Adventures in California with Jucy Campers…

*Thanks to Jucy for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible.  Find out more at Jucy USA and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.

 

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.  The Jucy Trailblazer was the perfect size to accommodate the three of us 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 our flight from London, it cost a very reasonable $40. We found it took a bit more organisation to camp with Emily than we had been previously used to 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 choices 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 these eye-catching beauties. 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 night. 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 a bottle opener are all included. 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 it: 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 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 know you have everything you need for your road trip without having to worry about stopping later on in your journey.
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. Sometimes fuel stations can be few and far between, especially in more remotes spots such as Point Reyes National Seashore.
Our Route:
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
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.
 
Point Reyes National Seashore
After picking up our camper in Oakland we headed up north to Point Reyes National Seashore and 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.  At certain times of the day the lighthouse is open 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.
Monterey
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 in 2017. 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
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.
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!
Morro Bay
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 $2 for a board and 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 paddle boards which was amazing to see!
Lake Jennings
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 is 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 get 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 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 are made for exploring!

 

 

Road Tripping with a Baby in California….

*Thanks to JUCY campers 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.

 

Roadtripping with a baby in California…in a campervan. It might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you plan it right it’s the best way to explore and a fantastic way for kids to enjoy the outdoors.  We’ve done a lot of road trips over the years; our last one with JUCY was back in 2013 in Australia and New Zealand. This trip was a bit different as we now have Emily who is 20 months old. Planning involved choosing shorter drives with more stops and campgrounds with good facilities.  We chose to hire a campervan with JUCY as we had used them before and loved the compact size of their vans.
One thing that I love about JUCY is that they provide everything you could possibly need to camp very comfortably. Pillows, duvets, bed linen and towels are all included as is kitchen utensils, crockery, cutlery and the kitchen sink. Not all camper companies provide all of this. For an extra charge you can hire camping chairs, sat nav, car seats and add-on mileage packages.
The trip didn’t get off to a great start, after landing in San Francisco I received a text from our airline to say our car seat hadn’t made it on our flight. Not good for a road trip! After the initial stress we hatched a plan, rather than wait for it to arrive which would ruin the beginning of our adventure we chose to hire one with JUCY. We found a taxi company who provided car seats to get us to the Jucy branch in Oakland and on arrival explained our problem. The lovely JUCY crew were so accommodating and had so many seats to choose from. At $40 for our whole 19-day trip it was a bargain.
The JUCY Trailblazer Van:
So let me tell you more about our van. We hired the JUCY Trailblazer, its compact size is perfect for winding national park roads and means you can park up anywhere and fit into pretty much any campground you fancy. This seems to be quite a unique concept for America as it’s all about the huge RVs that are the size of buses! We loved the size of this van, it was comfortable to drive and didn’t feel too big. The Trailblazer sleeps four, two in the roof and two in the main part of the camper. Inside the two bench seats convert into a bed and in the floor there is tons of storage space plus a table for use inside the van. The roof pops up with the turn of a handle or with the push of a button and reveals the comfiest double bed with canvas sides. The kitchen is at the back in the boot and comes complete with cupboard space, a chiller, sink and two gas stoves. There is everything you need from cutlery, to pots and pans, crockery and most importantly a kettle for a cuppa and a bottle opener for beer! I should mention the campers also come with DVD players.  Emily and I slept in the main part of the van while Matt had the roof ‘penthouse’ all to himself. This set up worked well and it meant that there was plenty of space for Emily to move around in her sleep!
Useful tips and tricks:
Pick up your van and head straight to a supermarket to stock up on essentials, food, water, baby food, alcohol, (definitely an essential when camping with a toddler!) etc. We found this really useful to do before we set off, that way we knew we had all our supplies with us.
Hire a car seat or take your own, if we hadn’t needed ours for the car journey to and from the airport in the UK I would definitely have just hired it through Jucy.
Be sure to have a good supply of water with you as a lot of campgrounds, especially national park ones don’t have water on site. There are no on site stores either so it’s a good idea to take everything you’ll need with you. If you camp at a private campground that’s not owned by the National Park Service they will often have a camp shop with a few basic supplies.
We booked our campsites in advance but you can often turn up and enquire about availability. Some campgrounds only offer walk up sites while others have to be booked months in advance as they are so popular.
Be flexible, if you don’t have fixed dates, book campgrounds as you go along.  Although now we have Emily we prefer to pre-book, but it’s sometimes fun to change plans and head somewhere different. Our plans altered slightly due to the wildfires in California
I would definitely recommend getting to campgrounds early in the afternoon to get set up and organised.  On a few nights we were racing against the light and nearing Emily’s dinner time so it was sometimes a bit stressful. I struggled to get used to living with Emily in such a small space for the first few days but once we got organised and into a little routine it all worked out perfectly. She had so much fun checking out her new little home and loved exploring the penthouse.
Cooking was really easy, Emily enjoys a lot of finger food so we could whip up a little buffet style meal for her straight from the chiller or use the camping stove to heat up something warm. The kettle came in handy to boil water to heat through her bottles and she loved eating at the bench by the campfire.
We factored in our drives along our route to fit around Emily’s daily nap, which worked out really well.
Packing:
We tried to pack as minimally as we could due to space restrictions in the van, it was made a little bit harder by having to pack for colder conditions in northern California as well as for the sunnier part of our trip further down the coast.  Plenty of private campgrounds do have washing machines so if you pack lightly you should be able to find laundry facilities at some point on your trip.
Some things I couldn’t live without when camping are:
Anti-bac wipes, tea bags, washing up liquid, sponge; snacks for Emily and nappies are all on my essential packing list. I love to have a few things with me before I arrive. Knowing I’ve got tea bags for a decent cuppa is always high on my packing list!
A torch or led lights are perfect for campfire cooking and going to and from the toilet block in the middle of the night.
Zip lock bags are great for storing perishables on the road.
A portable charger for your phone is always a good thing to have. There were USB ports in our Jucy van so we were able to charge phones on the road.
Our favourite campgrounds:
Morro Strand State Beach Bay:  Right on the beach, the facilities are basic and there are no showers but it’s worth it for the views and beach access.  Pitches have a fire pit and bench. We had a pitch overlooking the beach, I loved lying in bed listening to the ocean.
Carpinteria State Beach:  A really nice, clean campsite by the beach, walking distance to a few local shops and a lovely spot for building sand castles.
Lake Jennings Campground:  Around 30 minutes east of San Diego this is a gorgeous campground overlooking the lake. Popular with fishermen it’s a quiet spot. Sites have a bench and fire pit, we chose a really lovely one with fantastic views of the water.  Don’t expect much from the toilet and shower block as it was pretty basic but they were clean and tidy.  The campground also has a play park.
A campervan is perfect for a road trip, choose your route, stop for a cuppa along the way and park up for the night at beach campground.  It’s really easy to do with a baby too, it just involves a little bit more planning and organisation.  We soon got the hang of it and enjoyed exploring at a slower pace than before we had Emily.  There’s nothing quite like having the freedom to explore in a very cool van with everything you could possibly need to have an awesome adventure!
Do you camp or go on road trips with your kids?  Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear all about your adventures…

