Traveling with an RV through California

Traveling with an RV through California

Earlier this year I went on a month-long trip to the United States with a friend. It was a really fascinating adventure across that beautiful country, but after arriving in San Diego, which was supposed to be our base of operations for the last two weeks, we started wondering if there was any other way for us to travel. Given that we’d had loads of experience with planes, ships and buses, our aim was to find a completely new mode of transport.

California Nature
California Nature, Author: Bureau of Land Management California, Source: Flickr

By pure coincidence, we saw an RV out on the streets one day and became very intrigued. Certainly, traveling with an RV seemed tempting because you have the comfort of a home with you, but we didn’t know if there was even a way for us to rent one out, never mind how much an RV cost. Fortunately, with the help of Google, we quickly found RVshare, a website which is pretty much like AirBnB, only of this particular kind of vehicles. We quickly found an owner willing to rent us one nearby and quickly worked out the details. A couple of days later we went and picked up the RV, the man gave us a little tour of the vehicle and showed us everything there was to know about it and we were on our way. Our first RV road trip along the West Coast of the USA!

Taking off…

As mentioned earlier, we were stationed in San Diego, so that’s where our journey started. Our plan was to travel north along the coast until we reach San Francisco. We wanted to make stops in all majors cities along the coast and create a nice little California road trip for us. Because of that, our first stop was L.A., obviously.

San Diego skyline
San Diego skyline

My friend took the wheel first and I started to get acquainted with our new home. The advantages of traveling with an RV quickly became apparent to me. It was quite cozy and comfortable inside, we had everything we needed and there was no reason to book hotels in each city. The aim was to keep things nice and simple, so we planned to use public transport in the cities as much as possible.

Therefore, we left the RV on a campsite (there are plenty of those around in pretty much every city if you’re worried about RV road trip planning, but the navigation in the vehicle can really be a lifesaver) and went to explore the city. All of this meant that the total RV cost we’d have to pay during the trip was much much lower than if we’d decided to take a more conventional method of transport.

The glamour of L.A.

Now, Los Angeles really is something very special. There is so much life in this city, and the vibe is so incredibly strong, which is something every travel lover will absolutely love, even if they don’t have their favorite celebrity. We spent the whole afternoon at Santa Monica Pier enjoying ice cream and drinks and even treating ourselves to a roller coaster ride. The sandy beach there is simply beautiful and provides a fantastic scenery to watch the sunset, plus there are always many people there so you can get a great feeling of what the life in L.A. is really like.

Santa Monica
Santa Monica, Author: Marika Bortolami, Source: Flickr

Naturally, a city like this deserves more than just one afternoon, so we spent the whole next day there too. The downtown area is a fascinating blend of great restaurants, modern architecture and interesting bars (plus all the people), which is all taken to a whole new level when you realize that hey, you’re in Los Angeles!

Rodeo Drive
Rodeo Drive LA, Author: xiquinhosilva, Source: Flickr

The afternoon was spent in Hollywood (where else?) taking pictures and exploring as much of this global phenomenon as humanly possible, but I can’t say that I saw any of my favorite movies stars. Bad luck, I guess. Nevertheless, it was a great way to spend the afternoon, with plenty of photo-ops and souvenir shops that we visited. After turning in and spending another night in our surprisingly comfortable RV, we were ready for the next leg of our journey. Mind you, it turned out that there are many fans of this type of vehicle in the city and that if you need to arrange an RV rental in Los Angeles you can do so with ease, and we had a lovely chit-chat with some of the other people at the campsite.

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Author: Robert Nyman, Source: Flickr

The best part of our RV road trip

And what a leg it was! Traveling with an RV was continuing to pay off because we were now on our way to San Jose, but instead of taking the I-5, we went for Highway 101. This was a great decision because it allowed us to enjoy some truly remarkable sceneries, and since there were two of us we’d switch in the driver’s seat every hour or so and the one who wasn’t driving was able to enjoy the view fully. Just goes to show that planning your route is important in cases like this.

Traveling with an RV on Highway 101
Highway 101 view

The reason why I say traveling with an RV was paying off is because we loaded up on supplies earlier and got an early start. Therefore, we didn’t have to stop anywhere except for gas and were free to go pretty much where we pleased.

We took our time and enjoy the sights as the road went right between some mesmerizing cliffs on one side and the Pacific on the other. Our first stop was in Santa Barbara because we really wanted to check out that beautiful Californian town with its red roofs and great historic vibe. We couldn’t stay for too long, unfortunately, but we were very glad we did make that stop in the end. There is something quite magical about this place. After a cup of coffee and some time in the sun, we took off once again for what was for me the most beautiful part of the trip.

Traveling with an RV
Traveling with an RV

The section between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo via CA Hwy 154 is full of horse ranches which are close to Lake Cachuma. While the lake is man-made, it is nevertheless incredibly beautiful because it is surrounded by stunning white hills. Honestly, you will feel like you have entered a fairy-tale. While this means getting off of Highway 101 for a bit (don’t worry, you’ll quickly get back on it), it would really be a shame to miss out on the experience if you’re passing by.

Traveling with an RV on Highway 154
Highway 154 view of Lake Cachuma

After San Luis Obispo the land started to open up in front of us, which was a great sight in and of itself, but after King City the land became extremely fertile and full of fields. There were things being grown wherever you looked, and even the air itself was heavy with the scent of all those plants. The evening was already upon us when we entered San Jose, but we were very happy by how the day had gone and what we had seen on our journey. No doubt, California is a truly beautiful place.

