By Katie Foley, Marine Spouse
PCSing to coastal California is a dream assignment to some: beautiful weather, an abundance of things to see and do, and the Pacific ocean! And yes… there is also a higher cost of living than many areas you may have lived before. It means being stationed at the home of the 1st Marine Division, the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps. It’s a large installation, spanning more than one county, and can be a different experience for many military families.
Camp Pendleton is nestled up against the Pacific Ocean, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, and sandwiched between Oceanside to the south, San Clemente to the north, and Fallbrook to the east. It boasts a coastal climate, with average low temps dipping into the 40s and highs reaching into the 80s.
The “rainy season” is winter, with the average annual rainfall a mere 13 inches. Don’t let the lack of rain fool you, though. Due to lack of rain, roads are often incredibly slick when it rains, mostly as a result of oil from vehicles not being sufficiently washed away as would happen in an area with more rainfall. It is not uncommon for experienced drivers to be prone to accidents on roads that are well traveled, including the several interstates and major highways in the area.
Interstate 5 runs the entire length of Camp Pendleton against the Pacific, and Interstate 15 runs alongside the base to the east. I5 and I15 are connected south of the base by highways 76 and 78.
The Coaster is a commuter train that runs from Oceanside straight through San Diego, and travels right next to the water. The Sprinter is a commuter train that runs from Oceanside inland to Escondido.
Military Base Info
Housing – there are several housing choices aboard Camp Pendleton through Lincoln Military Housing: Wire Mountain, South Mesa, San Onofre, Del Mar, Forster Hills, O’Neill Heights, Pacific View, San Luis Rey, San Mateo, Santa Margarita, Serra Mesa and Stuart Mesa. Eligibility is determined by rank or GS level.
Families who choose not to live in base housing often opt to live in the San Clemente, Oceanside or Fallbrook areas. Check PCSgrades.com for photos and reviews from fellow military and veteran families on off-base housing/neighborhood options.
Schools – aboard Camp Pendleton, you will find what are referred to as 80/20 schools. This means that 80% of the student population is military or DoD related. Twenty percent are civilians from the surrounding area. The schools are held to DoD standards, which often more than exceed the state standards. There are five such elementary schools aboard Camp Pendleton. Middle school and high school students attend schools off base. Off base schools on the south and east sides of base generally have a lower school ratings from Great Schools than those on base and on the north side.
Naval Hospital – NHCP is a new facility, completed around 2012, and located on the south side of the installation.
Balboa – Balboa is another Naval Hospital located in San Diego, and houses some of the most advanced Naval medicine clinics on the west coast. It is the Bethesda equivalent, but with a more updated facility.
Post Exchange – the PX aboard Camp Pendleton is also new, located near NHCP, and boasts a Dunkin Donuts, among several smaller niche shops.
Commissary – there are two commissaries aboard Camp Pendleton, one on the south side of base and one on the north side of base. The commissary on the north side of base is significantly smaller, but less busy. The cost of living in California can be high, so many families exclusively shop for groceries on base to save money.
Beaches – there are two beaches aboard Camp Pendleton: San Onofre and Del Mar. San Onofre offers beach rentals – cottages, RV sites and camp sites. Del Mar offers Del Mar Resort, a brand new facility that advertises villas, campsites, cabanas, palapas and surf gear available for rent. They also provide services for weddings and other events.
Gyms – there are 13 fitness centers aboard Camp Pendleton. They are located in the 14, 21, 22, 23, 31, 33, 41, 44, 52, 53, and 62 areas, as well as the O’Neill Fitness Center and Paige Fieldhouse located on mainside. Hours vary by facility.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! While you probably won’t find bears or tigers, you might find coyotes, bats, spiders, birds, mice and even a mountain lion or two. You may even get a glimpse of some unique coastal wildlife while you are stationed here. Keeping in mind that Camp Pendleton is a coastal environment, the eastern and northern sides of the base are also mountainous. Coyotes are active within base borders. Small animals should not be left outside or permitted to roam yards without supervision. Animals are quite capable of jumping fences, and coyotes are incredibly active from the early evening to the early morning. Treat your home and yard like the abode in a wildlife heavy area that it is. Don’t leave small living things or food outside, because the wildlife present doesn’t know the difference.
Customs and Traditions
Camp Pendleton has all the same rules that other military installations have. Don’t walk on the grass. Stop your car for the lowering of the flag. Don’t use your phone while driving on base. Wear proper civilian attire – though the rule on close-toed shoes is generally waved at this installation due to the proximity of the beach.
Celebrities often visit the installation, where they generally enjoy some of the most respectful receptions around. Once, I walked out my back door to find Matthew McConaughy standing by my car chatting with my neighbors. Our family was cordially invited to participate in filming a commercial with him, and his crew was awesome. I’ve yet to run into a celebrity or crew on base who wasn’t polite and gracious.
While the installation feels laid back because of its closeness to the beach (and its lack of closeness to Marine Corps Headquarters), the business aboard Camp Pendleton is incredibly serious. Don’t off-road on the many dirt roads you’ll find in seemingly random places, or you might find yourself in the middle of a hot range.
The Crosses – Atop a 1st Sgt’s Hill near Camp Horno, stands the crosses that were, at one point, heroically saved by a group of Marines from 3/5 during one of the many wildfires in recent years. The crosses are memorials erected by Marines in honor of their fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
5th Marines Memorial Garden – Every infantry Marine aboard Camp Pendleton will, at some point, visit the 5th Marines Memorial Garden. It is open to everyone who finds themselves stationed aboard the installation, whether active duty or family. It is located on the north side of Camp Pendleton, at Camp San Mateo.
There are hundreds of little independent eateries dotting the beach from Camp Pendleton down to San Diego. If you love food, you should make it your mission to hit as many of them as possible.
Points of Interest
The Sunset Market is a weekly occurrence year round. People travel from all over to take part in the festivities that include food, entertainment, shopping and even a family friendly KidZone.
Oceanside Pier – the famed pier is a busy location, and a tourist hotspot. It is located in the heart of Oceanside.
Pendleton Paintball Park is located aboard the installation on Vandergrift Blvd. It is open to ages 10 and up, with hours Friday to Sunday, from 0830 – 1700. They take private reservations 7 days a week for groups of 15 or more.
Camp Pendleton Playland is located next to the paintball park. It features a zip line, laser tag, several bounce houses and more. It’s only open on weekends from 1000 – 1700.
Marine Memorial Golf Course is near the paintball park. It is open from 0630 – 1630 during the winter and 0600 – 1800 during the summer. Rates depend on rank.
There are a lot of other things to do around Camp Pendleton, as SoCal is rich in perfect weather. Other places to visit while stationed aboard Camp Pendleton are Knott’s Berry Farm (which converts to Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween), Lego Land, and Universal Studios. Of course, Disneyland is always a favorite. The weather is nearly always perfect for whatever plans you have.
If you need more info about the area, go to PCSgrades.com where you can see what other military families think about Camp Pendleton and the entire area. Enjoy your time aboard the installation!