he works with a colleague whose company he enjoys, others he is solo. I get to be the primary caregiver for our two boys and have the luxury of being able to slowly build a legal practice that doesn’t suck my soul.
It is not all roses of course. Money is tight, we rely too much on credit cards. I get frustrated with my delayed career and my decidedly maid-like daily activities. J’s winter job is low paying and sometimes grueling. We are concerned about education quality and are anticipating a move when the boys need better schools.
However we are driving to the coast in a week, camping along the way as one last hurrah before camping season gives way to ski season. We didn’t have to ask for the time off and don’t need to worry about hotels and restaurants and airfare. (Our spring and summer was dedicated to building our ability to travel cheaply, lightly, and relatively comfortably by car). We have a lovely home that sits on land where the boys can stretch their legs. The mountains are in view and in easy reach. We enjoy beer with friends while children play in the grass at our local drinking hole. Our gardens are extensive if neglected. My dad is close by and the boys know and love him well. We have come close to our Ikaria.
- As the winter approaches, landscaping will give way to ski tuning and I will hopefully work more as J has more time to care for the boys. The dramatic Rocky Mountain seasons stave off ennui and as does a lifestyle dictated by them. We are pretty content. I wish everyone a beautiful fall and the ability to carve out an existence that serves their truest and most cherished priorities.