An abridged version of this post first appeared in Outdoor Family Magazine.
What could possibly go wrong? Four boys jostling in a small space, no husbands to pawn them off on for a few seconds of peace?
Well. This. This could go wrong.
And it did. Over and over again. But that’s not the whole story.
The idea was born after my husband told me he was going away on a surf trip with our oldest son, Kyle.
He chose to go the one week of summer when there would be no camp. So, while they got to go do this:
I would get to do this
No. I refused to let it happen. So, I asked the boys: what should we do?
We had to do something. I didn’t think I’d survive the week without having to becoming a zoo keeper and finding a way to re-invent the hokey pokey. Plus, I wanted to have some fun too.
I’d been thinking a lot lately about San Diego. It’s where I went to college and a place I’ve always loved for it’s beauty and people’s friendliness..
There’s a beach campground in the northern part of the county called San Onofre State Beach. I used to tent camp there with my girlfriends, pre-marriage, and then our family started RV camping there postpartum. It’d been years and I wanted to go back.
I booked our campsite on a website called Reserve America. Most campsites nationwide can be booked there. Because there is such a high demand for space in some campgrounds, you’d normally have to make a reservation 6 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve a campsite in California) and it still wasn’t easy. You’d have to get on your computer, your smartphone and your friend’s computer at 7 in the morning and keep hitting refresh until you found a site you could call your own. It’s like winning a crazy radio station contest. For some reason though, there were still plenty of spots available when I looked at dates two weeks out, so hurray!
Tip #1: Stay at San Mateo Campgrounds
Since we wanted to be around the San Onofre State Beach area, there are a few campground options but if you want to be as close as possible to San Onofre State Beach, then you have to stay at the campground there. However, there are two different areas to choose from, the ones at San Onofre State Beach and the ones at San Mateo Bluffs. Its tempting to choose the San Onofre State Beach ones because those sites are closer to the ocean. I made this mistake the first time I went. They’re also closer to the 5 freeway and the railroad tracks. When you finally lie down after a long day at the beach, it feels like the cars are inches, instead of feet, away from rolling over your head. Instead of falling asleep to the serenade of ocean waves, you’re awake all night praying not to get hit and popping awake every 5 seconds after drifting off between passing trucks. When the train rolls by, you get the extra added pleasure of having the ground bounce beneath you. Earplugs might help but not by much. The San Mateo Bluffs, on the other hand, are a 5 minute drive away, still very convenient….and quiet. Just do a search for San Onofre SB and under “Narrow Results” click on the drop down menu called “Loop” – then select a San Mateo Bluffs site from there.
Tip #2: Have an RV delivered to your site
We are bargain travelers and always trying to get the best deal. Normally, when we camp, my husband goes onto Craig’s List and finds a private party from whom we rent an RV for a fraction of the cost of renting from a dealer. We drive it ourselves. We stuff our SUV with everything we’ll need for the week or so that we’ll be using the RV and transfer everything when we arrive to the place it’s parked. It’s not hard when you have someone helping but I didn’t have the time or energy to do all that on my own with two crazy kids.
I had heard of companies that do drop off rentals of trailers. It turns out, every campsite has their own companies they’re contracted to allow RV drop offs. I called to see which companies were authorized to drop off at the campsite we chose and I was told Luv 2 Camp was my ticket. I was a little annoyed that there wasn’t a few to choose from (some campgrounds have this option) but renting from them ended up being about the same price as renting a nearby RV , driving it to the campground and then paying extra to have them stock it with all the essentials Luv 2 Camp would already have included. Remember, we’re going for easy here. Besides, they were cool when I spoke with them and told them what we were doing and gave me a free night for an honest review.
So with the foundation of our 3 night trip in place, all I needed was to recruit a trail blazing friend with kids to be my partner in crime.
I found my kindred spirit in my friend, Lori, whose husband is NOT into camping and wished her well as she packed weekend gear for two boys and a mommy.
Tip #3: Use a list to remember what to bring
I’m pretty sure I have permanent mommy brain, which is a form of temporary amnesia that affects the hormonally-charged and sleep-deprived moms in early parenthood. Only mine never seemed to have gone away so lists are a must. There are several that are helpful for camping but I used the one at GoRVing.com to help me remember all those little items that non-regular campers might forget. Like firewood (they sell this at the campground for $6 a bundle if you do forget) or a first -aid kit. (We use colloidal silver first -aid gel and band-aids to heal mostly everything.)
You must bring a first-aid kit because someone always gets hurt.
Not sure why with my mellow kids.
Luckily, Lori’s boys were mellow so they sort of balanced my jumping jellybeans out.
Even with a list, we didn’t make it to the campsite until about 7pm -after all the last minute shopping…
…and fighting that went on throughout the day (everything takes MUCH longer when you must stop every 2 minutes to break it up)…
…everyone was super excited to see the RV trailer all set up and waiting for us!
