Holy Cow! We’re officially over a month behind on our travelogue. For the handful of people out there who read our blog regularly (Hello to our respective family members!), we’re very sorry for not keeping the account of our travels up to date. We’ll do our best to remedy that by covering a lot of ground in this post.
Finding Campgrounds was a challenge
Before I get into the details of where we visited, I want to note that finding affordable places to park the bus legally and for any length of time was a bit of a challenge in central California and the Bay Area. Yes, there are many free places where you can park for up to eight hours along the major highways, including Highway 1 , but daily movement and continuous shuffling from place to place doesn’t really work for us. Not only is driving a 35 foot bus around congested city streets its own special breed of stressful, we also each need a relatively quiet place to work during weekdays.
Private RV parks are plentiful, however the cost per night well exceeds our typical budget. There are many public campgrounds and state parks up and down the coast, though these booked solid during weekends and/or had length limits that we easily exceeded. There were many times when we stared enviously at a sweet van conversion stealth camping on a tight city street or other small boondocking spot.
So, while there are many amazing things we could have seen or done while passing through California, a lot of our travel decisions were made based on campsite availability, costs, and inherent size restrictions. Our plan-as-we-go style of travel didn’t work well during this leg of our trip, pushing us to spend lots of hours planning routes, researching camping options, juggling calendars, and making advance reservations.
Santa Cruz, CA
We stayed at: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Scotts Valley, CA
After catching the wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument, we were both very excited to have finally made it to the Pacific Coast. We spent one night at a crowded campground in Pismo Beach, before managing to find a week-long opening for a campsite at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park just outside of Santa Cruz. Given that the park was only open on a first-come-first-serve basis, we made a bee-line to get to this park as quickly as we could. Our hustle paid off as we were able to snag a beautiful site surrounded by lush green foliage.
The park itself is lovely! With a number of hiking/ biking trails that wend their way through old and new growth redwoods alike, it feels very removed from the surrounding cities and towns.The Lookout Tower Trail provides a clear view of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the thick pine forests, and is definitely worth exploring.
During our stay, two very good friends who live in the area were able to drive down and spend part of the weekend camping and hiking with us. Spending time visiting and sharing our bus lifestyle with them was such a treat, and we’re sorry it couldn’t last longer.
The only drawback to our stay at this park was the complete lack of internet connectivity and full shade in the campground. This meant running the generators daily to keep the bus fully charged, and commuting each day to a local coffee shop in the nearby town of Scotts Valley to work. The walk into town each day presented a nice chance to get some extra exercise, and also meant that we could completely unplug during our off hours.
I want to give a shout out to our campground host, Liz, for being so nice and friendly during our stay!
Our next major destination after spending time outside of Santa Cruz was to visit friends who live in Oakland, CA. We found a beautiful and affordable campsite in the hills just east of the city that felt like it was very far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. We spent a few days surrounded by towering Eucalyptus trees and overlooking a lake. There were plenty of great hiking trails and it was all very bucolic seeming. Not what we were expecting from camping immediately outside a major urban area.
The one problem we encountered during our stay here was that the only road leading to the nearest BART station in Castro Valley was completely closed due to recent storm damage. So, to get into Oakland and San Francisco, we ended up doing a five-mile hike through the park and town to the BART station. Given that the weather and scenery were nice, this turned out to be a nice way to explore the area along the way. Once in Castro Valley, the train ride to Oakland was very short, and we were able to meet up with our friends for two fun nights of dinner and board games. We also made it into San Francisco one day where we did touristy things like visit the Ferry Building and walk along the piers. Rather than do the long hike back from the BART station to our campsite in the dark we opted for a Uber ride after each visit. We’ve only ever used Uber once before, but it felt like the thing to do when visiting the Bay Area.
Bodega Ba, CA
We Stayed At: Westside Regional Park – Sonoma County Regional Parks
After the Bay Area, we were itching to get out of the city again and headed north of San Francisco to a small town on the Pacific called Bodega Bay. There we settled in for an entire week of camping along the bay at a county park. Here we spent a very tranquil week alternately working, kayaking, eating fish and chips, and biking up to the bluffs to see the coastline. We didn’t know it when we first arrived, but Bodega Bay is one of the best sites in California to spot grey whales during their annual migration. We thought the chance of seeing any would be slim, but holy smokes did we see a lot of whales! Seriously, if you just stare at the ocean for even a few minutes between December and April your odds of seeing at least one whale are very, very high. We also came across some harbor seals while out kayaking on the bay (don’t worry, we didn’t get too close) and watching these guys swim and leap while we paddled was exciting.
We’ll cover the rest of our California road trip in the next blog post.