I LOVE a road trip; since Matt and I sold our campervan we’ve not had much of chance to go on van adventures. So when the opportunity popped up to plan a road trip with JUCY Campers in California we jumped at the chance. This was our first road trip with Emily who is 21 months old so we wanted to make sure we did it right and the Jucy Trailblazer is the perfect size to accommodate a family without feeling too big. At night, Emily slept in the main part of the van with me, while Matt slept in the penthouse. We hired a car seat from Jucy as ours did not make it out on the flight, it cost a very reasonable $40. We found it took a bit more organisation to camp with Emily than we had been previously used when it was just us; but we soon got into the swing of things. Emily loved hiding up in the penthouse and really enjoyed the freedom of exploring the campgrounds we stayed at. I love JUCY’s vans, you can’t miss the green and purple branding, it’s a real head turner. We got asked about our van by passers by a lot, it seems it is quite an uncommon thing to see a small campervan in America. Big RVs with pop out sides, towing cars are a very popular choice and made our JUCY van look like a baby in comparison! One huge positive of having a smaller vehicle is that it is perfect for navigating the small and winding national park roads as well as being able to fit into any campground or parking space you like. It might be compact but that doesn’t mean there is no space in this eye-catching beauty. Let me tell you more….
The Trailblazer sleeps four, the roof pops up to form ‘the penthouse’ and inside there is a very comfy double bed. A ladder attaches to the outside of the van for very easy access and it all zips up tight making it very cosy at nigh time. I loved waking up in the morning, unzipping and admiring the view. If there is only two of you then sleeping up top means you can leave the rest of the van set up for ‘day use’. Downstairs the van has two bench seats with a fantastic amount of storage underneath and a table, which can be stowed away too. The kitchen is in the boot and comes equipped with everything you need. Storage cupboards, two gas stoves, a chiller and a sink. Pots, pans, crockery cutlery and bottle opener are all included too. As is a duvet, pillows, blanket and towels, this is a great bonus as I’ve found in the past that this is something that not all hire companies provide free of charge.
For more tips and tricks on camping with little ones check out my blog post all about: Road Tripping with a Baby in California. Read on for planning, packing, the route and our favourite spots…
Planning a road trip in California
First things first choose a rough route, you can book campgrounds before you go or if you prefer just rock up and see if there are spaces available. During peak seasons I would definitely recommend pre-booking campgrounds as popular ones often get reserved months in advance. Reserve California is brilliant for booking national park and state beach campgrounds. Search in the area you want to stay in and it’ll show you all the nearby campgrounds, it has an interactive map too. Visit California is a great website for planning and researching your road trip in California.
It’s always a good idea to check driving rules and regulations in the country you are visiting. In America they drive on the right hand side of the road and you can turn right on a red light. Also check tolls, these can be paid for online. If you are planning on driving over the Golden Gate Bridge make sure you pay for the toll using this website: goldengate.org
I always choose campgrounds with pitches that have a fire pit, there’s nothing like cooking on a fire by the beach or keep warming on chillier nights while stargazing.
There are often ‘camp hosts’ at campgrounds, they live on site and are there to help. You can usually purchase firewood from them for your campfire too. A lot of pitches in national park and state beach campgrounds come with benches and fire pits.
I always find buying all your essentials once you’ve picked up your camper is a really good idea, head to a supermarket for all your food supplies and firewood that way you are ready for your road trip.
It’s a good idea to buy water and keep a supply with you, as national park and state beach campgrounds don’t always have drinking water.
Be sure to fuel up well in advance of getting low, as sometimes fuel stations can be few and fire between. Especially in more remotes spots such as Point Reyes National Seashore.
Starting in Marin County we picked up our van in Oakland and dropped it off in LA. Both collection and drop off was really straight forward. From Oakland we drove north to Point Reyes and worked our way down the coast towards San Diego covering over 1000 miles in 7 days. The route we chose had to be adapted slightly due to the wildfires in California and because of part of the Big Sur being closed after a land slide last year.
Point Reyes National Seashore
After picking up our camper in Oakland we headed up north to Point Reyes National Seashore, we stayed in an area called Inverness. This part of California is unlike any other I’ve been to before and reminded me of the Scottish Highlands, I guess quite fitting with the name Inverness too. Inverness felt like something out of Dawson’s Creek, dreamy sunrises over water inlets with rickety old wooden piers and rolling hills in the distance. It was so very tranquil, the days were sunny, if a little chilly and in the evenings all you needed was a jacket, beanie hat and campfire to warm up. Don’t miss the Cypress Tree Tunnel, it’s a very popular spot for photos and produces a very Instagrammable image! Point Reyes Lighthouse is also a must visit the 308 steps are well worth the climb down and back up again. The views of nothing but uninterrupted ocean are out of this world. During whale season it is the perfect place to sit and stare out to sea on the lookout for these majestic creatures. Sadly we didn’t spot any on the day we visited but it didn’t matter. At certain times of the day the lighthouse is opened up so you can have a look inside and learn a bit about its history.
