I’m getting a bit fond of these after having a little taste via a mini staycation in Tennessee, but this time I was ready for a California road trip. Perhaps naively thinking I was going to enjoy Cali’s famous sunny weather, but we went in February, after/during some of the heaviest rainfall on record for that time of year. Mudslides, road closures and flooding seemed to become every day occurrences in California during the first two months of 2017, but stubborn as ever, we decided to press ahead.
Every good rood trip needs a good travel buddy and who better than my pal Jen of The Social Girl Traveler. Fellow travel blogger and as an added bonus, she’s from the states, so was able to fill in a lot of gaps on things I didn’t know about this part of the world.
We looked into some RVs (recreational vehicles), but they’re very big, can be quite expensive on petrol (or gas over here) and need electricity and water hook ups at campsites, which also costs a lot more than a ‘dry’ site. After Jen came across the camper van company Jucy USA (they’re very popular in Australia where she did her last road trip) we decided one of their tricked out mini RVs were exactly what we needed. Read her post about our trip here.
The minivan itself is a converted Dodge Caravan. It’s small, so easier to drive and more economical on fuel than a full size RV. They’ve somehow managed to squeeze everything inside, including the kitchen sink! There’s space to sleep 4 adults, but just having two was nice and comfortable….plus we came with a lot of luggage. The ‘Penthouse’ on the roof pops up to create the second bed, or use it to store luggage. Or for morning chats with coffee while admiring the view…
So what was the plan for our California road trip? We didn’t really have one, especially with the weird weather but we knew we wanted to do a long enough drive north out of LA on the first day. After picking up Jucy Lucy (not too far from LAX) and getting on the road, we realised all those complaints about the traffic in Los Angeles are true. But a quick In-n-Out stop and we were refuelled and headed towards San Luis Obispo.
A steep learning curve on that first night, we hadn’t organised a camp ground to stay in, so rocked up to a KOA (Kampgrounds of America, not sure if they’re Kardashian fans) one late in the evening and ended up paying $53 for basically a parking spot and use of their showers and toilets. The Jucy doesn’t have or need “hook ups”, which is what the bigger RVs were paying for, so we got a bit of a bum deal. See my dos and don’ts at the end for my California road trip advice. You can actually stay overnight in Walmart car parks too – a local police station even suggested it. Just check with the duty manager though, so they can notify security and park in view of the front door. Not exactly this close though….
We stocked the fridge full of cheap wine, hot dogs, fruit that we didn’t look twice at all week and bought plenty of dried snacks and bread stuff to keep us going. The kitchen even came with a kettle and coffee maker to use on the gas stove, so if you want to save money you can really do things on the cheap. Being two city girls, we stopped in coffee shops most mornings for overpriced, confusingly named java.
Luckily Jen likes driving, so she did the majority of it, with myself as the trusty co-pilot and navigator. I’ve been using my Vodafone RED roaming and I can’t tell you how many times that being able to access data on the go has got me out of a pickle! I did take over the wheel a few times though, if you’re new to driving in the USA, let me offer some tips:
- Always come to a complete stop at stop signs (obviously), roundabouts are rare in the States, they use the stop and go system instead. Whoever arrives at the junction first goes first. If two of you arrive at the same time, yield to the right
- You can turn right at most red lights (watch for signs), but beware of pedestrians as they have the green light to go
- Motorway exits can be on the left or right, so you may have to change a lot of lanes in a very short space of time. Most people don’t indicate here so be careful!
- Speed limits are in MPH
- You’ll get a parking ticket for literally anything, having your wheel sticking out, not parking in the direction of traffic, parking during street cleaning hours, giving the parking attendant side-eye. Re-read parking signs a million times.
Thinking ahead, Jen called one of the campsites in Big Sur to check on the road conditions (the traffic websites are difficult to understand) and we were told not to bother as the road was closed. So, we decided to head east instead towards Yosemite National Park. We’ve both always wanted to go, while knowing very little about the park itself, just that it’s incredibly scenic. One of the things we weren’t prepared for was SNOW! It’ll be obvious to anyone that’s been or lives further north, but honestly below zero temperatures and snow in California after leaving a pretty sunny beach two days before just weren’t on my radar. But it really was beautiful!
