By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse

PCSing to Southern California? You might just feel like you are on an extended vacation! Coastal California is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. From Los Angeles to San Diego, Oceanside to San Clemente there is an abundance of things to do in Southern California.

There are the usual amusement parks: Disneyland, Legoland, Seaworld San Diego, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s and Berry Farm. If you prefer to not venture far from base, you can rent a Camp Pendleton beach house and take a vacation in your own backyard. Camp Pendleton Beach Cottages feature one- and two-bedroom villas with ocean and marina views. But if you’d like to get off base and explore, there are plenty of things to do in San Diego and beyond. The good news is you can reach all of these relatively easily from any of the military bases in Southern California.

Things to do in Southern California

#1 La Jolla Cove

This rocky beach cove near San Diego is a favorite location to see wild sea lions and seals. The animals bask on the rocks and mostly ignore the many visitors who visit to take a selfie with a sea lion. You can get surprisingly close to them! The public park has beautiful ocean views, but a rather powerful smell because of all the wild animals.

#2 Griffith Park and Observatory

Outdoor enthusiasts will love Griffith Park and Observatory, a two-hour drive north. The 4,310-acre Griffith Park is a favorite of hikers who enjoy the stunning views of the city on trails leading up to the Griffith Observatory. There is no better view of the Hollywood sign than from the Observatory. The uphill hike can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace.

#3 Potato Chip Rock

This uniquely-thin rock that cantilevers over nothing is one of the most photographed locations near San Diego! Hikers love to pose for photos on top of the rock. But you have to work for this photo opp: the hike is 7.5 miles roundtrip on Mount Woodson, with an elevation change of 2000 feet. So plan to spend several hours on the trail.

#4 Torrey Pines State Reserve and Beach

For breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, make a visit to the Torrey Pines State Reserve and Beach in San Diego. A mere half hour drive from Camp Pendleton are spectacular cliffs and panoramic views. You may be able to spot a gray whale or bottlenose dolphins in the waters during the winter months. Free guided nature walks are offered on the weekends.

#5 San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo which is less than an hour south of Camp Pendleton. The 100-acre Zoo is home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants.


The drive to Palm Springs is just over two hours but be sure to stop at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets along the way. The luxury outlet mall is a shopper’s paradise!

The “World’s Largest Rotating Tramcar” known as the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a two-and-a-half-mile trip up into the mountains. After a day of hiking or cross-country skiing, you can visit the restaurant a mere 8,516 feet up the mountain. The Palm Springs Walk of Stars along Palm Canyon Drive features sidewalk tributes to Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis.

#7 Julian Apple Pie Festival

The town of Julian is famous for its annual Apple Pie Festival. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to this quaint, historic town for a taste of their apple pie. During the off-season, you can still enjoy a visit to this mountain village that is the closest thing to the East Coast you will see in California.

#8 Los Cerritos Ranch House

The Los Cerritos Ranch House in Long Beach was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The structure, a Monterey Colonial adobe, was built in 1844 by merchant Jonathan Temple, a Yankee pioneer who became a Mexican citizen. It was the largest and most impressive adobe residence erected in southern California during the Mexican period.
The beautiful gardens feature the majestic Moreton Bay fig trees. Free Living History Tours are offered Wednesdays to Sundays.

#9 Catalina Island

Just visible off the shore from Camp Pendleton, Catalina Island is a nature preserve that can only be reached by ferry. Fun fact: if you go on your birthday, the ferry ride is free! Once there, you can enjoy hiking, a zip line, or camping. You can also stay at the island’s luxury hotel and spa.

#10 Wine tasting in Temecula

Southern California’s wine vineyards are located in Temecula, over an hour northeast of San Diego. Most vineyards offer tasting specials or gourmet lunches during the day. Some have live music or special events at night. Not sure which vineyard to visit? Stop by your base ITT office and get a ticket for the horse-drawn trolley ride that takes you to multiple vineyards all in one day! is a community of military and veteran families helping each other with our biggest relocation needs through trusted reviews. Help us to help each other and submit your reviews of Camp Pendleton, Miramar and surrounding Southern California neighborhoods today. Together we can make a difference!

Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children.

Carla Olivo

Director of Strategic Communications