The walk up to the lighthouse has incredible views of the rugged coastline, even on a foggy day you can’t not be impressed by the untouched beauty of this place. A short drive from the lighthouse near Chimney Rock elephant seals lazily snooze on the shoreline. This was on our itinerary but we completely forgot to stop there, so make sure you do!
I’d definitely wear layers on a trip here, the day started off warm but quickly changed to fog and drizzle. We warmed up after climbing back up from the lighthouse but quickly chilled down again.
On the way to Monterey we chose our route so we would get to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, It was such an awesome experience to drive over this iconic structure. We of course found somewhere to stop for photos too. There are viewpoints either side of the bridge, we stopped at Fort Baker. Check out Seven Places to Gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge for more locations.
Monterey is a gorgeous seaside town famous for sea lions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. Take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf and say hello to the sea lions, spend half a day exploring the aquarium and grab some lunch on Cannery Row. The waterfront street was once home to sardine canning factories and has kept much of its old industrial charm. I loved the aquarium and taking photos on Cannery Row, although a little touristy it was nice to soak up the atmosphere.
The Big Sur
This part of Highway 1 is undeniably one of the most stunning drives I have ever done. Rugged coastline, turquoise ocean and miles of open road. This stretch of the drive is pretty remote, forest on one side and coast on the other. It’s worth noting that part of it is currently closed due to a landslide last year. But don’t let this stop you from planning an adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway, it can still be done. Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls are both beautiful must sees, the whole route is just so scenic and a photographers paradise. Plaskett Creek Campground opposite Sand Dollar Beach is a wonderful camping spot. Pitches come with a bench and fire pit. The campground has basic facilities with no showers but it’s worth it to be able to wake up to amazing views and complete silence. There are a whole host of campgrounds and lodges to stop the night at as well as eateries, we loved Big Sur Roadhouse.
If you are driving from the north you can still explore a lot of it and visit the famous natural landmarks dotted along the route. It is currently closed at Ragged Point. Either turn back on yourself or take a detour along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road back onto Highway 101, although the latter may not be the safest route to choose. The road is narrow and winds up through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. The views are stunning but it is often only wide enough for one car and with a sheer drop off the edge of the road it is definitely not a route for larger vehicles or the faint hearted! We chose to drive back on ourselves and pick up Highway 1 at Monterey. Check this website for updates on the road closures along the Big Sur: bigsurcalifornia.org
Carmel by the Sea
We briefly stopped in Carmel en route to Morro Bay. I adored this up-market seaside town, full of quirky side streets and oldy worldy homes. Clint Eastwood was once the mayor of Carmel, he also used to own the Hog’s Breath Inn, a quirky pub in the town. Don’t’ miss Carmel Bakery, they make delicious sandwiches and the array of cakes and sweet treats inside are to die for!
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Morro Bay as we arrived late afternoon and left early the following morning. We camped at Morro Strand State Beach Campground, overlooking the beach and Morro Rock; it’s a lovely spot. I loved getting cosy by the campfire while watching the waves roll in and waking up to the sounds of the ocean. Being able to step straight onto the beach was awesome and Emily loved hunting for sand dollars.
Carlsbad, Encinitas and Cardiff by the Sea
We spent a lot of time in the Carlsbad area as we stayed with family for Christmas while we were on our road trip. I adore the surfy town of Encinitas, every other person is a surfer and there is a brewpub on every corner. Our favourite was Bier Garden, Baja fish tacos with a beer here while watching the world go by was a real treat! Cardiff has beautiful beaches, the famous Los Olas Mexican restaurant and a campground on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Carlsbad is a great spot for stand up paddle boarding. We picked up boards at Sun Diego surf shop, first time rental is just $1 for the board and $1 for the wetsuit! It’s two blocks to the beach so you might need a couple of rest stops on the way but it’s well worth it. We spotted dolphins and seals while on our paddleboards, it was a wonderful morning.
The campground at Lake Jennings is another of my favourites, overlooking the lake it’s a peaceful spot with gorgeous views. Around 30 minutes drive east of San Diego the lake a great base for exploring the city. Reserve a pitch overlooking the water, get the campfire going and relax with a beer in hand.
Packing essentials for camping:
Tea bags: Always at the top of my list for camping, you can’t beat a proper British cuppa!
Torch, tea lights and fairy lights: It’s handy to have a torch to light up your camp at night or to help get you to the toilets when it’s pitch black. Tea lights and fairy lights are of course optional, but I love making the van and our bench look a bit shabby chic and cosy in the evenings.
Anti-bac hand wipes: Good for cleaning the ‘kitchen surfaces’ and for your hands when cooking. Also a good cheat instead of washing up!
Zip lock bags: Handy for storing open food and keeping your van tidy.
Portable charger: Good for charging your phone, although the Jucy vans have USB ports so you can easily charge on the road.
Although there is ample storage I’d definitely recommend packing as lightly as you can. A lot of privately owned campgrounds often have washing facilities so there is the option to do your laundry on the road.
There’s nothing like a road trip in a campervan. Having the freedom to go where you like and when you want is the best. Plus being able to stop at anytime along the way with all the essentials in the back is an awesome way to have an adventure. California was made for road trips and JUCY vans were made for exploring!
Thanks to JUCY for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible. Find out more at www.jucyusa.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.