 

Bali, Cornwall & California, my 2017 travel roundup…

I’m writing this from a campervan in California overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I’m working with the lovely folks at Jucy campers and spending some time with Matt and Emily exploring a small part of the west coast of America.  2017 has been an exciting year for me in terms of blogging and travel.  I’ve collaborated with some awesome travel brands and taken on some new freelance clients.  I have also returned to my day job as a flight attendant after being on maternity leave.  Emily was born in 2016 and has become our mini travel buddy, she’s been away with Matt and I on a few trips and has already racked up quite a lot of airmiles in her 20 months of being on this planet.  From Cornwall to Bali she is lucky to have experienced some beautiful parts of the world so far.  Read on for my round-up of 2017 and travel plans for 2018….

 

January:  Cheddar, Somerset
Matt surprised me on Christmas day with a trip to Cheddar in Somerset for New Years Eve.  We stayed in a tiny chocolate box cottage with an open fire and lots of old worldy character.  Three days of exploring Cheddar including a trip to the famous gorge and caves, long scenic walks and a cosy evening in by fire the with a bottle of Champagne on New Years Eve made it the perfect way to see in 2017.  Read more on my Cheddar adventure here: A lovely long weekend in Cheddar, Somerset.

 

March: France
In March, Matt, Emily and I went to France with our lovely friends Sam and Graham and Emily’s bestest baby buddy Heidi.  We travelled by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, I loved the ferry it made a nice change to flying.  Once in France we made our way to the gorgeous harbour town of Port en Bessin and stayed in a three-storey cottage right on the harbour front.  The 5 days saw us going on sunny strolls around the harbour and cliff tops and learning about the D-Day landings the beaches in this area are so famous for.  Eating fresh seafood from the local fish market, enjoying typical French breakfasts in traditional cafes and of course enjoying plenty of bread, wine and cheese; a must do when in this part of the world!  This trip was quite different as working around Emily and Heidi’s nap times often saw us spending time apart from Sam and Graham as the girls’ snoozing patterns didn’t always happen at the same time…but we would always come together in the evenings for a gin and tonic just outside on the harbour wall with the baby monitor by our side and dinner and wine while watching the tide come in from the lounge window.  I loved waking up in the morning to the sounds of the sea, you could view it from pretty much all the rooms in the house.

 

May: London and Menorca
A trip to London for two nights for the Traverse travel blogging conference was awesome.  I was a little nervous about attending by myself, although I needn’t have worried as I met some lovely people and had an amazing two days at the event.  I learnt so much and even got some work from it.  After pitching an idea to the Spanish tourist board I also got invited on a week-long press trip to Menorca, pretty exciting stuff!
A couple of weeks after Traverse, I attended a seven-day press trip in Menorca with a group of bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers.  It was organised by Traverse Events, the Spanish tourist board and Jet2 Holidays, I had the best week.  There was a one day conference with some really interesting sessions and workshops focussing on a whole range of skills from SEO to using a drone.  There were activities and evening events running all week with the opportunity to explore the island.  One of my favourites was a kayaking trip, we paddled along picture perfect coastline and explored caves, which was pretty cool.  The evening events were wonderful too, from tapas at a vineyard to drinks in a cave at sunset overlooking the ocean.  I had such a blast and met so many interesting people, some of which I’m still in contact with, it’s so nice to have friends in the blogging world!

 

June: Beach time and returning to work
June involved lots of sunny beach time and my maternity leave coming to an end.  I really loved being on maternity leave, getting to spend so much time with Emily and Matt and being able to go on some fantastic trips.  I was petrified of returning to my day job as a flight attendant but knowing I was going back on a part-time basis made it feel a little bit easier to handle and by the end of the 8 day training course I was ready to return to the skies!

 

July: Jersey, New York and Cornwall
My first flying roster consisted of a New York and a Jersey nightstop along with some other shorthaul flights.  In New York I explored the West side of Manhattan, took a stroll along the High Line and visited Chelsea Market.  In Jersey there was just enough time for a walk along the seafront and dinner with the crew.
Matt, Emily and I also went on a mini road trip down to Cornwall for a few nights as Matt had some work in Newquay.  We enjoyed a couple of pub lunches, breakfast at Fistral Beach, a walk at Watergate Bay, a bit of shopping in the town and I got to surf at Fistral too.

