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DOWN AND DIRTY

A real tween scream in San Diego

Mission Bay's Campland and its many activities cater to the young and restless. It's a bargain for families, if you don't mind roughing it a little.

June 03, 2007|Amy Hubbard | Times Staff Writer

San Diego — BACK in my day (when we trudged 10 miles to school in 30 feet of snow), camping meant a smelly tent in an Ozark thicket where "I'm bored" got you a kick in the pants and the trip ended with removing fat ticks from places that made an 11-year-old blush.

Camping at San Diego's Campland on the Bay would have been unthinkable -- and so totally awesome. This commercial campground is a tween scream -- and arguably the best $40 summertime stay on Mission Bay.

Be aware, though, this isn't a verdant, meditative spot. It has plenty of asphalt and plenty of children and parents zooming around on wheeled contraptions. The greenest area is what's known as Central Park, a grassy field where many of the organized sports and other activities take place.

For kids, there are loads of amenities: two pools; two Jacuzzis; a small beach; a marina where you can rent pedal boats, catamarans, kayaks and more; a game room; horseshoe pits; a stage for entertainment; Internet access at the barbecue cafe and ice cream parlor; hot showers; recreational activities including country line dancing, bingo, flag football ... the list goes on.

With so many extras, Campland might seem a nice spot to plop the family and not budge till it's time to pack up. But this "camping resort" is a good base for day trips to San Diego's kid attractions. During summer months when the nearby Mission Bay Hilton is charging $229 for a room with one king bed, a primitive tent-camping site (fire ring and picnic table) at Campland will set you back as little as $39 per night. However, you could choose to splurge on the Super Site, which goes for $250 to $444 a night in summer and includes a bay view, Jacuzzi, washer-dryer, gas grill and private phone number.

Among the more pleasant sites at the park are those with views of the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve and the beach area.

From the campground, it's about two miles to SeaWorld, eight miles to the Gaslamp Quarter and 10 miles to the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park's museums. (Campland even runs a shuttle bus to Old Town, SeaWorld or the zoo for $1 per person each way.)

The philosophy among Camplanders seems to be the more you save on hotels and parking, the more you can spend on your motor home or camper.

Neatly sandwiched into Campland's spaces were some massive vehicles, with hydraulic pop-outs and loads of space to haul the skateboards, bikes, inline skates, battery-powered kids' cars and other toys folks were tooling around in and on. Does that sound like camping for sissies? Probably. But it's tough to find a better location for parents who despise those evil words: "I'm bored."

The obvious drawback to staying at a tween scream is, of course, the screaming tweens. On this spring break visit, the place was thick with kids filling the pools and the sandy little beach next to the marina, a pleasant spot to toss a Frisbee or play at the volleyball net. Some kids, however, were busy carting around the jellyfish that were keeping other bathers out of the water. ("Hey, Mom! Look what I found!")

But campers weren't the only ones making noise at Campland. It's something of a gangland for mallards. One male-female duo waddled up as we stepped out of our car, apparently seeking a handout. Another fowl couple dashed in. The male poked viciously at the male trespasser with its bill.

We had paid extra for a spot with a bay view. It was disappointing at first; there was a chain-link fence and, beyond that, the unassuming Kendall-Frost reserve. But at night, the site's charms were revealed.

Sitting by our fire, we watched as the lights winked on around the bay. At 9 p.m., the SeaWorld fireworks show lighted up the sky. When that -- and all the kids -- had quieted down, we listened to the faint sound of avian wildlife and planned our next day's excursion.

amy.hubbard@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Setting up camp

BASICS

Campland has 597 sites, 400 with RV hookups, 197 with partial hookup and primitive sites (which are available only in summer). Boats, bikes and other equipment are available for rent. There's a laundromat, market and free activities offered morning to night throughout the week, including soccer games, horseshoe tournaments, evening karaoke, live bands and church service on Sunday. For an activities schedule, see www.campland.com/2007-june.htm.

DRIVE TIME

Campland is at 2211 Pacific Beach Drive in San Diego. From Los Angeles, drive south on Interstate 5 to the Garnet/Balboa Avenue exit. At the third signal, turn right (west) on Garnet. Turn left (south) on Olney Street. Olney will end at Pacific Beach Drive, where you will take a left into the campground.

TO LEARN MORE

Reservations recommended in summer; (858) 581-4237, www.campland.com

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