Posted September 1, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.
There are two campgrounds near downtown San Diego where we love to stay. One is the private luxury resort, Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay, and the other is an inland county campground, Sweetwater Summit Regional Park.
These two RV parks are as different as Cape Cod and Big Bend. That’s largely due to the chameleonic character of San Diego where the scenery changes about every five miles. One park is on San Diego Bay and the other is inland, at the foot of Mother Miguel Mountain on The Sweetwater River. One is private and the other (in this review) is public. Both parks are equally close (15 to 20 minutes) to downtown San Diego.
We grew up in San Diego county. We received our education back in the good ol’ days when college was free. There we launched our adulthoods, acquired several properties and raised our son. We may travel far and wide but San Diego is always on our minds.
It’s easy to fall into the unintentional habit of comparing every place we visit to our home town because a drive through the countryside feels like a magic carpet ride from Greece to Australia. Sandy Mediterranean-style beach resorts blend into rugged Baltic-looking coastline, melting into marshlands bordering picturesque farms, pastures and flower fields that will make you feel you’ve stepped into a Dutch painting.
Then, the blue iris’ hits a wall of honey-gold foothills rising up, up into a maze of bouldered canyons with gushing arroyos, and even higher into pine-wooded mountains with alluring trails to old gold mines, and then down, down to the sand dunes and tranquil palm shaded oases where toads shelter in rocky crags and hummingbirds feed on ocotillo. All this in a Sunday drive.
With old ghost towns, victorian mansions, 18th-century Spanish Colonials, and its own beautiful, unique architecture, San Diego has long served as Hollywood’s back lot. The region’s rich biological diversity is often cast in roles of places like Florida, South America, Texas, the French countryside and historic battlefields in ancient and modern wars.
Maybe that’s why Jim and I are always saying, “This place reminds me of La Jolla, or Borrego, or Julian, etc.
Our annual San Diego homecoming is about having time with our family and friends, to visit our doctors and also to gear-up for the next adventure. It’s always a busy time so we need comfortable digs.
Sweetwater Summit Regional Park and Campground
This Campground is a gold nugget for RVers looking for scenic, tranquil, private and clean no-hassle accommodations with easy freeway access to downtown. We lived in this valley for seventeen years, so for us Sweetwater Summit is Home Sweet Home.
Sweetwater Summit, located about a five-minute drive from Bonita, is freeway close with access from either Highway 805 or Highway 54.
The actual park and campground engulfs 500 acres and offers two camping areas, the North and South Loops.
The views are astonishing. To the north, the Sweetwater Reservoir is a mesmerizing distraction in this dry and thirsty land.
The check-in process at Sweetwater Summit can be quick, but sometimes there’s a back-up – especially on weekends when day-use is high. As always, we suggest a Sunday or Monday arrival. The staff is friendly and always available to answer questions.
No Big-Rig worries. The roads are wide and nicely paved.
There are 112 sites, within the North and South loops.
The North Loop
This loop is pristine with asphalt roads, concrete pads and native landscaping. All sites have full-hookups with 30 and 50 amp service.
The North loop is split between large, wide pull-through sites…
and generous back-in sites with plenty of room to spread out your gear. There is a wide, densely landscaped barrier of native vegetation between sites.
The North loop has 7 “Premium” sites (61 through 66). They’re even deeper and wider with a 50 ft. paved driveway. These sites are quite private with mature vegetation for increased privacy.
Four fully surfaced handicapped sites are also available in the North Loop.
The South Loop
South Loop offers more primitive sites with water and electricity (no sewer) on a gravel pad.
This loop is shady and cool with old-growth trees.
Twelve of the sites in the South Loop provide equestrian corrals.
Additional corrals for large groups are also provided.
The Dump Station on the South Loop can handle two rigs at once.
Both loops provide a heavy metal picnic table and wood fire pit. Tents are permitted on all sites.
There are 16-miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. The trails range from easy to moderate and feature a variety of city and countryside views from the open grasslands. On a clear day this hike is inspiring – a treasured remnant of Old California in the middle of a metropolis – an urban oasis.
A horse shoe court, in the center of the campground would probably be fun if we had horseshoes. Next time …
A 13-station fitness exercise course eliminates excuses. Every campground should have an outdoor fitness court and this one is great.
Sweetwater Reservoir, a short walk from the campground, offers shoreline fishing on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from sunrise to sunset. Call 619-409-6777 for information.
