“And when the ocean rises up above the ground/Maybe I’ll drown in California…” Grimes exclaims in her 2016 hit single California, and that’s the feeling most get when talking about the Golden State.
Some people I know from the state say it best. In just a couple of hours, you could go from skiing atop a world-famous snowy mountain, to shopping in the heart of the city, before ending the night right up at the coastline.
It was hard to decide, but alas, here are the top five destinations you should check out when you rent a camper van in california and head on a road trip!
Some things to take note
Whether you’re experienced in RV culture or you’ve just bought your home-on-wheels, here are some general pointers to take note of.
Do: Plan around the season
Parks, valleys, and in general, California is very popular during the whole summer. In reference to the earlier mentioned pop song, you’ll find yourself drowning, not just in experience, but people!
It’s always good to do your own research ahead of time and especially check weather forecasts for the period mentioned in intervals before the trip. Make sure that your parking spots and the attractions are open during the season, otherwise, you might find yourself in winter shivering and hungry.
Don’t: Assume you can camp anywhere
Sure, you can go from the highest to the lowest point in the Lower 48 in just over an hour, but parking in state parks? Not always possible. California is known among RV enthusiasts to have fairly confusing rules on where and when you can park. In general, some state parks allow parking while some don’t, and the ones that do usually are filled up fast. In the city, even places like Camping World are ironically forbidden from letting customers park overnight.
In general, avoid urban areas unless you specifically know of an RV park, make sure to plan enough time from your trips to disembark back to your parking spot. A good tip is, always ask the locals at the shops where you’re buying your camping goods. They’re likely to be timelier and more accurate than information found online!
Six Must-Take Trips in the State of California!
1. Yosemite National Park
While I mentioned above that you should plan around the seasons, that’s with the exception of Yosemite National Park. While most people will have heard of the country’s most popular national park from Ansel Adams’ famous photo series, Free-soloist Alex Honnold’s record-breaking adventures, or even their Macbook Pro background, you may not know that there’s a ski resort nearby! So much for Yosemite in Spring, why not Yosemite in Winter?
Yosemite is known for its famous Half Dome, El Capitan, and giant waterfalls. Among those, is the walking route that passes Bridal Veil Falls on the way to Vernal Falls. You can fish, ski, hike, and breathe mountains, making this a must-see spot for any RVer out there!
2. Highway 1
Highway 1 not only sounds like a movie, but it also looks like a movie. While the entirety of California is bound to give you silver screen déjà vu, there’s no drive in the world quite so dramatic as the coastal highway that goes from Mendocino Country near San Francisco all the way to SoCal’s Orange County!
The entire ride will take many days, especially if you’re stopping frequently to take in the view, as you should! Must visit in-between spots include Santa Barbara, and the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
If you’re like me and are a big fan of Jack Kerouac, make sure to take a copy of Big Sur, and take your time reading it in Big Sur, Pt. Lobos, one of the final stops you’ll make along the way. My personal tip? Read the works of famous Golden State literary voices Dave Eggers and Joan Didion before coming on this particular trip. You’ll thank me for it.
3. Santa Cruz
New Brighton State Beach on Santa Cruz is the perfect stop on your California RV road trip if you wish to see, camp, and sunbathe! Located in Santa Cruz is a variety of beaches. Old faves like the Looff Carousel mixed with the new spots like the boardwalk fixes means that Santa Cruz is the perfect mix between experiences for you! You can camp on-site at the New Brighton state beach, and be close to native wildlife, picnic areas, gushing spots, and lush, fragrant forests of pine and oak.
4. San Francisco
San Francisco is a city that needs absolutely no introduction. First, park at the San Francisco RV Resort. The parking area is a 10-minute drive from the famous Golden Gate Bridge and overlooks the vast Pacific Ocean. Next, go ride a cable car! If you loved that, you can even visit the Cable Car Museum where you can peer into the inner workings of the cable car lines that run through the San Francisco streets. After that, along the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, stop by Golden Gate Park around 3 pm to 4 pm and you can feed fish or paddle boat around the lake. Lastly, if you’re feeling hungry, take a taxi into the city and visit the busy nightlife, world-class restaurants, and wineries!
5. Redwood National and State Parks
The tallest trees on earth. I mean, with a starter like that, you know it’s somewhere you must visit. Redwood National and State Parks is an exception on this lift because it’s not really one destination but a series of parks! Camp along with one of four campgrounds, Jedediah Smith, Elk Prairie, Mill Creek, and Gold Bluffs Beach. Kayak, bike, or hike through the 170-mile and see the wildlife, and be surprised by the secluded beaches and untouched forested areas. You’ll feel like you’re not even on earth anymore. Make sure to check information on wildlife in this area, and if you can afford to, bring a camera!
So here are the five places you definitely must visit in California. Not included in this list are places like Napa Valley and Disneyland, which chances are, if you’re traveling with kids or are really into wineries and vineyards, you will already know about.
As with any other place, it’s important to always research well before going, and to carry water and spare money with me, because you can never be too safe!