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Your Camp Pendleton Area Guide

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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 for 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.

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.


ON BASE AMENITIES

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 the main side. Hours vary by facility.

CAMP PENDLETON HOUSING

ON BASE

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.

OFF BASE

Families who choose not to live in base housing often opt to live in the San Clemente, Oceanside or Fallbrook areas. CheckPCSgrades.com for photos and reviews from fellow military and veteran families on off-base housing/neighborhood options.

SCHOOLS

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.

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 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.

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 and the. 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.

LOCAL CUISINE

Californians are all about delicious food. You'll find that In-n-Out has die-hard fans. Beach Break Cafe is famed as the best breakfast in town. And Chronic Taco is a local favorite. Ruby's Diner serves amazing 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.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

THE SUNSET MARKET

This 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

Located aboard the installation on Vandergrift Blvd, this paintball park 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

Located next to the paintball park. Camp Pendleton Playland features a zip line, laser tag, several bounce houses and more. It's only open on weekends from 1000 – 1700.

MARINE MEMORIAL GOLF COURSE

Near the paintball park, the course is open from 0630 – 1630 during the winter and 0600 – 1800 during the summer. Rates depend on rank.

OTHER IDEAS

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!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

Yeah! You got orders to (insert foreign country overseas)! You can already picture your kids in the international school, speaking with cute little accents and wearing local garments. Adorbs. You've got your housing picked out, adventures planned and passport photos taken. You're ready for your epic move ... except for that 13 hour plane ride. Have you wrapped your head around that yet? Before you grab for a paper bag and start hyperventilating, use our travel hacks to help make the emotional turbulence you're experiencing a little lighter.

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We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.

But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.

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Nordwood theme, Unsplash

WE ALL HAVE OUR SHARE OF HORROR STORIES WHEN IT COMES TO MILITARY MOVING!

Name the most disgusting item erroneously packed by your movers… for me it was used coffee grounds and of course, trash. For others, I've heard everything from wet towels to dirty diapers. I've caught movers raiding my fridge, lounging on my mattress in my front yard, and throwing out items that they've broken. Raise your hand (or have a drink) if you ever had packers show up late (or not at all). Ever had packers get into a shouting match among themselves as they were packing your china? Or have you caught your movers throwing boxes down the stairs to the basement? That would be me!

LESSONS LEARNED

With each military move, there are "lessons learned". For instance, I won't go into great detail but let's just say after watching one packer go directly from using the restroom back to packing my kitchen without washing his hands, we now use gigantic ziplock bags to "pre-pack" all my kitchen utensils. A packers' bare flesh has never again touched one of my kitchen utensils.

My family's last military move was by far the shortest, only 1½ miles up the road. We were moving from a rental to a home we purchased. It was by far the worst in terms of damage and overall angst. I think because we were only "moving up the road" the pack job left a lot to be desired. I found one box of dishes which had not one piece of wrapping paper! Instead two throw pillows from my family room were used as a buffer! Amazingly, nothing was broken! Go figure!

When I heard glass shatter in the moving truck, I asked one of the guys what shattered.

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There are any number of reasons why in a given situation renting might be better than buying or vice versa. For military families, it might make more sense to buy at one duty station and then rent at the next. Up for consideration with each PCS is whether to buy or rent, to stay on-base or off. In making these decisions, there are numerous pros and cons to consider.

PROS TO BUYING

  • Purchasing the right home can be a great financial investment that can grow in value over time.
  • Tax deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes can greatly reduce your overall income tax burden if you itemize.
  • Being a homeowner can give you pride of ownership and a sense of stability, rare in the military life which can seem nomadic at times.
  • A mortgage payment that is lower than your BAH can result in a boost to your savings.
  • You can decorate however you want! Goodbye white walls! Hello, Color!
  • Anyone can stay with you at any time. So it is not a problem when your Mom or sister comes for an extended stay during a deployment or following a PCS.
  • You can do (almost) whatever you want….host a late night party, plant a garden, knock a wall down!
  • There are no security or pet deposits when you buy a home.
  • You have the opportunity to become a landlord when military orders arrive and you have to move. Your home can become an investment property, providing a source of income which can partially or totally offset your mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments.
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While retired military Space A travel is a privilege, there are some retirees that do not have this privilege. There are different categories of retirees, some are eligible for Space A and some are not. But there are efforts to change the eligibility requirements.

For a retiree to be eligible for Space A travel they must possess a 'Blue' DD Form 2 (Military ID card). This includes those that are medically retired. Their dependents are also allowed to travel with them and must bring along their ID cards. All dependents should be enrolled in DEERS.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR RETIRED MILITARY SPACE A TRAVEL?

There are plenty of rumors out there saying that ALL retirees are eligible. This is not true. If you are 100% disabled and you only possess a DD Form 1173, or the new DD Form 2765 ID cards, you are not entitled to travel on Space A. Also, if you possess the brown ID card with DAVPRM (Disabled Veteran Permanent) in the bottom right, then you too are not entitled to retired military space a travel Space A travel privileges.

Dependents of retirees are not allowed to travel without the retiree. If the retiree dies, then the dependents no longer have Space A privileges.

If you are a member of the Guard or Reserves with a 'Red" DD Form 2 you can travel through CONUS (Continental United States), to, from, and between Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico. Also, if you are active duty for more than 30 consecutive days, Guardsmen and Reservists may fly anywhere that Space A flies.

Dependents of the Guard and Reserves are not authorized to fly on Space A until the member reaches the age of 60. At that time, they will be in the same category as a regular retiree, Category 6. Retired Guardsmen and Reservists who have completed their 20 years but are not old enough to collect their retired pay are considered to be in a "gray area".

AN ACT OF CONGRESS

There have been attempts to change the eligibility of all of the above retirees and dependents.

The first Bill to be submitted to the House of Representatives was House Bill 4164 aka Space-Available Act of 2012. This bill sought to authorize the Secretary of Defense to establish a program to provide transportation on Department of Defense (DOD) aircraft on a space-available basis for (1) active duty and reserve members holding a valid Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card; (2) retired members who, but for not attaining age 60, would be eligible for military retired pay; (3) an un-remarried widow or widower of an active or reserve member; and (3) certain dependents of members described above. Allows the Secretary to establish an order of priority based on considerations of military needs and readiness.

This Bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Readiness in March of 2012 where it has sat with no action.

Earlier this year, a measure to establish a space-available transportation priority for veterans of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as total was introduced in the house. That bill HR 936 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Readiness.

HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD

How can you help? Write your Congressman. Make your voice known.

The Gray Area Retirees Facebook group was created to talk about these problems and to try to get the changes implemented.

Space-A eligibility is sometimes confusing and false information is passed around often. Check out the resources in this article for any updates.

PCSgrades.com is a review platform for military and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.