What could be better than hitting the open road in your own campervan? Having a kitchen and bed right there on the road with you means you are totally independent and free to explore…
This is exactly what Matt and I got up to in August in California; a collaboration with Wicked Campers saw us pick up an awesome van ‘Mystery Machine’ from their depot in Los Angeles. With its eye-catching artwork it got a lot of attention! We chatted to so many people, families would ask for photos next to it and people would wave to us on highways, it felt like we were famous! Let me tell you a little bit more about our beauty of a camper, it was a GMC Safari two-seater and around 16ft in length so it wasn’t too intimidating to drive. The ‘kitchen’, found at the rear of the van came complete with a sink, cool box, storage units full of utensils, pans, crockery, cutlery and a gas burner. Initially I was a bit sceptical as to whether the cool box would keep all our food chilled. We bought ice every two days to put in it and it did the job brilliantly so there was no need to worry about warm beers and burgers! During the day the van could be used as a seating area with bench seats and with ample storage under the seats it allowed all our gear to be hidden away. There was a table for indoor and outdoor use and two outdoor chairs, perfect for sitting next to the campfire. At night the seats turned into a large comfy bed. Bedding isn’t provided (something worth remembering if you have a travel budget) having said that at the depot there was a free shelf to help yourself to with all sorts of left over goodies. We found a kettle, perfect for making cups of tea. There was also bedding and pillows from previous owners, although we chose to stop off at a Target to buy pillows, a sheet and a sleeping bag which we unzipped to make into a duvet for two. Cosy.
At the time of picking up the van we chose to hire a Sat Nav as an extra add-on. I had bought a massive map but for an extra $5 a day it seemed like a no brainer, and we were right as getting out of LA proved a bit of a challenge…we were very grateful for it.
In my previous blog Planning for a Californian Road Trip I mentioned how much I was looking forward to cooking on a campfire. This lived up to my expectations and much more, it chilled down a bit in the evenings so a fire was the perfect way to keep warm and such a great way to experience our surroundings.
We drove just under 1000 miles in eight days and stayed at five different campgrounds with lots of stops in between. Starting with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by two nights near San Francisco and finished up with three nights along the Big Sur.
We stayed at….
This lovely campground is right in Sequoia National Park. Facilities included a shop, cafe and coin operated showers within driving distance from our pitch. Some tent pitches are right by the Kaweah River and there is a great walk to Tokopah Falls within the campground. Lodgepole is in a great location to see all the sites of Sequoia. Each pitch had a bench, fire pit and bear box. (More to come about that in my next blog.)
In the seaside town of Pacifica, within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants and very easy to get into San Francisco; 30 minute bus journey to Daly City followed by 20 minutes on the train. As it sounds, this is a big RV park and we were the smallest RV by about 20ft! It isn’t that pretty to look at but is situated on a bluff with ocean views, free showers, laundry facilities and a pool.
Hidden behind sand dunes we weren’t too sure about this campground when we first arrived, the pitches were a bit close together and dusty but we learnt to love it. The beach was a steep hike over the sand dunes but worth the trek, it felt pretty wild and watching dolphins gracefully play in the waves was brilliant! The family next door to us were lovely offering us firewood and inviting us to join them on the beach for a sunset barbecue. Our pitch had a bench and fire pit, there were coin operated showers and plug sockets.
Found at the southern end of Big Sur, at the time of staying this campground only portaloos as the toilets weren’t in use! I don’t know for definite but I am assuming this was because of the drought, which was going on at the time of our trip. It wasn’t great but by that point we were pretty used to living out of our van so didn’t let it effect us, you can either be positive about these things and just get on with it or choose to ruin your trip by being miserable about it! We took the positive slant and had a great stay here. Each pitch had a bench and fire pit. Just over the road is the beautiful Sand Dollar Beach.
Lovely, clean and right on the beach, we could step straight onto the sand from our pitch! The beach had coin operated showers and plug sockets. This was our last night in the van and it couldn’t have been in a better place to end it. We watched seals play in the ocean and had prosecco (we are such posh campers!) while watching the sunset. Waking up during the night to the sounds of the waves was wonderful too.
Useful things to know:
Firewood – Plaskett Creek and Sunset State beach campgrounds had a ‘camp host’ who lived on site, buy firewood from them instead of buying wood from elsewhere, this helps prevent the spread of disease.
Water – Most of the campgrounds we stayed at had potable water facilities, although we always made sure we had enough with us.
Site full – I mentioned in my previous blog post about booking campgrounds well in advance for the summer season as at peak times everywhere gets fully booked. I was so pleased I had reserved pitches, as each site we turned up at was already full. Definitely something to bear in mind when planning a camping trip in California during the summer season.
Fuel – Fuel up when you can as there were limited gas stations in Sequoia and along the Big Sur. A lot of the gas stations have a pay at pump machine, I found that my UK credit card would not always work in these but I quickly learnt that you can prepay in the gas station up to the amount you need. If you fill up under the amount then your card only charges to the amount you used.
We had a fantastic road trip and loved the quirkiness of our camper, it was so comfy to sleep in and the kitchen had everything we needed to be self-sufficient on the road. It’s not everyday you wake up to watching the sunrise over the ocean from your bed or have the ability to pull over on the side of the Big Sur for a 30 minute nap in your bed! (and get woken up by a Mexican family queuing up outside to have photos next to your van!!)
More California camping and road trip adventures coming up shortly…