Page updated July 29, 2021

Home to more than 70,000 Military and civilian personnel, Camp Pendleton is the West Coast’s major Marine Corps Base.

This 125,000-acre Military installment is not only famous for its historic roots, but has also been home to quite a few Hollywood productions. Only 70 miles away from Hollywood, Camp Pendleton’s  expanse of rolling hills and scenic coastline have made a perfect backdrop for the movies Pearl Harbor, MacArthur, and Sands of Iwo Jima.

If you’re looking for things to do along these 17 miles of coastline, start with our top 10!

1. Willis Brothers Surfing

Family-owned and operated, Willis Brothers Surfing offers patrons a safe and quick way to learn how to surf.

Having been in business more than four decades, this San Diego favorite features knowledgeable, patient instructors who will give you the confidence and tools you need to hit the open blue.

From young, eager kids to middle-aged Midwesterners who have never surfed a day in their lives, Willis Brothers Surfing welcomes anyone looking to catch a wave. Sign up for a class and you’ll learn about ocean safety — like how to spot and escape a rip current — surfer culture, and surfing technique. No matter who you are, chances are pretty good you’ll ride a wave at least once with their mentorship — the vast majority of attendees do!

2. Oceanside Pier

Ideal for fishing, sunset watching, and family outings, Oceanside Pier is a scenic escape near Camp Pendleton. Vibrant palm trees line the sparkling coastline of this West Coast town, making it an ideal spot for a photo opp or leisurely stroll. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Oceanside, CA.

Fishers can stop in the souvenir and bait shop and rent a rod for just $5 an hour. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, stop in and grab a bite at Ruby’s Diner at the end of the pier. Offering ‘40s-style vibes, American comfort food, and breathtaking panoramic views, what more could you ask for?

3. Baja Border Tours

Another perk of living in this region? You’re just hours away from Mexico. Experience Mexican culture like never before with Baja Border Tours. Whether you embark on the one-day guided tour of the Baja region or visit Mexico’s Ruta del Vino, these small-group excursions create a personalized, unique experience.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive tour of Mexico’s northern coastal cities, opt for the One Day Mexico tour. Friendly guides lead you through Tijuana, Rosarito and other locales via car as you learn about the area’s historic roots, explore Mexican culture, and sample food from local markets.

If you’re a “wine lover,” you might be better off opting for the Mexico Wine Tour where you’ll visit Guadalupe for wine tasting and food sampling along the Ruta del Vino.

Both tours offer transportation to and from San Diego, lunch, dinner, and bottled water. If you’re on the fence, know this: as of August 2018, this experience had ONLY 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor.

4. San Diego Zoo

Just a quick hour’s drive south is one of the country’s most famous zoos. If you’re looking for a “wild” day trip, head to the San Diego Zoo. Get up-close and personal at the Animals in Action Experience, where you’ll feed, touch, and even help train exotic animals.

If you desire something a little less hands on, sit back and relax on a Discovery Cart Tour. This 60-minute tour of the grounds teaches riders about the zoo’s inhabitants and provides plenty of opportunities for photographing your favorite critters.


MilSpouses with lego-obsessed kiddos can take advantage of being just 25 minutes from LEGOLAND®.

Their new Deep Sea Adventure is now open. Hop aboard a real submarine and explore deep waters as you observe real-life sea animals and search for hidden treasure.

For more water options, add water park admission to your LEGOLAND® ticket. Kids can build with giant legos as they float in the lazy river, splash and spray in the Duplo Splash Safari, or speed down the giant half-pipe in Orange Rush. Those who aren’t look to get wet and wild can head to LEGO NINJAGO World for rock climbing, strategy games, and character meet-and-greets.

6. Mission San Luis Ray

Also known as “The King of Missions,” Mission San Luis Ray is the largest of California’s 21 missions.  

The historic white church is surrounded by arched walkways, lush gardens, a quaint cemetery, and brick paths. Home to a group of Franciscan Friars, this National Historic Landmark also offers visitors a gift shop, retreat center, and interpretive museum.

Book a guided tour if you’re interested in learning more about the mission’s rich history, which dates all the way back to 1815.

7. Harbor Beach

Harbor Beach is a picturesque oceanside retreat, ideal for large family picnics, sunset watching, and Frisbee throwing. Start off with a brisk walk on the long stretch of beach, and end with a grilling sesh or beachside bonfire.

Once you’ve had enough of sand in your toes, walk a half block to the harbor to find gift shops, restaurants, and ice cream shops.

8. Dolphin & Whale Watching

If you can’t make it all the way to the San Diego Zoo to get your animal fix, embark on a two-hour whale and dolphin-watching adventure with Oceanside Adventures. Whether you sign up solo, with your spouse, or a small group of friends, an expert captain will guide you through the wonders of the ocean in a 50-foot catamaran.

The small group setup allows everyone to have a front-row seat. Take advantage of the covered areas and their drinks and snacks, too!

9. Oceanside Sunset Market

For a hefty dose of local charm, head to Oceanside Sunset Market. Featuring more than 200 merchants, eclectic food vendors, and live music, this is the place to be once the sun starts to go down.

Peruse unique trinkets and jewelry from niche suppliers, snack on some homemade ice cream, or take the kids to Dorothy’s KidZone for a night of activities. Offering delicious cuisine from Korean to Mediterranean, choosing a place to eat might be the toughest decision of the night. Plus, if you’re looking to get some of your weekly grocery haul out of the way, snag some fresh fruits and veggies to go.

10. Grand Tradition Estate & Gardens

Located 16 miles northeast of Camp Pendleton in Fallbrook, CA, Grand Tradition Estate & Gardens is yet another outdoor respite from the daily grind. Featuring abundant gardens, cascading waterfalls, and carefully crafted pathways, this graceful 30-acre property is an ideal spot to go for a quiet afternoon.

After you’ve walked among the flowering plants, you can dine at The Veranda Restaurant or enjoy a quaint picnic prepared by a professional chef. General admission prices range from $2.50-$7.50, and guided Docent tours are $25.

Whether you opt for a relaxing, nature-filled afternoon or an adventurous tour through The Golden State’s finest attractions, there’s no shortage of things to do near Camp Pendleton. Our advice for Camp Pendleton MilSpouses? Take advantage of this West Coast gem!

Meet Our SpouseLink Ambassadors in California

Gisella and Andrea represent us in their local areas in California. Andrea spent 5 years at Twentynine Palms and both are now serving in areas around Camp Pendleton. Connect with them for insights about their areas.


More Things to Do and Places to See:

Solutions for Your Military Family:

Life Insurance, Wealth Management, Home Mortgages, Survivor Services, and more. Learn more about AAFMAA.

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