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. So let’s dive in and explore your new duty station, then head over to PCSgrades.com to see reviews for base housing, neighborhoods, and more!
WHERE IS CAMP PENDLETON
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 important thing to know about Pendleton is that the base is enormous and extremely spread out. There are only a few roads going past the ranges and training areas, but some have very low speed limits. It can take 45 minutes to drive through base from the north to the south, and about 30 minutes to drive across.
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.
PENDLETON AMENITIES ON BASE
Pendleton Naval Hospital – NHCP is a large new facility, completed around 2012, and located on the south side of the installation.
Balboa Medical Center – 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.
Pendleton PX – the Post Exchange aboard Camp Pendleton is relatively new, located near NHCP, and boasts a Dunkin Donuts, among several smaller niche shops. There is a second PX with a food court in the Mainside area on the southeast side of the base.
Pendleton 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.
Pendleton Beaches – there are two beaches aboard Camp Pendleton: San Onofre in the north and Del Mar in the south. San Onofre offers beach rentals – cottages, RV sites, and camp sites. Del Mar offers Del Mar Resort, a 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 main side. Hours vary by facility.
CAMP PENDLETON HOUSING
ON BASE HOUSING
There are many housing choices aboard Camp Pendleton through Lincoln Military Housing or Hunt 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. Some neighborhoods have older houses, built in the 1960’s, with a small garage. Others are brand new and freshly updated. One downside of living on base is that most of the base housing does not include air conditioning except for EFMP families. The exception is the DeLuz neighborhood, managed by Hunt, because it is in the interior of the base. It is important to learn where the service member will be working so you can calculate commute times from different areas and use the closest gate.
OFF BASE HOUSING
Families who choose not to live in base housing often opt to live in the San Clemente, Oceanside or Fallbrook areas. San Clemente is expensive, but has apartments or condos that work well for young couples. Oceanside is more affordable and casual, with an active tourist vibe. Fallbrook offers more single family homes with yards, because it is inland with more space and a quieter atmosphere. Check PCSgrades.com for photos and reviews from fellow military and veteran families on off-base housing/neighborhood options.
Inside Camp Pendleton, you will find what is 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 rating from Great Schools than those on base and on the north side.
CAMP PENDLETON BAH AND COST OF LIVING
The median home cost in San Diego is $575,000 which is well above the national average making it a rather expensive place to buy. Camp Pendleton BAH rates are calculated by the main gate, which is in Oceanside, CA. In 2020, the E-3 BAH with dependents was $2,388. E-6 BAH with dependents was $3,183, and O-1 BAH with dependents was $2,661.
CAMP PENDLETON WEATHER
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.
WHAT MILITARY FAMILIES NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CAMP PENDLETON
Camp Pendleton has all the same rules that other Marine 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 to 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.
Atop a 1 Sgt’s Hill near Camp Horno stand the crosses that are memorials erected by Marines in honor of their fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crosses were at one point, heroically saved by a group of Marines from 3/5 during one of the many wildfires in recent years.
5 MARINES MEMORIAL GARDEN
Every infantry Marine aboard Camp Pendleton will at some point, visit the 5 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.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FOOD
Californians are all about delicious food. You’ll find that In-n-Out has die-hard burger fans. Beach Break Cafe is famed as the best breakfast in town. And Chronic Taco is a local favorite. Ruby’s Diner serves amazing milkshakes and fish tacos. The Jolly Roger has a great view of the harbor. And Harbor Fish and Chips has delicious fresh food.
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.
THINGS TO DO NEAR CAMP PENDLETON
THE SUNSET MARKET
This market is a weekly occurrence in downtown Oceanside year round. People travel from all over to take part in the festivities that include food, entertainment, shopping, and even a family-friendly KidZone. Go during the day for a family-friendly vibe, or return at night for a fun people-watching experience.
The famed pier is a busy location and a tourist hotspot. It is located in the heart of Oceanside, and stretches out into the waves for great views. Ruby’s Diner is located at the end, but be prepared for a long wait!
This post is sponsored by PCSgrades.