San Jose and San Francisco

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t know what to expect of San Jose, but now I can safely say that you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not visit this great city on your way to San Francisco. They are only about an hour and half by car apart, so the detour is very much worth it. We spent our morning here on Santana Row, a vibrant street full of shops, bars and restaurants with loads of locals walking around, which was certainly a great way to get to know the city a bit. In the nearby park people were doing yoga exercise and a bright sunny morning made everything extremely pleasant and enjoyable.

Santana Row, San Jose
Santana Row, San Jose, Author: Antti T. Nissinen, Source: Flickr

After getting ourselves some coffee and breakfast, we allowed ourselves a bit of a shopping spree, and after lunch we went to San Jose Museum of Art where we got a glimpse into the works of many Californian artists. If you’re an art lover, you really should come here for a unique look at the local culture.

In the late afternoon it was time to get going towards San Francisco. Once again, we were delighted with what we were able to see, given that we opted for I-280. It took us through absolutely stunning green hills, and it was really hard to come to terms with the fact that we were actually traveling between two big US cities. After finding our campsite (again, I must stress the importance of planning on road trips like this), we turned in for the night excited to start exploring this illustrious city first thing in the morning.

Union Square, San Francisco
Union Square, Author: xiquinhosilva, Source: Flickr

Sure enough, San Francisco was every bit as fabulous as we’d hoped it would be. Here too we allowed ourselves some time for window-shopping, coffee and generally enjoying the fact that we were in this great city. It’s really fascinating how lively it is here, and the people are extremely friendly. One older gentleman even offered to personally show us where to get cable car tickets when we asked for directions.

Naturally, a ride aboard that symbol of San Francisco could not be missed. You actually get to learn quite a bit about the city during the ride, and once you reach the top of Nob Hill you can get a pretty stunning view of the ocean below. Not only that, but this part of the city is considered to be elite, so you will be able to see quite a lot of interesting architecture if you decide to visit. In the evening, we went to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and the sight is quite awe-inspiring, especially if you manage to see it at sunset when the sun only enhances its bright red color.

Golden Gate Bridge in Dusk, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge in Dusk, Author: Jun Seita, Source: Flickr

Santa Barbara is irresistible

The next morning we went to see Lombard Street, the one with all the curves which have become pretty much synonymous with San Francisco. It really is a beautiful part of the city, well kept and extremely tidy, with beautiful mansions around it. Generally speaking, you can clearly see that the people live well because residential architecture is quite impressive, plus the city has the reputation of being one of the most progressive in the country.

Lombard Street, San Francisco
Lombard Street, Author: Allie_Caulfield, Source: Flickr

The afternoon was spent exploring the piers from where we got an excellent view of Alcatraz Island. Oh, and the sea lions! Yes, they have real live sea lions here at Pier 39, and they are a must if you come. Loads of them simply spread out around the pier and bark at each other, and seeing them so up close was a very special treat.

Alcatraz, San Francisco
Alcatraz, San Francisco

After all of that, we went for a nice seafood dinner nearby. It seemed like the right thing to do in the city and the dishes were really excellent. But after that it was time to turn in and start thinking about the way back. Our RV road trip along the US West Coast was coming to an end. However, we did have some time for one last stop.

Santa Barbara left such an impression on us that we decided to spend the last night of the trip there. So we got up early and once again enjoyed the beautiful surroundings California provided and got to Santa Barbara in the evening. It was quite a different experience than when we’d been there the first time but just as beautiful. There is something relaxing about the evening in this town, probably because of all the Mediterranean architecture around you.

Santa Barbara Beach, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Beach, Santa Barbara, Author: traveljunction, Source: Flickr

The nightlife here is also very vibrant, but we were too tired from the trip to go clubbing. Besides, we wanted to get up early and enjoy the morning here, which is exactly what we did. Seeing Santa Barbara wake up really made us want to come here again, and an excellent Cajun breakfast sealed the deal – we would surely be back.

There was still quite a significant chunk of the way to go, so we got going once again after lunch and got back to San Diego in the late afternoon. We were tired, but extremely happy we had decided to go traveling with an RV – we wouldn’t have been nearly as comfortable in a regular car. The next day we emptied the tanks and returned the vehicle to our friend from RVshare in top-top condition. We thanked him for renting it to us at a reasonable cost and said goodbye. Really a wonderful highlight of our US trip.

In short…

So, to summarize, there are two things you need to take from this. First, California is stunning! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s only about huge cities like L.A. or San Francisco. No, quite the contrary, the nature is very charming, so you would do well to get out of the cities if at all possible. Of course, don’t ignore the cities completely. Each has something special to offer you, and you will be glad if you spend some time in them.

Second, traveling with an RV is a discovery of a lifetime! Sure, they are not fast, but they are comfortable and can save you a lot of money since you don’t have to pay for hotels. Sure, some route planning will be necessary, but you can easily rent this kind of vehicle out, with the RV cost quickly paying for itself. Going on a USA road trip like this is a remarkable experience, and California is a perfect destination for that, so if you ever find yourself looking for a new way to travel, consider this – you won’t be sorry!

Make sure you have everything you need

What to pack for your next trip?

Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.


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