California has the most parks of any state in the country.  So, it’s the perfect state to rent a camper van and drive around visiting as many parks as you can.  I mean, that’s what we did anyways.  We stopped in 5 national parks, 3 state parks, 2 city parks and 2 state beaches.  We also got some wine in Napa Valley, visited friends, and ate amazing Mexican food.  It’s just hard to go wrong in the state of California.

Overview

Itinerary

  • Laguna Beach, 1 night
  • Stop in Los Angeles
  • Songdog Ranch, 1 night
  • Stop in Pinnacles NP
  • Monterey, 1 night
  • Stop in Big Basin Redwoods
  • Santa Rosa, 2 nights
  • Day-trip to Mendocino
  • Stop Napa Valley
  • Stop in Point Reyes and Marin Headlands NP
  • San Francisco, 1 night
  • Yosemite, 1 night
  • Bakersfield, 1 night
  • Joshua Tree, 1 night

As the map shows, our itinerary was a loop from LA to Mendocino and back down to LA.  We stayed one night in Laguna Beach because Jared was working there.  We rented a van with a camping kit from Turo. There were a few issues with the van, but our host was communicative and it ended up being fine.  The camping kit included a full bed, which was surprisingly very comfortable.  I got a full 8 hours sleeping in a park!  (That’s way more than I would in a tent, that’s for sure.)

Practicalities

California has strict laws about parking and sleeping in your car.  We used a combination of tools to find places to sleep.  Of course many of the National Parks allow camping on their grounds.  We reserved a space in Joshua Tree in advance, but Yosemite only allows in-person day-of reservations in the winter.  This is the low season for them, so we had no problem finding a spot.  (Even with a huge forestation project going on).  We found a few other camping spots through Hipcamp.  The car came with a kit for us to make meals at campsites, so we ended up doing that a few times.  We definitely ate out a lot, more than we had planned to.  It’s just… there was In and Out Burger and Mexican food, kinda hard to compete with Mountain House meals.  We stayed in a few hotels as well, in order to you know, shower and catch a break from living in the car.  I am going to write a seperate post with tips for car camping and long road-trips.  We made the most of audio books and snacks, so stay tuned for more recommendations on car camping.

Parks and Beaches

As I mentioned before, we visited a lot of parks and beaches.  Here is a little bit about each one.

Lake Hollywood Park

I’ve always wanted to see the Hollywood sign, and I finally did!  There are signs leading up to this area that say “Can’t access the Hollywood sign”.  We ignored those and kept driving.  I’m not sure if they are trying to deter people from driving through that neighborhood, but it definitely didn’t work.

Pinnacles NP

This was a super cool park.  We weren’t here long, but there are a lot of great trails.  We did one hike that was approximately 2 hours, and had access to a deep cave.  We didn’t go all the way in, but I’ve heard from a lot of people it’s incredible.

Asilomar State Beach

We stopped here on our way to Monterey to visit some friends.  The waves were crazy intense, and the views were stunning.

Big Basin Redwoods SP

We stopped here and hiked with our friends on our way out of town.  There are some massive trees in here.  We did the sea to skyline hike.  It leads you up through the forest, and at the top is a view of the tops of the trees, sun and the ocean.

Also, they had these bizarre gray pinecones that were hard.  They felt like drift wood or even a stone.  They were really interesting.

Glass Beach (Fort Bragg)

I was really looking forward to seeing this beach for a long time.  The glass on this beach was formed from years of dumping garbage into the coast.  That’s right, garbage.  This beautiful beach was formed from trash.  It was actually incredible to sift through.  From what I saw, they are actually still dumping garbage.

Jughandle State National Reserve

This was one of the highlights for us.  We stumbled upon this little place and turns out, it was incredible.  I always say that my favorite parts of the trip are the ones we don’t plan for.  This was one of the ones I didn’t plan for.  We walked up and ran into this incredible tall grass that lead up to a cliff overlooking the rocky area.  It reminded me of Scotland.

Hendy Woods SP

We got here right before sunset and wished we had more time.  However, we were the only ones here and enjoyed the quiet, large trees in solitude.  This was an incredible moment for sure.

