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Your Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego Area Guide

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So, you got orders to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Congratulations! You are about to enjoy a few years in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Yes, it can be expensive here. The rush hour traffic is something you'll learn how to navigate. But the wonderful climate, landscape, and access to multitudes of activities more than make up for those drawbacks. If you come here with a desire to make the most of it, I can almost guarantee you will love it your time here!

WHERE IS MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO

MCRD San Diego is one of many military bases in the San Diego area. Located off the I-5 next to the San Diego airport, it is one of the lower profile military bases here. Most people think of San Diego as a Navy town, but its also among the most historic. It was founded in 1921 and by 1923 was fully functional as a Marine training center. It is currently where all the male recruits from West of the Mississippi are sent to undergo the rigorous training process that will allow them to become Marines.

ON BASE

Lincoln Military Housing San Diego is the current provider of military housing. None of it is actually on-base; however, the Point Loma housing area is directly outside of the MCRD gates. There are a variety of housing areas throughout San Diego County. The wait list and availability of housing tends to vary, so be prepared for a wait.


OFF BASE

If you are looking to rent or buy while in San Diego, it is essential to define your priorities. In general, San Diego housing is costly. If you are ok with smaller living spaces (I.E., condo, apartment or townhouse) and enjoy the urban lifestyle, you have a lot of options in fun neighborhoods like downtown, North Park, South Park, Coronado, and Hillcrest. If you want/need more space, a yard, or a good school district; you will need to move farther out from Central San Diego. People speak highly of the school districts in East Lake and Poway. Coronado is a beautiful place to live, but the housing tends to be very expensive. You can check out local neighborhoods and find an A-graded agent at PCSgrades.com.

BAH & COST OF LIVING

You might be in for sticker shock when you move to Southern California. Most military families figure out a way to stretch their BAH and make it work. The median San Diego home value is $618,600 which is up 5.1% over the past year. Local real estate experts expect home values to continue to rise over the next 12 months.

Read reviews from Milfams in the San Diego area

ON BASE AMENITIES

The Command Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Any chapel on base can be reserved for weddings, retirements, or re-enlistments by active duty, reservist, active duty/reservist dependents and retirees. Families may be interested in the library, the MCX, the fitness center (with workout classes), the bowling alley, and the Marina. The Marina boasts a playground, gazebo and a rental center where paddleboards and kayaks can be taken out on the water for a nominal fee.

SAN DIEGO-WEATHER

San Diego weather is sunny and 75 degrees. It's hard to complain about the typical San Diego climate. It is perfect weather for folks who love outdoor living. The temperature cools off a bit in the winter. You might need a light jacket in the evenings (layers are key!), and there are definitely some hotter weeks in the summer (up to the low 90's). Many homes here were built without air conditioning so you may require a portable unit for those few hot weeks in July and August.

CULTURE & CUSTOMS

LOCAL CUISINE

Tacos are life here in San Diego. People aren't joking about Taco Tuesday when you will find cheap tacos and drink specials at many Mexican restaurants. In general, there is great Mexican food here, but you can find food from every nationality if you look for it. From Brazilian steakhouses to sushi, to trendy vegan eateries, Mediterranean, Laotian, the list goes on. Of course all the typical chains you know and love will be found here too. Fast food aficionados rave about In and Out Burger so make sure to give that a try while here in Cali!

AREA ATTRACTIONS

FARMERS MARKETS

Almost every neighborhood in San Diego has a weekly farmers market. This is one of the best spots to buy local produce, sample artisan goods and buy food and drinks from the assembled food carts. The Little Italy Farmer's Market on Saturday is one of the busiest and most fun to meander around.

GO ON A SAFARI

Safari Park is an affiliate of the world renown San Diego Zoo. They are both great places to spend a day soaking in the outdoors and checking out all the amazing animals. Military members get in for free and family members can buy discounted tickets at ITT.

HIT THE BEACH

We have gorgeous beaches all throughout San Diego County, from the picturesque coves in La Jolla to the dog beach in Coronado and the surfer's paradise in Imperial Beach. There's plenty of sandy real estate to settle on for a lovely day by the ocean.

FOOD/DRINK FESTIVALS

Taco and Margarita Fest, Beer Fest and Mac and Cheese Fest are just some of the popular events happening on the regular here in San Diego. Wandering around a waterfront park, listening to live music, drinking margaritas and sampling tacos from dozens of different restaurants… what could be better than that?

GO HIKING

Sunset Cliffs, Potato Chip Rock, Mission Trails, Cowles Mountain, Cabrillo National Monument: the list of fun, challenging and exciting hikes are endless. Some are dog and kid friendly, others are more challenging and best for those seeking a workout. You are guaranteed to find some that suit your needs.

BALBOA PARK

Home to miles of trails, historic architecture, a Spanish art village, and many museums, Balboa Park is a must-see while stationed in San Diego. The Botanical gardens are free to visit, as are a varying selection of museums every Tuesday.

SEE A BASEBALL GAME

The Padres call downtown San Diego home, and the Padres Stadium is a great place to catch a game! They have opening day festivals, beer festivals, and kid's days, and frequently show fireworks after their games. They offer discounted tickets for military members, and the local USO often gets tickets donated so you may be able to catch a game for free! Or you can check for tickets from our friends at GovX.

EAT/SHOP/SEE A MOVIE AT LIBERTY STATION

Liberty Station used to be a Navy base that the city later converted into a shopping center. The area boasts tons of restaurants and a food court with local food vendors, cute shops, a museum, outdoor spaces and a luxury movie theater with seat-side service.

THEME PARKS— WITHIN 3 HOURS

SeaWorld, Legoland, Knott's Berry Farm, Disney Land, Universal Studios Hollywood—there is no shortage of theme parks to take your kiddos to if you are so inclined! Also, don't underestimate the annual San Diego County Fair for some campy local fun.

EASY DAY TRIPS

CORONADO—20 MINUTES

Tourists flock to Coronado in the summer, but it is also a year-round home for many San Diegans. The beaches on Coronado are beautiful! Many families enjoy bringing their pups to the dog beach for a fun outing. There are also many shops and restaurants worth checking out. The town hosts many events in the summertime, including Sunday afternoon concerts in the park. Furthermore, there are two large Navy bases on the island that military families can access. The Naval Air Station North Island has a newer fitness facility with an outdoor pool, as well as a movie theater, Navy Exchange and food court.

THE GREATER LOS ANGELES AREA—2 HOURS

Just south of LA, Santa Barbara is a lovely destination for a weekend away. With gorgeous beaches, a botanical garden, delicious food and wine there's a lot to enjoy. LA itself is two hours away—so if you want to attend tapings of TV shows you love, check out the stars in Hollywood, or frequent some of the famous restaurants and bars it is a doable weekend trip. Beware of LA traffic driving up or down the Coast!

TEMECULA—45 MINUTES

A quaint little town just a short drive from central San Diego, Temecula is a great destination for a night away. It has some great restaurants but is most well-known for its wineries. Wine lovers should put this on the must-visit list.

MEXICO— 1 HOUR

While Tijuana is a well-known party destination (and one military members generally must avoid), there are other more family-friendly destinations that are worth checking out for a day or weekend trip. These include Ensenada and the Baja wineries. You can go on organized tours or do the research and drive around yourself. Fish tacos, wine, and cervesas… need I say more.

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.