 

August: New York and Midhurst, West Sussex
I went back to New York twice again in August, which was definitely not a hardship!  On one of the trips I went to see the views from Top of the Rock, the viewing platforms on top of the Rockefeller Center.  I went up years ago but couldn’t resist another visit.  I love the views of the Manhattan skyline and from the Rockefeller Center you can see Central Park, the Empire State Building and pretty much all of Manhattan including the One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty.  It’s such a breathtaking view.  I also explored Central Park with a lovely crew and visited Times Square.  It’s been hard getting used to leaving Emily when I go away, some days I feel really emotional about it.  It’s so nice to be able to see her on FaceTime, it makes me feel not so far away.  Its been great working with other parents too, to know I’m not the only one who struggles with my emotions sometimes!
It was my birthday in August and to celebrate Matt surprised me with a night away while Emily spent the night with hr grandparents.  We stayed at the Spread Eagle Hotel in Midhurst, it has the most gorgeous spa and pool area which we loved relaxing in.  We also enjoyed a G & T or two in the cosy bar area and dinner was just divine.  We finished off our very relaxing 24 hours with a crab salad and a glass of rose at Seven Fish, just so tasty.

 

August & September: Bali
At the end of September we flew out to Bali, via Kuala Lumpur, Matt and I were pretty apprehensive about flying with Emily.  Although we had already done a fair few flights with her, this was the first one with her as a toddler who loves nothing more than running around and exploring!  The flights were full of ups and downs but in general she was such a good girl, after a traumatic beginning to our flight home we did decide we wouldn’t be flying again with her until she was about ten!  Having reflected on it we made a pact that we would only do night flights in the hope that she would sleep for some of it!  Anyway, Bali was just beautiful, we stayed in a private villa with Matt’s parents In Sanur where we enjoyed leisurely mornings by the pool, afternoon strolls along the beach and cocktails while Emily snoozed or played in the sand.  We had a night glamping in Ubud at Sandat Glamping Resort and then a few nights in Canggu.  Seeing the rice terraces and temples was a great experience but I was surprised at just how touristy some of these sights were.  Bali is such a family friendly place so if you are thinking about an adventurous family trip away, I would definitely recommend Indonesia.  For more check out my blog post: Bali with a Baby.

 

October: MSC Cruises and Mallorca
I got an invite to attend #BlogCampOnBoard in October, a blogging event onboard a cruise ship, I of course accepted the invite and found myself climbing aboard the very impressive MSC Preziosa.  The day consisted of a tour of the ship, some interesting blogging sessions, lunch and a Q and A with the MD of MSC UK and Ireland and the marketing team.  I throughly enjoyed exploring the ship and made some lovely new blogging friends, everyone was so friendly and it was great to meet others from different blogging niches from cruising to food and parent bloggers onboard.

 

November: Mallorca and London
I jetted of to Mallorca for some winter sun in November as part of the Spanish and Balearic tourist boards #betterinwinter campaign.  The Balearic Islands are well-known to the British as summer holiday destinations but they are just as lovely in the winter.  There was sunshine everyday in Mallorca while I was there, it was definitely warm enough to sit on the beach.  I spent four days exploring this gorgeous island with four lovely Instagrammers.  We enjoyed tapas in some delightful locations, visited some stunning hotels, strolled around Mallorca’s capital Palma and took in glorious views of the city from the top of Palma Cathedral.  One of my favourite things was a trip to Flor de Sal where salt is produced.  It was such a different thing to do and standing next to 10ft salt mountains was a unique experience.  I loved strolling around the market in Santanyi, it was hard to believe it was November with all the sunshine we had.
I landed from Mallorca and headed straight to London for a few days of sightseeing and shopping with my Mum.  We checked in to the Premier Inn Hub Hotel on Brick Lane in East London.  Our cosy and compact room was perfect for our two night stay and I loved exploring this very cool part of London.  We had breakfast at Spitalfields market, shopped on Oxford Street and took in the views of the city from the Shard.  Earlier on in the year I won tickets at Traverse to visit the Shard, so Mum and I made the most of it by going up at sunset and enjoying the views with a few glasses of champagne.  We also had the best curry back on Brick Lane, if you find yourself in that part of London head to The Monsoon for Thali, so, so good.

 

December: California
As I mentioned in the first few lines, Matt, Emily and I are currently in America.  We are here to spend Christmas with family, it’s so strange to celebrate Christmas in the sunshine compared to the cold, frosty December days in the UK.  I’m not complaining though it’s a very nice change and I also love seeing how Americans embrace Christmas, people definitely decorate the outside of their houses in a much more exciting way than in the UK!  We have also spent ten days roadtripping along the west coast of California within a very cool Jucy campervan.  Its been slightly different to normal as it’s the first road trip we’ve done with Emily.  Picking up our van in San Francisco we travelled up to Point Reyes National Sea Shore, followed by a few nights in Monterey, Morro Bay, Carpinteria and now Carlsbad near San Diego.  More blog posts to come on our adventures soon…It’s safe to say 2017 has been an awesome year and finishing up with Christmas in California is a wonderful way to round it all up.
Travel plans for 2018 so far include a break away with friends to The forest of Dean in February and a family holiday with my parents in Menorca in June.  Matt and I are hoping to explore somewhere far-flung at some point in the year while Emily holidays with her Grandparents…thanks in advance Nana, Grandad, Nanny and Pops!

 

9 things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park…

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California is located high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  There are two entrances into the park, the 198 from the Ash Mountain entrance is my favourite.  With 130 curves on the drive and 12 switchbacks it is quite an experience(!) and climbs quickly up in altitude (you can feel your ears popping) with some fantastic views of the mountains and further up the enormous trees.  It’s probably not the best route to take if travelling in a large RV though.  The other entrance, Big Stump is a slightly easier drive on the 180 from Fresno and a more direct route into Kings Canyon.  Entrance to the park costs $30 for 7 days, fuel up on the drive in, on the 180 there’s a fuel station at Clinton’s Junction or at Three Rivers on the 198.  Once in Sequoia there is no fuel except for Stony Creek Village in the summer.  The only other option is Hume Lake a short drive outside the national park boundary, if in dia need John Muir lodge provides fuel but at a price of around $8 per gallon!  Two parks in one Sequoia and Kings Canyon are famous for the huge trees which grace the high country forests here.  Sequoias are the largest trees in the world and live for thousands of years, some of them are so big you can walk through them.  Read on for my nine must do’s up in the High Sierra.

