Campground Review: Silver Strand State Beach RV Penitentiary, Coronado California

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     *see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

“You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!” – Don Henley

Due to esoteric nuance of the California Coastal Commission’s definition of “day use,” the State of California Parks and Recreation Service is compelled to lock you – your kids, your folks, your dog, your rig – inside this breathtaking coastal preserve, for twelve hours every day, all week long.

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This is no exaggeration. Reserve America clearly states it on their website.

January 1 – February 29: 7:00 pm – 7:00 am
March 1 – May 22: 8:00 pm – 7:00 am
May 23 – September 1: 9:00 pm – 7:00 am (when sunset is 9PM …)
September 2 – October 31: 8:00 pm – 7:00 am
November 1 – December 31: 7:00 pm – 7:00 am

Welcome to Silver Strand State Beach – a Trailer and RV Only campground with 120 asphalt spaces, a mere five miles from our house. Our proximity to the well-known and highly visible park on Highway 75 made it the ideal location for me and Jim to accomplish some serious trailer n’ truck lovin’ over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

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Sure, we noted the weird closure rules when we made reservations but how could we comprehend it? I figured the peculiar regulations were just the usual soft, layback, no-worries, rules-shmules sort of thing – and, once there, we’d be let in on how to slide past those silly so-called “gate closures” at the Entrance Station – after all, we did have a wedding to attend on Saturday night …

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Now, months later, I can still feel the rough spots where my dress pumps bore into my ankles on the 20-minute walk from the Uber drop off outside the locked “No” Entrance Station all the way back to our trailer, arms loaded with things we needed from home. Yes, it’s a lovely place, but have good walking shoes with you at all times just in case you’re delayed on the Coronado Bridge – a common occurrence these days – or, like us, dare to test the system … unsuccessfully.

It was a beautiful plan to tunnel out …

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“Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way.  There were voices down the corridor, I thought I heard them say…”

Using our local street-cred we intended to unhitch, then drive The Beast (our truck) across the highway and park it in The Coronado Cays – about a ten minute walk or a three-minute bike ride from our trailer. Yes! On bikes, we’d pass through the first pedestrian tunnel under the 75, follow the lighted path to Coronado Bay Road and cross – about 50 yards from the Lowe’s Resort guard station – on the pedestrian crosswalk to the place where The Beast would be waiting for us – right across the street from Montego Bay Condominiums. It’s the usual way we avoid paying the $8 day-use fee for the State Beach. See? By tunneling out, we’d have twenty-four hour access to come and go as we please … to eat out, enjoy the abundant night-life in Coronado and Imperial Beach … But, for the first time ever, we noticed the No Parking from 2AM to 4AM signs. Now, there’s absolutely no reason for this regulation other than to keep overnight guests at Lowe’s Resort, Silver Strand campers and low-profile van campers from parking there overnight.

Curses. Foiled again.

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“And still those voices are calling from far away, Wake you up in the middle of the night Just to hear them say…”

When you’re in the RV park, there’s no question about closing time because the ranger drives through announcing the upcoming detention period on a bull horn every five minutes from about thirty minutes prior. But don’t hunker down and stay up late watching Orange Is The New Black because, bright and early, the Coronado Fire department arrives for bed-check – driving their firetruck up and down the aisles, scolding sloppy campers who fail to keep their stuff inside the painted lines.

Government. “Any time of year, you can find it here.”

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“It’s a lovely place”

But, they’re living’ it up at the Silver Strand State Beach. Everyone appeared so happy to be there … not a single disparaging comment about the draconian rules. It certainly is a popular park and very difficult to secure reservations. Even by asking for “any available” it took us months to get in – moving three times throughout the week. And once we were – with the help of neighbors – able to squeeze into our first space after signing a legally binding contract to NOT hit their service tower …

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“They livin’ it up at the Hotel California What a nice surprise Bring your alibis…”

… we knew right away we’d all be close friends.

The regulars had already formed a community bond and had devised a system where orders are placed and the designated inmate would conduct a food and drink run. There were no inhibitions about lending and borrowing – “Got an extra beer? I need to marinate my pork” – and plenty of invitations to happy hour. We made friends we will probably have for life.

Without the lock-in rules this would almost be urban camping – where business and RVers would benefit from each other. One exception to being closed off from the business community is the exquisite Lowes Coronado Bay Resort shuttling their guests back and forth from the beach. But, unless you’re honeymooning or in a celebratory mood, Loews spa, restaurants and supurb menus are over-kill for most campers.

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With sites costing between $50.00 (inland) and $65.00 (beach front) per day for partial hook-ups, this campground is on the pricy side. For just a few dollars more there are better places to stay on the bay like the Chula Vista Marina, with full hook-ups and resort style facilities. But, if it’s the sound of the crashing Pacific you’re after – the salt air, expansive sands and inspirational sunsets then, Silver Strand is the best southernmost beach camping in SoCal. We’re just glad we didn’t go for the beach front spots. Not only were they $15 more, they flooded twice during the week. Beach erosion is usually a winter dynamic, but don’t count on it. Waking up to deal with the job of several inches of water outside your door and your bikes and equipment ruined or washed away is no picnic – and it happens often enough that the park keeps cleaning equipment so detainees can shovel out their own sites.

Deep berms to hold back tide water
Deep berms to hold back tide water

Good for you if you’re military, because Fiddler’s Cove is only a minute or two up the road on the bay side. It’s neat, clean and recently upgraded. I’ve stayed at Fiddler’s with my parents and the tranquility and security of the grounds is quite the contrast to Silver Strand – also, more accessible and safe for the elderly and handicapped.

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Yet, the abundance of outdoor activities available at Silver Strand is almost criminal …Cycling along the 24-mile Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking the San Diego bay (kayak rentals are within walking distance at the Crown Cove Aquatic Center and sailboats are a bit further down the strand at Seaforth Boat Rentals) surfing, wind-surfing, beach volleyball, fishing, snorkeling, beach combing, Junior Rangers activities, driving up the Silver Strand … even dogs love it here (dogs are not allowed on the beach but just a short walk and you can take pooches to the off-leash dog park at the Coronado Cays or drive to Dog Beach in the village) … And if you drink, don’t miss having a no-glass alcoholic beverage at sunset on the sand – a rare privilege on California beaches.

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“So I called up the Captain, “Please bring me my wine” He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine” – Don Henley

Yes indeed, at Silver Strand State Beach – even though we have a water shortage – there’s plenty to do, even if it’s just thoughtfully sipping through a glass of wine, planning your next escape …

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Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2 – Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3 – Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4 – Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

 – Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

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