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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.

Stephanie Wade/U.S. Transportation Command

In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.

One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."

Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.

Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:

1. Housing reviews

Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.

PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.

2. Moving company reviews

Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.

PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?

3. Area guides

The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.

Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.

4. Network of realtors and resources

PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.

"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.

In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.

Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

7 airplane travel hacks with kids

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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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