 

1. Climb Moro Rock
This huge dome-shaped rock has 400 steps carved into the rock face, climb them to reach the top at an elevation of 6725 feet.  If that doesn’t sound hard enough, there’s also the altitude to contend with, everything feels a lot harder work at this height!  The route up is an interesting one, the views are beautiful but I had to keep an eye on my feet!  At one point it looks like the path ends, instead you take a sharp right and continue through a narrow passage way between the rock. With only a tiny metal hand rail guarding the edges at some points and sometimes nothing guarding the edge it feels a little scary at times so be sure to wear some decent footwear and don’t be put off the 0.25 mile climb is well worth it.  There are plenty of spots to stop on the way up to admire the beautiful never-ending views and to catch your breath too.  Once at the top the panoramic views are breathtaking, walking along to the end of the rock feels like you are on top of the world.  The Great Western Divide, Mount Whitney, huge canyons and Highway 198, twisting and turning up the mountains side can all be seen.  Don’t venture up Moro Rock during thunder storms, it can be extremely dangerous as being so exposed the rock is a magnet for lightning strikes.

 

2. Drive through a tree
Driving through a tree certainly isn’t something you get to do everyday, Tunnel Log near Moro Rock fell over the road in 1937 and a tunnel 17 feet high and 8 feet high was cut through it.   Go early to avoid the crowds or slightly out of season to have the tree all to yourself.

3. Sleep in a cabin
A stay in a rustic cabin has to be the ultimate national park experience.  Up at 6589 feet surrounded by ancient trees and waking up to crisp, fresh mountain air is wonderful.  I loved staying in Grant Grove Cabins, located in Grant Grove village in Kings Canyon there’s a  shop, post office and a brand new restaurant which is due to be completed in April/May 2017.  No phone signal really makes you feel like you are in the wilderness, if you need to be connected to the world then a short stroll to John Muir Lodge for WiFi and a beer by a roaring fire-place is a nice way to warm up in the chillier months.  Whilst charming the cabin was a little bit rough around the edges, I wouldn’t recommend them for their cleanliness as it urggled more on the shabby than the chic!  Don’t get me wrong it didn’t ruin my stay, the cabins are in a fantastic location and I loved the quickness but a simple hoover, dust and scrub could have made our cabin feel a whole lot better.  Matt, Emily and I stayed in a duplex cabin with two double beds and a bathroom, there are other cabins too with outdoor log burners.  We would have loved to have stayed in one of these but with a baby decided it would be easier to have our own bathroom, as these ones have shared toilet and shower facilities.  Seeing raccoons near our front door was such a novelty, one evening we were having drink on our porch when we were joined by a family of nine, you don’t see that in England!

 

4. Stargaze
Little to no light pollution in the skies above Sequoia make it an awesome place for stargazing, standing outside our cabin at night I would stare up at the sky for an age not wanting to take my eyes off it for a moment incase I missed something.  Shooting stars and millions of twinkles in the fresh night sky with pretty much no light pollution is just incredible to witness.

 

5. Watch the sunset
Find a lookout out point and just take in the views of the Big Sierra as the colours change over the mountains and the sun goes down.  We stopped at a viewpoint along Generals Highway to capture these beauties…

 

6. Walk amongst huge trees
There are so many spots to see big trees, they are hard to miss!  General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest is the worlds largest tree by volume, with a height of almost 275 feet and a circumference of 102.6 feet it’s a whooper!  To put it into perspective this makes it nearly the same height as the Statue of Liberty.  Grant Grove is home to the General Grant Tree, a short loop passes the tree which is known as ‘The Nation’s Christmas Tree’.  The Fallen Monarch is also on the same loop, take a stroll through a huge length of this fallen tree.  The tree trail can get quite busy but take a short stroll off the beaten track and admire these giants all by yourself.

 

7. Go bear spotting
I have visited Sequoia National Park twice, on the first trip in August 2015 Matt and I were lucky to have three black bear sightings.  If camping be sure to keep all food and toiletries in a bear box provided to prevent them from being attracted to anything that is scented, not just food but also toiletries.  Anyway back to the sightings…the first sighting was actually in our campground, we had just arrived and parked up our van for the evening when we heard a lot of commotion coming from some other campers, it turns out a mother and baby had wandered into the campground.  One of the ways to get them to leave is by making a lot of noise; we just saw their backs as they disappeared.  The second sighting was a bear casually strolling a short distance away from our van while we were having breakfast and the third was on my birthday.  We were on our way back from a hike to Tokapah Falls when we spotted a bear along the river, we watched it cross over and pass the footpath we were on, it didn’t seem to notice us or if it did it luckily wasnt interested in us and foraged around in the undergrowth for a while before disappearing.  It was incredible and something I will remember for a long time to come!  For info on bear encounters and how to stay safe visit the Sequoia and Kings Canyon website: www.nps.gov

 

8. Admire the views
Apart from hiking another way to explore Sequoia is by car, spot huge trees to have selfies by and pull over for beautiful panoramic mountain and forest views.  Make time to stop at viewpoints on Generals Highway, there are some great spots with beautiful views of the High Sierra.  Panoramic Point at Grant Grove Village is the place to see Kings Canyon in all its glory at 7520ft it’s high up!  Mountain peaks, valleys and Hume Lake can all be spotted and benches are conveniently placed to sit and admire the view.  Hume lake in Sequoia National Forest is a 20 minute drive from Grant Grove Village its a nice area for lunch and a stroll.  The drive is also a very scenic one, there are incredible lookout points over Kings Canyon and the twisting Scenic Byway to Cedar Grove below.

