San Diego county seems to have gotten something right when it comes to its public services. Every library is nice, new-ish, well-designed, and provides free, unrestricted wifi and power. But the county park campgrounds are what we’re really appreciating right now — they’ve provided us with a comfy place to call home for a few weeks. Public camping in California is expensive — state parks charge $35-$50 for the privilege of occupying a small piece of ground for the night (OK, most of the time that ground does happen to be on the beach). The SD county parks, at $19-$24/night, are still expensive (by anywhere else in the country standards), but they’re a bargain for California, and the amenities are great. Each park is set up to provide comfort to the non-RVer. Hot showers, dishwashing sinks, a wide range of trails, and private sites have made our stays quite enjoyable. We have such good shower access that we even have the luxury of deciding not to shower once in awhile, if we don’t feel like it.
At Dos Picos County Park, outside Ramona, CA, I asked the friendly ranger (who reminded me of one of my dad’s college buddies, Tom), why the county parks were so much better. “Well, for starters,” he proudly replied, “the county’s not broke. We’re in much better financial shape than the state or the city, so we haven’t had to raise our fees to make up for lost revenue.” The next day we saw him in a field, digging, and asked what he’s working on. “Gophers,” he replied. “They’re the only kind of wildlife we don’t try to protect around here.” That’s another thing that the county seems better able to afford: enough staff to keep the parks well-maintained.
To date we’ve stayed at four of the eight county parks (Agua Caliente, Heise, Dos Picos, and Sweetwater) and will likely stay at one more (Guajome) on our trek up the coast. They’ve all offered something special: Agua Caliente has the baths, Heise has lots of trails and incredible views of the Pacific and inland sights from its hilltops, Dos Picos has calm, lush, boulder-strewn hills, and Sweetwater is a downright suburban camping experience — and the cheapest place to stay near San Diego.