A night was enough this time, I’d definitely stay longer if I went in the summer, but then the crowds would be a lot bigger so it’s a bit of a catch 22. We were just underprepared! There’s a free shuttle bus in the park that brings you to all the hot spots, make sure you check the timetable as we missed it a few times. In the winter Glacier Point is closed from first snowfall. Perhaps one day I’ll go back to attempt Half Dome (unlikely, but I can dream).
Next stop back to the city and a night in San Francisco staying with a very generous pal. We used the Zipkick app which recommends places to eat and drink based on influencer reviews. We ended up eating delicious Lumpia in a Filipino inspired pop up by Eats by E drinking a lot of Herradura tequila (see blurry photo below as evidence). So much so that we didn’t feel like doing a lot of driving the next day. We only made it over the Golden Gate Bridge and down Lombard St. before leaving San Fran to make our way back south.
No exaggeration about not getting far, traffic out of SF was disgusting so we gave up at Half Moon Bay when we saw a sign for a state beach camp ground which ended up being our favourite site. Maybe cheapest too, it was $26. The toilets and showers were pretty grim though! I later found out there are some fun dive bars in the areas, but we weren’t exactly on form after margarita-gate. The next morning we left for another attempt at Big Sur, driving through thick fog we eventually made it to the Bixby Bridge stopping for a few pics before continuing. Eventually we came to a road block right by Nepenthe which a lot of my Instagram followers had recommend for amazing food with the best views. We wouldn’t have been able to see a thing anyway, just the overflowing river and some little mudslides! Back up the road an hour and a half past Monterey then east to Salinas in order to make it back down to LA in time to drop Jucy off. There’s literally no other way to detour when you’re on the PCH or Highway 1, so bear it in mind when you’re deciding when to fill up the tank, do toilet stops etc.
We made it back out onto the coastal round around Pismo Beach and set up camp there for the night before an early start back to the city of angels as we watched the temperature rise again. Quite the adventure and a lot was learned. I probably wouldn’t do much differently if I was to start again, because I’m not really a big planner. Neither is Jen! However, saying that, here’s my advice:
- Seen Citizen Kane? Visit Hearst Castle if you’re in the area
- Check camp site availability during high season, we didn’t have this problem but they book up fast in the summer
- Allow yourself the freedom to change your plans depending on weather and simply if you like a place or not and want to stay longer or leave sooner
- Budget for campsites and gas, both will be a lot more than you expect if you’re doing a California road trip
- Check where the next gas station is before starting out each day, you don’t want to be stuck somewhere with no phone signal which nearly happened to us
- Download your California road trip playlists in advance, lots of places won’t have good radio signal and you definitely won’t be able to stream if you go to Yosemite
- Arrive at a hook ups only camp site, you’ll end up paying over the odds for practically nothing
- Drive in California with open alcohol containers, so if you buy a bottle of wine you better be sure you can finish it 😉
- Neglect the weather forecast, both for safety and preparation when it comes to packing. You’ll even experience extremes in temperature in summer
- Drive off with the crank still hanging out of the Penthouse (see coffee pic above, last sighting) – an expensive mistake
- Leave anything scented out if you’re camping in Yosemite, not just food – toiletries too! Black bears are said to have the best sense of smell of any animal on earth…and they want your stuff! Use the lockers provided.
And how I felt about the JUCY camper;
Things I loved; the back of the car converted from a table and seats to a fully flat double bed. Both were really comfy and the bedding JUCY supplied was so cosy, even in freezing weather camping in Yosemite. When I first saw the fridge I thought it was tiny and as if it would keep anything properly cold, but nope! We fit so much food and drink in there and had to actually turn down the temperature when our beers started to freeze. There’s a secondary battery in the van, meaning you can always charge your devices or use the lights without running down the engine battery.
Things I wasn’t mad on; the sink/tap was a bit finnicky, so we just used bottled water, which was totally fine because you can pick it up cheap as chips in Walmart or buy 24 small bottles in any gas station or CVS for $3.99. The AUX input on the radio wasn’t great, so I ended up using my UE Roll speakers connected to my downloaded Spotify playlists via Bluetooth. Again, not a biggie but something to keep in mind.
This post is in collaboration with JUCY USA, who kindly allowed us to use the vehicle for a week for our road trip. Find out more at jucyworld.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld. All views are, as always, my own.