 

9. Take a hike
There are so many places to walk in Sequoia from short strolls to overnight backcountry hikes.  My favourite walk has to be the trail to Tokopah Falls from Lodgepole campground, at just over 4 miles there and back it’s such a scenic hike. Huge granite cliffs tower high above as you pass through forest along the Kaweah river and by alpine meadows. A steady climb up to the falls through a glacial valley, there’s a point where the trail turns into a short clamber around some giant boulders, but that just adds to the fun!  The trail finishes at the falls, sit and just take it all in.  The water cascades down a steep rock face, look back towards the trail and the whole valley opens up, just beautiful.  Look out for bears too, Matt and I spotted one by the river on the walk back.  If this is the only walk you do while in Sequoia then you won’t be disappointed, it ticks all the outdoor adventure boxes!  Another nice walk is Dead Giant Loop which starts from the Grant Tree parking lot, it’s a nice walk to escape the General Grant Tree crowds and a short and straight forward one too.  A 2.2 mile round trip through forest and along Lion Meadow leads to a viewpoint overlooking Sequoia Lake.  It is a  very peaceful place to stop for lunch and although not a long walk it had a nice feeling of remoteness.

Iceland, America and a baby, 2016 has been a good’un!…

This year has been an incredible one, I’ve done less travelling than usual due to being on maternity leave but having Emily has made it the loveliest year for me and being able to take her on adventures around the world even better. I thought I’d look back on the travels and adventures of 2016 and reflect on the differences with a mini adventurer in tow!

 

January: Iceland
January started off with a trip to Iceland, being 6 months pregnant this was our ‘babymoon’ and the last time I planned to fly before my due date in April. Matt and I spent four days in the Arctic Circle, what an amazing place! We stayed at Loft Hostel in the centre of Reykjavík and explored a lot on foot, the views of the city from the top of the church, Hallgrimskirkja were one of my highlights here. We were lucky enough to see the northern lights on a super jeep tour, drinking hot chocolate while watching the aurora borealis dance across the night sky was an amazing experience. A trip to the south coast included a stop at Reynisfjara, the black sand beach near Vik, seeing waterfalls such as Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s largest and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano that erupted in 2010. My favourite sight on the south coast was walking along the base of a glacier, hearing it crack as it moved and taking photos of the ice blue formations was incredible. On a tour of the Golden Circle we walked between fault lines at Þingvellir National Park, watched the mighty Strokkur geyser explode every few minutes and took photos of Gullfoss waterfall in the freezing cold! The day was rounded up perfectly with a trip to the Secret Lagoon; the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip so this was the next best thing. Unfortunately I couldn’t go into the hot pool as I was pregnant but Matt loved floating around in the steamy water.

 

What to do with four days in Iceland
Exploring Iceland’s South Coast
Adventures on the Golden Circle in Iceland
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Review: Loft Hostel Reykjavik, Iceland
Northern Lights Photography Tips

 

 

February: London
In February, Matt and I went to London for a few nights for a wedding and explored Islington, Shoreditch and the market at Spitalfields. Having lived in London for three years while I was at university it was nice to go back and visit areas I had not been to before. We tried out some really great restaurants and cafes and ate a lot of good food!
A foodie weekend in London

 

 

April: Emily
April saw the arrival of Emily Louise Dunkinson weighing 6lb 1oz and since then it’s been a whirlwind eight months! Matt and I have always said that we would carry on travelling with a baby but were a little apprehensive about how this would pan out. Once we’d got our heads around the extra packing (who knew someone so small could need so much) we were good to go!
Emily
Flying with a baby

 

August: Cornwall
We started off with a road trip to Cornwall in August; I had a surf and yoga day planned with professional surfer Corinne Evans in Newquay. It was the first time I had surfed since being pregnant, it was so nice to get back on a board and meet some like-minded ladies. Three nights in Cornwall meant there was time for lots of beach walks and relaxing too and Emily at four months old seemed to love her first trip away.
Surfing in Cornwall with Corinne Evans

 

September: Italy
In September we went to Italy for two weeks to explore the southern region of Puglia. This was Emily’s first flight and it took a while to get my head round all the palaver of what liquids we could take through airport security and how she would be on the flight. Thankfully she was such a good girl and slept a lot, leaving Mum and Dad time for a celebratory G & T! Puglia was beautiful; we stayed in a traditional trullo building and visited some gorgeous towns, swam in the turquoise Mediterranean, strolled around cobbled streets full of white washed buildings and enjoyed spending time with Emily and her grandparents. Eating and drinking was high on the agenda here too, with freshly picked figs and almonds from the trullo gardens and Aperol to be sipped by the pool it was a very indulgent two weeks!
How to spend two weeks in Puglia
Exploring the trulli town of Alberobello

 

October/November: America
During October and November we spent some time in America. Visiting family in California was so nice and Emily got to meet her cousins for the first time. Being in America for Halloween was fantastic, fancy dress and trick or treating in a neighbourhood that pulls all the stops out was an awesome experience! Matt, Emily and I also went on a road trip to Sequoia National Park. The 7 hours drive was well worth it as our rustic cabin high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6,500 feet was very welcoming. Stargazing, taking photos of giant trees, hiking with some incredible views, driving through a tree, watching the sunset behind the mountains and climbing the 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock are just some of the adventures we had there, all with Emily strapped to our backs! Back on the coast we watch surfers at Swamis, enjoyed brunch in Encinitas and visited Temecula for wine tasting and lunch. I was blown away with how well Emily coped with jetlag, she seemed to do better than me and she was so good on the long flights.
As any parent is aware it takes time to adjust to looking after a tiny human and it has been hard to keep up with writing on my blog along with my freelance work at the same time as being a Mum. I’ll often put Emily down for a nap with grand plans of getting some work done and a blog post, then I’ll hang some washing up, make a cuppa, sit down, feel all like ‘yeah I’ve got this being a Mum and writing thing nailed’ jot down a paragraph and then Emily will wake up!  I’m not complaining as I am completely in love with her, I think it’s just something I’m still learning to get used to. So my new years resolution is to stop beating myself up about it!