We unloaded our stuff fast because the inmates were getting restless and hungry. I had brought salmon to grill on the campfire pit and Lori tossed together a salad and pasta inside the trailer. That’s the really nice thing about having an RV. You get a smidgen of comfort next to the rugged wild.
How to build a campfire:
All you need to build a killer campfire is dry wood stacked in a tepee formation, newspapers beneath it and lighter fluid sprayed over the whole set up. Perfect every time.
One thing I didn’t love is the rental company provided dishes and cups that were all plastic. In real life, we try and stay away from plastic, especially with hot liquids, because of all the carcinogenic and hormonally disruptive chemicals that it leeches. So we just put paper plates and cups on our shopping list for the next day (there’s a Ralph’s about a mile away). We would temporarily forego our commitment to the environment so we wouldn’t have to do dishes or poison ourselves with plastic. I think Mother Nature would understand.
The next day found us up early and excited for the beach after a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns and turkey bacon. Score another point for the stovetop inside the warm RV.
We packed our beach gear and set out.
One great thing about camping at this campsite is that your parking pass for the campground is also good for the beach parking lot. Try to get to the beach on the early side, as the lot fills up fast and you have to wait in a line of cars until the current occupants call it a day.
Tip #4: Bring a surfboard or boogie board
One reason we love San Onofre State Beach is because it has the best and longest wave in Southern California. It’s the perfect place to learn to surf or just ride the ocean for what seems like forever. We specifically like a section of the beach called Old Man’s.
Costco has reasonably priced foam boards which are perfect for beginners and you’ll find this beach sprinkled with them.
The waves were perfect the first day, small and long. All the boys went in and loved splashing around.
Tip #5 Bring a wetsuit and booties
If you’re going to surf or boogie board, then you should probably bring a wetsuit and a pair of booties to protect your feet from the small rocks in the shallow parts of the beach.
We forgot ours.
The boys brought their spring suits, which are wetsuits with short sleeves and pants legs, but we all forgot booties. It kinda sucked. The boys handled it ok but mommy has sensitive feet (or she’s become a wussy) and didn’t love having to navigate through those slippery, pointy little rocks. You can rent a wetsuit for $15 a day through a surf shop like Rip Curl and even a surfboard which is what Lori did.
We spent the day headquartered at the beach.
Went into the water when we felt like it.
Even mommy got into it!
But it was Kaleb who really impressed.
This is the boy who 2 years ago wouldn’t even get in the water.
And now he rushes it!
We had an epic day at the beach…..
…but all good things must end. We weren’t sad though because we still had our campsite to look forward to!
I have said before that camping people are notoriously nice. The boys made friends with a man who was camping with his family at the site next-door. At first I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea so I stayed around to watch. Then, I made sure they all knew they couldn’t go into anyone’s RV alone and after a while I realized that despite all the media portrayal to the otherwise, there are still nice people in this world with no hidden agenda (I still kept an eye out though;)
Tip #6 Bring Bikes
It’s not just for boys. Kids love to explore and there isn’t a safer place to do it than around a campground. It really is like a little village where everyone looks out for each other.
Plus the mommies finally got a break when they could relax…
…and make some dinner. This night’s menu was organic hotdogs, veggie burgers, salad and s’mores!
After all that fun, I was super happy to climb into my warm bed.
The next morning, we were up bright and early, ready to head back to our favorite beach!
The boys put on their beach uniforms.
And we headed out for another day of adventure. Today the tide was super low and after battling the rocks enough times (and gathering some toe injuries along the way), the boys decided to explore the tide pools created by the receding water.
After another long and fun day at the beach, we went back to our campsite and loaded up on more s’mores, wine and chocolate (oh yeah, there was a dinner in there too but this time we just got Mexican because there was a drive-through restaurant next door to the surf shop where we had to return our wetsuits and surfboard – the mommies had earned a break!)
The night flew by…..
Sadly, the next morning we had to load up our gear to head back home.
As we were getting ready to leave, the boys rode back to us, bike tires blazing, to tell us they had discovered a blind cat in a sewer and could they have some food to feed it?
Success! The “blind” cat succumbed to their entreaties to eat and he gobbled up the remainder of my lox and salmon jerky. I think this cat had a good day.
We were determined, despite how tired we were, to squeeze out every possible moment from the beach which had also become our friend’s favorite. Even though our camping passes expired on this third day, they were still good for beach parking thus saving us $15.
We discovered the waves were a bit bigger on our final day.
The boys went in but soon gave up.
So they did other things to get their energy out before riding in the car for two hours.
Tip #7: Bring a camera
It was time to go home and although the overall beauty we all experienced during the three days of camping lies more in our hearts than in these words or pictures – it will be through these pictures that we will be able to relive our experiences.