One of the greatest and most spontaneous things I did during my 2 year vagabonding adventure overseas was have a few too many beverages and book tickets to Coachella Music Festival while sitting in a hotel room in Banff, Alberta, Canada. First of all, I don’t even know how we managed to snag Coachella tickets, but we did, which meant we now had to make our way down to Indio, California some how. That same night, we had yet another great idea. And when I say ‘we’, I am referring to myself, my boyfriend and a good friend of ours. We decided we would buy an old camper van or RV and make a road trip out of it, and we ended up doing just that. We bought a 40 year old motorhome with our friend and his girlfriend and called her Big Girl. She was going to be our home on wheels for the next 3 months.
This post isn’t a re-count of all of the amazing adventures we had, although I will definitely have to share those with you at some point. For now I simply want to pass on some of my best tips and advice for taking on the big cities of California in your camper van or RV. It’s a harsh but true reality that big cities and RV’s do not mix. It is incredibly difficult and a real pain in the a$$ to not only navigate your way through these cities, but to also find somewhere to stay that isn’t ridiculously expensive or a complete dive. So if you plan on visiting any of the below cities, remember these nuggets of wisdom and you can’t go wrong.
San Diego is an awesome city, but it is really spread out. The first RV park we had all agreed we would check out first turned us away because our RV was too old. Poor old Big Girl wasn’t even given a chance to show the other RV’s what she’s made of. At first we were a bit insulted but in the end it was probably for the best that we didn’t stay there. Besides, Big Girl had way more personality and character than any of those shiny new RV’s anyway. After a lot of time spent aimlessly driving around, we stumbled across the San Diego RV Resort in a suburb called La Mesa. If you are going to San Diego, stay here! The reception staff are awesome, there is a great pool and spa and the RV park is right next door to one of the public ‘trolley’s’ or train stations. This was perfect for us. We were right at the back of the RV park too so we could easily head out the back gate which backed right onto the train station. We spent the next 4 days exploring all the best bits of San Diego – Pacific Beach, the Gastown District, the San Diego Zoo plus heaps more. We even got to go to our first ever baseball game. We are now life long fans of the mighty San Diego Padres. Go Padres!!
There is literally NOT ONE RV park that is in a central location to Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, Hollywood or even the suburbs of LA. And if there is, it will cost you an arm and a leg to stay there, on top of the site fee! After some deliberating, we ended up staying at Dockweiler RV Park at Dockweiler State Beach, about 15 miles or a 30 minute drive from Santa Monica Pier (just to put it in perspective for you). Trust me when I say that Dockweiler RV park is not just a consolation prize. You are literally on the beach! We watched the most amazing sunsets and there was plenty of room around the park area to ride our skateboards. We spent 4 days in LA and decided to park up Big Girl for the duration of our stay and just catch public transport in and out of the city. Oh yeah, about that…. you won’t be able to catch public transport in and out of the city easily from Dockweiler Beach. We figured this out after waiting over an hour for a bus that was never going to arrive. In the end we ordered an Uber. Longgggg story short, we made really good friends with our driver who became our personal Uber driver for the rest of out time in LA. He pretty much gave us a guided tour of Sunset Blvd and Rodeo Drive before dropping us off at Hollywood and pointing us in the direction of In N’ Out Burger. He was an absolute legend. So if you’re going to do LA in an RV – I suggest you stay at Dockweiler Beach (it’s affordable and has the best beach views), leave your RV at the park and take advantage of an Uber driver.
Now San Fran is a tricky one. We literally spent ages looking up RV parks online for somewhere half decent to stay and base ourselves. Every RV park we found was either out in whoop whoop (not close to San Fran at all) or had the most shocking reviews. The only RV park that appeared to be semi-respectable, was still almost an hours’ drive from the main city area AND wanted to charge us over $130 a night for a piece of grass and an electricity connection – what the! We decided we would just wing it and let future us deal with it. Everything you imagine when you think about San Fran is EXACTLY what it is like. The crazy steep streets, views of Alcatraz prison and of course the legendary Golden Gate bridge. We had made it to Fisherman’s Wharf and pulled up in a car park right across the road. After a quick inspection of the parking ticket prices, we noticed that to park there ALL day was about $10 and if you’re vehicle stayed in the car park over night you had to pay the overnight fee of about $40. This meant that we could be IN the city of San Fran and have somewhere to stay for half the price of the RV park that was practically in the next town over. Of course, we didn’t have any power to hook up to, and there was probably going to be no chance of having a shower that night but no one cared…we were in the best location possible! We ended up camping in that car park for the night. After that we headed inland to Yosemite National Park before coming back to San Fran for one last night at our favourite car park while we made the most of the San Fran night life. If you are planning to visit San Fran for 3 days or more, I probably wouldn’t recommend staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf car park that whole time. But if you want to be close to the action for just a little while, then this is the way to do it!
I hope these tips and tricks will be useful to you on your journey but at the end of the day, figuring it all out as you go is really what travelling is all about. I’m sure by the time you wrap up your road trip, you will have even more nuggets of wisdom to pass onto your fellow travellers. But for now, embrace the open road and remember that home is where you park it!