 

December: Somerset

I’m writing this today from Somerset, Matt, Emily and I are staying in a cosy cottage near Cheddar and will be seeing in the new year sat in front of the log burner in the lounge with a bottle of champagne. Travel plans for 2017 are already in motion with the first being a trip to France we’re going with friends by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. We are staying in a lovely apartment in the fishing village of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain overlooking the seafront near Normandy which is famous for the D-Day Landings. I’ll be going back to work too, which right now seems like a terrifying prospect but at the same time I’m really look forward to flying again and visiting some new destinations, Peru, Costa Rica and Cape Town are just a few of the new routes I’ll be exploring when I return. As cabin crew I think I’ve never really got used to the idea of being ‘grounded’. Having said that I have got used to being in a ‘normal’ routine at home now so it will be interesting to see how I get on with weekly jetlag and 3am starts! But I’m sure surfing in Barbados, shopping in Orlando and a whole nights sleep all to myself will help me get through it! There will be at least one longhaul adventure for the three of us too, Matt and I are currently mulling over some options so watch this space.
Cheers to new adventures in 2017 and Happy New Year to you all!

 

9 Things To Do On The Big Sur…

The Big Sur stretches roughly from Carmel to San Simeon along California’s stunning coastline for around 85 miles.  It doesn’t have an official start or finish, so I thought this quote from the Lonely Planet guide to California summed it up perfectly: “Big Sur is more of a state of mind than a place.”  I had read so much about this beautiful stretch of coastline along Highway 1 before I arrived in California but I didn’t expect it to be so cut off from the rest of California, it is literally one winding road with ocean on one side and rocky cliff overhangs or forest on the other.  There was pretty much no phone signal on the entire route either.  This is something I actually love when I’m away, that feeling of being totally cut off from the rest of the world for a short time to just be able to completely focus on new surroundings, take it all in and relax.

Matt and I drove Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I would really recommend driving south along the Big Sur with the ocean on the right hand side.  All the lay-bys and viewpoints are on this side of the road so it makes it a lot easier to pull over and pull out again when it is busy.
There is so much to see and do on this part of the Pacific Coast Highway, it could be done in one day but the road is pretty small and slow with sharp corners at times.  Plus with plenty of viewpoints along the way you definitely don’t want to rush.  We stopped for the night at a campground, it really added to the experience.
Here are my 9 favourite things to do…

 

1. See elephant seals
Point Piedras Blancas is the place to stop to see an elephant seal rookery.  Elephant seals can spend up to 10 months at sea and are able to dive an incredible depth of 1000 – 3000 ft.  Males can grow up to 16ft in length and weigh as much as 2300kg.  These magnificent creatures are huge and very noisy!  Watch males tussling in the water for rights over females while the rest snooze and laze around on the sand.  Grunting, snorting and belching are to name just a few of the strange noises that can be heard coming from the beach!  For more information check out: www.elephantseal.org.

 

2. Have a glass of wine at Nepenthe
This lovely little spot has two options for eating and drinking, Nepenthe Restaurant or Café Kevah.  It is the perfect place or excuse to have a rest on your drive with an afternoon beverage and a chance to take in those stunning views.  Both eateries are situated high up with gorgeous views of the rugged coastline and Pacific Ocean.  Matt and I chose to visit the restaurant, as it was higher up, the only trouble was the sea mist had come in and through the fog we could see nothing!  Still, it was nice to stop off and have a glass of rosé.

 

3. Whale watch
There are plenty of opportunities to go on organised whale watching trips along the coastline, Monterey is a great place to book from.  We were lucky enough to spot whales all along the Big Sur.  If you want to save some money pull into a viewpoint and just watch the horizon.  To see whales breaching is an incredible sight, or even just a slight peek of a tail slipping gracefully under the water.  Whale Watchers Café at Gorda Springs Resort was a marvellous place for breakfast on the road.  With ocean views from the café we ate a hearty breakfast and got to spot whales too.

 

4. Bixby Bridge
This bridge is a very famous landmark on the Big Sur. Built in 1932, it is one of the world’s tallest single span concrete bridges standing proud at 280 ft high.  Driving south there is a lay-by on the right hand side just before the bridge, although usually very busy with tourists it is definitely worth stopping to take a photo of this very impressive structure.  Whilst I loved this bridge there are others very similar along the route so stop at one of those for views without lots of other people around!

 

5. Go for a walk
There are so many great areas to walk along Highway One; Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was one of my favourites.  Rugged coastline with kelp forests home to sea lions and sea otters make for an exciting walk.  The park has mapped out trails with plenty of history, hike to Whalers Cove where a whalers cabin still stands and is now a museum.  As well as walking, buy a permit to snorkel or dive amongst the kelp beds, awesome marine life and underwater caves await.  If you are camping in a state park keep hold of your permit as this can be used to park for free in other parks and reserves.

 

6. Pitch a tent (or park up in a van)
One of the cheapest ways to stay overnight on the Big Sur is to camp.  We hired a campervan through Wicked Campers and loved having the freedom to explore and stop where we wanted.  We stayed overnight at Plaskett Creek campground, just over the road from Sand Dollar Beach. Cooking on a campfire and stargazing was a brilliant experience.  The campsite cost a total of $34, a bargain compared to the hotels along the route.  There are quite a few campgrounds along the Big Sur, my advise would be to book in advance during peak seasons as pitches at the more popular sites can get reserved very quickly.  Having said that a few of the campsites do offer a limited number of pitches to simply turn up and pay for on the day.  Take plenty of layers if camping, as it gets quite cold when the fog comes in.

 

7. McWay Falls
This iconic waterfall is definitely worth stopping for, found in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park this beauty is 80ft high and cascades onto the beach below.  Park up and follow the half-mile trail to the coast, you can also spot whales at this picture perfect spot.  I saw so many images of this iconic beauty before the trip and loved seeing it in real life.  Benches along the trail allow you to sit and take in the beautiful views.