Point Reyes NP

When we pulled up, there were signs saying to keep a distance from the elephant seals that were on the beach.  Of course we did keep our distance, but we still snapped some pics.  This was a longer park to drive through, but had a lot of beautiful stops.

Marin Headlands NP

We went here because we saw Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation visit the awesome view of the San Francisco bridge.  I’ve only driven over the bridge, so this was the first time seeing a good view of it.  This park lets you have multiple views of the bridge and San Francisco as you drive up.

Twin Peaks Summit San Francisco

We visited with Jared’s cousin and husband in San Francisco.  They took us to a great ice cream place called Mitchell’s.  After that, we walked up to this little park with a view of San Francisco.  It was night time, so we had quite the starry view.

Yosemite NP

We went to Yosemite a few years back on Memorial Day weekend.  It was super crowded and we spent a lot of time in the car in traffic driving to the different viewpoints.  This time, we had the park to ourselves.  We spent the night in the park, too, which meant when we woke up we could visit spots within the park just us and a few rangers.  It was a great time to visit the park.  We chose to come because we were hoping there would be snow, and even though there wasn’t, the views are still incredible.

   

Joshua Tree NP

I’ve dreamt about visiting Joshua Tree for a long time.  I’ve seen the pictures and couldn’t wait to see the desert and trees.

We brought a small bottle of champagne and enjoyed the sunset.

Then we enjoyed the nighttime sky.  Staying in the park was the way to go to see all the stars.  We tried our hand at nighttime photographs.

Aside from all those wonderful parks, we also visited some really cool places.

Songdog Ranch

We rented a place through Hipcamp and we loved it.  The farmer at the ranch sold us wood for $10 and we enjoyed a wonderful bonfire and woke up to the sunrise of the wonderful view.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley has over 400 wineries and we were a little overwhelmed.  We decided to stop in the Napa Valley tourism office, which gave us a list of the different kinds of wineries based on categories. And they also had a lot of “two for one” tastings.  Tastings at these wineries were around $25-$30 a person, so these coupons were actually a banging deal.

Laguna Beach

We stayed at the Montage Laguna Beach for a night at the beginning of the trip where Jared was working.  It was a beautiful hotel and had a nice hot tub that overlooked the ocean.  A diner nearby served cinnamon roll french toast, but of course I didn’t eat that.  I mean, that’s way too many calories!  (OK, I ate it.)

So, that was a little bit about our trip and what all we did.  Lots of views and lots of parks.  I would definitely rent a camper van again and do something similar.  It was a great way to cover a lot of ground and have opportunities to explore areas of the parks later at night and earlier in the morning with a lot less people around.  I highly recommend it!

Have you ever roadtripped through California?

Nina Thomas

A article about:

, , , , , , , , ,

6 comments

  • Emily Keen February 12, 2018 on 9:47 AM Reply

    Fantastic post, Nina! It looks like you all had a great time. Loved all of the photos!

    • Nina Thomas Emily Keen February 12, 2018 on 10:41 AM Reply

      Thank you! It was a lot of fun!

  • Maureen February 12, 2018 on 1:04 PM Reply

    What a fun trip to make! I lived in L.A. for 12 years and never made it to Joshua Tree NP (crazy, I know). But your pictures from there are so pretty. I’m putting it on my must-see list when I visit LA again in the Spring. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Nina Thomas Maureen February 12, 2018 on 1:23 PM Reply

      It is so fun and pretty there! I’m glad we went in the off season because it was warm… I can’t imagine how hot it gets in the summer!

  • Michelle February 12, 2018 on 5:23 PM Reply

    Looks like so much fun! We’ve done a lot of these, but not on a single trip. I’m jealous! I’m the co-founder of Tripidee, and I think this would make a perfect Tripidee trip to share with your readers!

    • Nina Thomas Michelle February 12, 2018 on 5:34 PM Reply

      Thank you Michelle! I’ve heard of Tripidee but have never actually used it. I’ll have to do some research