It’s pretty much written in the law that you if you visit California you must go on a road trip. It’s part of that Cali appeal. America has big, open roads that are waiting to be explored and in California in particular, you really can have one of those epic road trips you’ve always imagined.
Knowing which rental company to use can be a bit of a hard task to plan. If you’re limited on how much time you have to play with, knowing where to go can be an even harder task. Having experienced the same dilemmas and recently returned from a Californian road trip (largely based around San Francisco), these seven pearls of wisdom (#7POW) should help…
♥ Escape Campervans
If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, book a van with Escape Campervans. They seriously have the most unique and exciting, but equally reliable vehicles. Each of the vans in their fleet has been given an edgy makeover thanks to custom paint jobs. No two vans are the same, so you’re sure to turn heads as you cruise the roads (and especially when you’re parked up or at the petrol station!).
It’s not just about looks though. The Ford vans come in a few different sizes and are well equipped with practical kitchens and comfy, spacious seating and sleeping areas. If you’re expecting a hefty price tag in return for such an amazing van, think again. They’re really affordable and are renowned for not having hidden costs like some other rental companies.
♥ San Francisco
Escape Campervans has a pick-up office in San Fran, so it makes sense to start your road trip here. Besides, no road trip in California would be complete without driving over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s in countless films and is one of the most famous landmarks in the state. If you’re heading southbound you’ll need to pay a small toll (less than $10). Your registration will be scanned as you enter and you’ll then need to go online or visit one of the pay stations within 48hours to pay the fee. FYI – different rules apply for locals. Another word of warning – parking in San Francisco is quite expensive and in demand, so if you’re short on time and budget explore the city once you’ve returned your van.
♥ Moss Landing
Many people flock to Pier 39 in San Francisco to see some of the noisiest locals in the city – the sealions. Avoid the crowds by including a stop at Moss Landing. It’s a short drive south from San Francisco and is off the tourist track (big thanks to Escape Campervans for this tip). Look out for the power station and stop in the car park just before. From here you’ll be able to see lots of sealions and if you’re lucky you might see an otter or two as well.
It’s not hard to see why both locals and visitors harp on about this small seaside town. It’s just a two and a half hour drive south from San Francisco. It’s fairly compact, offering pretty rows full of boutiques and people with plenty of money. The main reason to stop at Carmel-By-The-Sea is the sunset. Standing on the beautiful white sand, watching the waves crash whilst the sun goes down is an absolutely perfect way to spend an evening. Beachfront parking (particularly in peak seasons) is often in demand, so factor in a bit of extra time.
♥ Slumber Time
Even if hotels are more your thing, you need to spend at least one night sleeping in your van. This is especially true if you book an Escape Campervan as they’re so roomy and surprisingly comfortable. You’re supplied with a bed sheet, pillows and a proper duvet so it really is a worthwhile experience, even if it is just a quick tick on your travel wish list/bucketlist. Driving down Highway 1 (from San Francisco) there are loads of places you can stop overnight. If you make it down to Big Sur you’ll be spoiled for campsite options.
♥ Driving 101
Most of the rental vehicles are automatics, which is a little unusual if you’re a fellow Brit. Combined with driving on the right-hand side of the road it can take a little while to get used to it. If you’re starting out in San Francisco bear in mind that you can’t turn right down a lot of the main roads and the city has a lot of steep hills. It’s totally a fun and exciting city to drive in, but just be ready for automatic hill starts!
Highway 1 is on the wish list/bucketlist of so many travellers. It follows the dramatic and extremely beautiful coastline of California, starting in San Francisco and going south. As much as it is absolutely stunning, be warned that if you have a fear of heights or you’re a nervous passenger you might find some of the cliff bends and sheer drops a little tense. It’s definitely one of those roads that you need to include in your Californian adventure though.
In the opposite direction – north of San Francisco – you’ll find Sonoma County, otherwise known as the wine region or wine country. The landscape is filled with rolling vineyards and if you make it to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, insanely huge redwood trees. If you have enough time, include a stop for a trek in the Reserve. There are a few different circuits for different levels of fitness and/or timeframes. It’s home to some of the oldest and largest trees, which need to be seen to be believed. Also, definitely stop off at Willi’s Wine Bar for one of the most amazing meals you’ll have during your entire visit to California, but more on that another time (click the link for the write-up).
Have you been on a road trip in California or elsewhere? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below. If you have any questions feel free to ask. X
Big thanks to Escape Campervans for hosting my road trip.