 

8. Watch the sunrise at Sand Dollar Beach
What could be better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with fog hanging over the hills behind and not another soul in sight?  Waking up early in our camper we strolled over the road from Plaskett Creek campground and straight onto the bluff overlooking this crescent-shaped bay.  The waves looked iridescent in the low light and the stillness of the early morning was incredible.  I wish I had, had a surfboard with me as there were some great little peelers breaking out there!

 

9. The drive
The Big Sur is an iconic route, remember don’t rush the drive, take your time and enjoy!  The road can get busy at times and often people behind us wanted to drive faster, so we just pulled over and let them carry on.  Whether you experience it in the sunshine or the fog it is an epic journey and a blanket of fog hanging just above the coastline made for awesome photo opportunities.  Pull over at every opportunity and take in the scenery.  There were fresh fruit stalls at a lot of lay-bys; one day we bought avocados, blueberries and figs.  It was so nice to have a picnic with local produce and stunning views.  Mustangs seemed to be a popular choice of ride all along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, cruising with the roof down looked like a very cool experience.

 

Exploring Sequoia National Park…

After a 6 hour drive covering 223 miles from Los Angeles in our very cool Wicked campervan we arrived at Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park.  Reaching the park we stopped at the ranger hut and paid the entrance fee.  I was surprised to learn there was a 45 minute drive further to the campground, after such a long drive I thought we had arrived!  The final part of the drive was beautiful though and made up for the fact that I was done with sitting still for so long.  The road got smaller as it started to wind higher and higher up into the park.  Driving through the Giant Forest we got our first sighting of the huge trees that Sequoia is famous for.  At some points on the drive, if you looked down you could see tree trunks below and looking up the trees continued well above the road, just incredible.  We continued driving higher up until we arrived at Lodgepole campground, here at 6720 feet above sea level the air felt fresh and clean.
Pulling up at the ranger hut to check in, I noticed a sign showing that there had been 5 bear break – ins in the campground during the past week.  I had read about black bears in the area and the need to put all food and scented items in a bear proof box 24 hours a day…I was excited and apprehensive all at the same time about stumbling across a bear and this made it feel all the more real, but I still didn’t think that I would actually be lucky enough to have a bear encounter….
Sequoia works hard to make everybody aware of bears with notices in toilets about being careful with rubbish and stickers on bins reading ‘care for bear’.  There is the possibility that if they break into cars they may have to be put down if they become aggressive, by knowing this it made me want to be very conscientious and look after the bears.
We found our pitch amongst the trees, complete with a bench, fire pit with a grate for cooking and a bear box, the rush of the nearby river could be heard in the distance, what a fantastic welcome.  I wasted no time in putting most of my belongings into the bear box just to be on the safe side!  As we settled into our surroundings the light began to fade and the smell of campfires filled the air encouraging us to set up our own.  Lodgepole has a very handy shop within driving distance so we already had our firewood ready to go.  All of a sudden we heard the sound of a car horn followed by banging and someone shouting, Matt and I both looked at each other and said at the same time ‘BEAR!’  Rushing over to where the commotion was happening we heard someone saying it was a mother and baby that had been nearby and we just caught a glimpse of them disappearing into the woodland high above the noisy campers.  If you come across a bear the best thing to do is apparently stand your ground and make as much noise as you can to scare them off.  This explains all the noise we had heard.  I couldn’t believe we were only an hour into our stay and had already had a bear sighting, it finally started to sink in that they really were around us!  Settling back around the campfire I felt a little uneasy peering into the darkness wondering what was watching us.  With nothing but the light from the fire the star trail above was just stunning, laying back on the bench and looking skyward it looked 3D, almost like I could touch each star.  Listening to the distant crackles of campfires made me sleepy and after cooking steak and veggies on the fire we retreated to our cosy van for the night.
The following morning we woke up early and sat planning our day with breakfast and coffee. Matt was having a look down towards the river when all of a sudden a bear appeared and strolled along very near to us.  He or she didn’t seem to notice us, it was such a special moment as with no one else around we were the only ones to see this beautiful creature.  I was not expecting that at breakfast time!

 

With a plan decided we put on our walking boots and jumped into the van.  The first stop was to see General Grant Tree at Grant Grove.  This beauty is the second tallest Sequoia tree in the world at 268 feet high by 108 feet in circumference, it is huge and very difficult to get a photo of the whole thing!  The tallest by the way is the General Sherman Tree also in Sequoia, standing at 274.9 feet.  My advice would be to get to Grant Grove early, we arrived mid morning and it was very busy.  The General Grant Tree Trail is a short paved trail leading past the Fallen Monarch, a giant hollow Sequoia you can walk through from one end to the other and then continues past General Grant.  Interestingly in the 1800s it was used in many different ways from a hotel to a stable for US Cavalry horses.