Ranger talks at the amphitheater are sometimes announced on weekends. We enjoyed a Hawktober presentation featuring our local birds of prey.
There is a 2,000-square-foot Community room and outdoor deck with capacity for 200 (standing) or 150 (seated).
This beautiful structure is bright and modern, with a sweeping view of the Sweetwater Reservoir. It also features a semi-shaded view deck.
The locals keep this event venue busy with wedding receptions and birthday parties.
Fees range from $200 to $650 depending on how many hours of use and the day of the week.
The 60-foot pavilion is a covered open-air structure.
Its kitchen facilities are especially suited for group campers. The set-up includes a grassy area, 2 BBQs and 10 tables. The fee is $250 for the day.
Picnic Area 1 has a cluster of four small gazebos each with a large metal table and one bbq, with a large lawn area. Picnic Area One can accommodate up to 50. The fee for the day is $175
Picnic Area 2 is a large pavilion with 9 concrete tables and two large barbecues. This venue can accommodate up to 100. The fee for the day is $275
The outdoor amphitheater can seat about 100 attendees for lectures, seminars, performances and private ceremonies. The rental fee is $75 for the day.
For The Children
There are two playgrounds on each side of the park.
The Water Park is open from May 1 – October 31. The fee is $3 per child.
Sweetwater Summit is a campground, not a resort, so there is no restaurant or night life. There is no camp store or laundry on the grounds either, but everything you need is only a short drive, walk, bike or horseback ride from camp. The charming village of Bonita has it all.
There is no WiFi service, but our usual fast San Diego cell service from Verizon averaged around 10 mbps and higher.
Expect a $1 per-day pet fee. Pet waste stations are provided throughout the park.
There are no formally assigned dog runs or gated areas for pets, but dog-owners have 24-hour access to several miles of mixed-use trails.
Seeing riders on horseback so close to an urban center may appear odd to some first-time visitors.
The citizens of this once rural and remote farming hamlet along the Sweetwater River strive to keep this valley an idyllic place and horses are a prized element of the local culture.
Bathrooms and showers
Bathrooms are old and outdated with a depressing industrial design, but they are operational and clean.
Some bathroom fixtures are porcelain while others are stainless steel.
“Operational and clean” also applies to the tiled showers which require 25¢ tokens purchased at the entrance. One token allows for 2 minutes.
The campground is directly below the flight path of the San Diego International Airport with a fly-by occurring about every 5 minutes between 6:30 am and 8:30 pm throughout the day. Fortunately, the planes are high enough and the noise is minimal.
Also, take note of the four-lane highway less than a quarter mile away. We are accustomed to the hum of the city, so while some may find this campground too noisy, we feel that Sweetwater Summit is one of the more quiet retreats around the city.
This is a naturally landscaped area. Expect to see roadrunners, snakes, hawks and be aware of coyotes while walking your dog.
The campground doesn’t refill propane tanks, but we found a U-Haul Center at 99 North 4th Avenue in Chula Vista – about 15 minutes away.
Trash dumpsters, positioned throughout the campground, are always nearby.
Ants are a problem here, but we easily controlled them with peppermint oil. Mix 10 drops of peppermint oil into one cup of water and spray it on your tires, stabilizers, chocks and anything else that touches the ground.
You can make reservations online for Sweetwater Summit. At this time (September 2023) the water and electricity sites are $29 per night and full-hookups are $33. Visitors must pay a $3 parking fee. Click here for all the latest rates.
Check-in is at 2:00 pm, check-out is noon. There is no early entry or staging prior to check in. The maximum stay is 14 nights in a 28-day period and 60 days per year at any and/or all San Diego County Parks.
Sweetwater Springs does not accept any deliveries for campers. We received packages at the Amazon Delivery Hub Locker at Rite-Aid Pharmacy at 4348 Bonita Rd, Bonita, CA 91902.
This sweet and unexpected urban retreat nestled into the hustle-bustle of the largest border city in California and the home of the United States Pacific Fleet is like a time-capsule of days gone by.
With Baja to the south, Catalina to the west, Palm Springs to the east and Disneyland to the north, it’s no wonder that San Diego is a chill place where 3.3 million people manage to hang loose, find their space, and carve out serious time for tubular sunsets.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.
|Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– 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 (hiking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.
– Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at its best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!
We were not paid, reimbursed nor influenced in any way by anyone for this campground review.
Click here to see our other campground reviews.