Next we decided to drive to Buck Rock lookout a fire lookout tower sat up high at 8500 feet.  From what I had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to California it has fantastic views but we didn’t quite make it there….we got to an unpaved road which became very dusty and full of potholes, although it was only a couple of miles to the lookout the potholes were never-ending. So, Matt and I decided to leave the van and attempt to walk the final few miles, but in the midday sun it was just too hot and for some reason I had an uneasy feeling; there was no one else around and I had a bit of paranoia about bears!  We got round a corner and did spot the tower in the distance, it looked incredible perched high up on a rocky outcrop but was just too far in the heat.  There were also huge plumes of smoke from wildfires that were just incredible to witness.  Feeling defeated we reluctantly gave up and missioned back to the van, we hadn’t been walking for that long maybe 45 minutes or so but I was really pleased to see our van!  We found a shady spot for lunch and drove back to Lodgepole where after checking back in to a new pitch (it was so busy I had to reserve two separate sites) we strolled along the gorgeous alpine stream within the campground and had a chilly but refreshing paddle.
The following day it was my birthday, what a novelty it was to wake up in Sequoia, I had bought a few presents and cards with me from home to open too.  With a 5 hour journey ahead of us to San Francisco we were keen to get back on the road but also wanted to make the most of this beautiful National Park, so a birthday hike to Tokopah Falls was on the cards.  Setting off early on the 1.7 mile trail to avoid the heat of the sun the walk started just a stones through from where we had been camping.  Following the river along through the trees watching out for bears, the walk was very varied.  We strolled past alpine meadows, scrambled over rocks and marveled at the huge granite rock formations high above us until we arrived at the falls.  We didn’t see another soul on the journey and were pleased to see the falls that marked the end of the trail and still no one else around.  It really felt quite magical to be the only ones there. We reached the end of the path and clambered down the huge rock face to sit right by the falls, although not as powerful as probably during the winter months it was beautiful to see and sitting back to take in the view from where we had just walked, the valley between the canyon was clear to see.  It was such a birthday treat!  The day got even better as we were walking back we stopped for a glug of water and peered down to the river where we spotted a bear….we watched in silence as it crossed the river and started to walk up the embankment towards the path we had just walked along.  Holding our breath we took a few steps back as it crossed right over the track and into the undergrowth on the other side.  We continued to watch it as it snuffled and foraged.  If it had smelt us it didn’t let on.  Such an awesome sight!
Tips and tricks:
  • The $35 entrance pass into Sequoia lasts for 7 days.
  • I made an online reservation for Lodgepole campground before arriving which was $22 a night.
  • Fuel up when you can as fuel stations can be few and far between, Stony Creek Village had fuel pumps.
  • There was pretty much no phone service in the park, if you are desperate Stony Creek Lodge had free WiFi.
  • Lodgepole has a well-equipped shop, make sure you buy your firewood there and don’t bring it in from somewhere else, this helps to prevent the spread of disease.
  • There are coin operated showers at the visitor centre in Lodgepole, make sure you’ve got some quarters handy!
I loved everything about camping in Sequoia, the sights, the smells, and the sounds. Sequoia National Park is perhaps overlooked compared to others such as Yosemite, I had not heard of it until I started researching.  I also read how busy Yosemite can get during the summer so I opted for Sequoia instead.  Give it a go, believe me you won’t be disappointed.
For a round-up of our California road trip take a look at my previous post: Camping in California with Wicked Campers and more to do in Sequoia: 9 things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
It was back into the mystery machine and onto the next adventure, San Francisco and the Big Sur…

 

Camping in California with Wicked Campers…

Ad: Matt and I were given a discount by Wicked on our campervan in exchange for this blog post.
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.

California road trip

 

Campground information:
We stayed at….

 

Lodgepole Campground
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.
Here’s some more on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park:
Exploring Sequoia National Park
9 Things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

 

San Francisco RV Resort
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.

 

Sunset Sate Beach Campground
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.

 

Plaskett Creek Campground
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.
Here’s my favourite things to see and do along the Big Sur:
9 Things to do on the Big Sur

 

Carpinteria State Beach Campground
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…

 

Somewhere on the Big Sur

Planning for a Californian road trip…

Matt and I are jumping on a flight tomorrow to Los Angeles for a road trip and camping adventure in California. We are looking to get back to nature with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by some city adventures for two nights near San Francisco on my birthday and then onto the Pacific Coast Highway for some sun and surf.  We are following the coastal road all the way back down to Los Angeles stopping off along the Big Sur on the way.

California road trip

We are very excited to be collaborating with campervan hire company Wicked.  You can’t miss their vans covered in cool artwork.  I am looking forward to reporting back about the van and the adventures we have along the way!
While researching the trip I realised that we would be in California during high season and booking campsites well in advance was a good plan as I found that the popular sites especially beach front ones were fully booked a few months ago!  Of course many sites don’t have reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis, but as we are only there for a short time I decided I would book in advance rather than worry about where we were going to stay on the day.  We have done it this way before in Australia and New Zealand though and it was easy peasy to just turn up.
We are staying in a mixture of privately owned campsites, National Parks and State Beach campgrounds.  Privately owned campsites are great for shower and laundry facilities.  National park ones are perfect for going back to basics and being at one with nature, often with limited facilities and sometimes no showers.  The bonus though is that many of them allow campfires, which I really can’t wait for.  The type of van we are using has a ‘kitchen’ in the boot so cooking outside while the sunsets will feel like such a novelty, the weather looks set to be warm and sunny too.
For reserving National Park and State beach campsites I used Reserve America and Recreation.gov.  Both are good for trip planning and show current alerts in the parks.  One thing I was surprised to learn about was a black bear warning for the campground I booked in Sequoia National Park.  Each pitch comes with a bear proof box and all food, toiletries and anything that has a scent or odour must be placed inside so as not to attract the bears!  I am slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time!  I would love to see a bear but not too close to our van!  Back to the research, Nomadic Matt has some useful blogs on road tripping in America and a good old-fashioned map and Lonely Planet guide to California have also been vital in planning this trip.
Camping essentials:
From previous camping trips abroad I have discovered a few very useful items that are easy to pack and save a bit of hassle on arrival at your destination…
Anti-bac wipes – I’m a bit of a clean freak so these are perfect for campervan cleaning and also good for cheating on the washing up!
Head torch – A very useful camping tool, especially for finding your way to the toilet in the middle of the night…
Re-sealable bags – Good for storing opened food and anything else you might need to store.
Power pack or car charger – A necessity for charging camera batteries or phones on the road.
Tea bags – Being an English girl I need a good cuppa!
Washing tablets – I hate having to spend on things like this when I’m away!
We will be covering around 1000 miles in 8 days; Check back for my adventures, photos and van stories coming very soon…if anyone has any suggestions on places to stop and things to see I’d love to hear them…