English (US)English (US)

Popular Pages:

Visit California logo

Ready, Set, RV: Exploring California’s Great Outdoors

Ready, Set, RV: Exploring California’s Great Outdoors

Beaches, parks, and scenic drives await—all on your own terms

Removed from Likes
Posted 2 years agoby Katrina Hunt

Fresh air, gorgeous scenery, and a healthy dose of freedom—it’s all waiting for you. If you’re ready for a getaway with both wide-open spaces and a lot of autonomy, consider an RV road trip around California.

“When you’re in your RV, or camping, you’re in control of your environment,” says Dyana Kelley, President and CEO of CampCalNow, California’s campground association. “You can spend as much or as little time as you want in any one place. You can go off on a hike all day and come back, and never see a soul.” Such trips, she adds, literally and figuratively “put you in the driver’s seat.”

California is home to nine national parks and 280 state parks—as well as thousands of park campsites that range from the no-frills wide-open spaces of Hungry Valley in Los Angeles County to the sumptuous redwood scenery and big campsites of Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Gold Country. The state’s deep inventory of private campgrounds and RV parks further increases your options, many having pools, cafés, and even tennis courts.

Likewise there are vehicles for every style of trip too, from converted minivan–style options that sleep four and have a kitchen, to full-size RVs with a bathroom, says Kelley. “These days, you can even stay at campgrounds that will bring the RV or trailer to your site for you,” so all you need to do is show up. Other grounds have stationary lodgings—such as cabins, yurts, and even covered wagons—that offer plenty of away-from-it-all ambience. Kelley shares more tips on how to plan your next RV trip below.


Joshua Tree National Park is one of our most favorite places to visit. There’s big Disney like boulders to scramble over, hiking trails to explore with incredible vistas, quirky Joshua trees, rock climbing, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, and the quiet, it’s ever so quiet there. One day is equivalent to 5 in this magical place! ... BIG NEWS Joshua Tree National Park is OPEN ? Ready, Set, Camp ????‍? Rent your own self drive VW Campervan from us and discover a slice of our sunny ? Southern California backyard? ... ? @welinna ... Give our comrades across the sea a high five ?follow and #supportsmallbusiness @hireakombi @retrocampervans @nzkombihire @byronbaykombis @kombihireaustralia

A post shared by Vintage Surfari Wagons (@vwsurfari) on


Pick Your Wheels

If you’re new to RVing, start by getting acquainted with the various vehicle selections. GoRVing.com offers a helpful breakdown of trailers and RVs to help you decide. Options range from ones you can hitch to your own car or truck, such as towable pop-ups and fifth-wheel trailers, to self-contained motorized RVs that range in size from full-sized vans to long, bus-style motorhomes.

Both GoRVing.com and CampCalNow can direct you to rentals at your starting point, using agencies such as CruiseAmerica or El Monte RV (all offer one-way as well as round-trip rentals). If you’re kicking off your adventure in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, the California-by-way-of Australia outfit Travellers Autobarn can hook you up with one of their Kuga or Hitop compact campervans that are easy to maneuver, yet allow you to stand up inside. A short drive from LAX you’ll find another option: the flagship U.S. rental station of Roadsurfer, the German-based campervan rental agency that also operates in 12 European countries. Choose from their “Couple Condo” or larger (though still van-sized) “Road House XL” vehicles. Also relatively compact are the three tiers of deluxe, customized Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans offers by Costa Mesa-based AltCamp. Equipped with solar panels, queen beds, WiFi, and hot showers, they are ideal for adventurers who’d just as well hold on to their creature comforts. For throwback-style vehicles, check out Orange County–based Vintage Surfari Wagons for trim VW camper vans, or San Diego–based Little Guy Trailers for retro teardrop-style trailers.

Try to choose a vehicle that’s compatible with the region you plan to explore. You’ll love having the extra space of a motorized RV if you’re exploring the desert or mostly traveling along big freeways. That said, a smaller camper van might be better suited for the scenic drive along Highway 1 and other winding roadways.  

For a more all-inclusive rental experience, San Diego-based Funki Adventures sets you up with wheels and essential gear. The overland 4x4 off-road adventure provider will set you up with a 4WD Jeep off-road camper with a rooftop tent and all the camping gear you need, plus a tailored trip plan, whether you want to explore the mountains, drive up the coast, or relax in the desert.

Choose Your Scenery

Do you want to do a coastal drive or go off the grid a bit? CampCalNow lays out suggested trip themes on its website, including nature-based itineraries that feature beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, and caverns.

Kelley says a lot of folks who RV their way through California take the “I-5 Challenge,” going north or south on Interstate 5, to or from Oregon. Along the way, you can stop to see the alpine scenery of Mt. Shasta, the olive-oil hub of Corning, the state capitol in Sacramento, and the beaches of San Diego.

Want to create a hike-filled trip? Check out CampCalNow’s 52 Hike Challenge. “The adventure travelers and backpackers go more along the 395 corridor,” Kelley says, referring to a thoroughfare that provides easy access to Lake TahoeYosemite National ParkMammoth Lakes, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “Or maybe you just want to be on the coast all the time—you could create an entire trip out of beaches.”


Start Browsing Campgrounds to Create Your Itinerary

National and state park campgrounds typically take bookings on a rolling basis, up to six months ahead of time—through Recreation.gov for national parks, Reserve California for state parks and Hipcamp for a variety of locations. But California also has a bounty of private campgrounds and RV parks, which can potentially have sites available on short notice. Their offerings can accommodate a wide variety of priorities, too, whether that’s showers, a pool, and free WiFi, or sweeping views of wide-open spaces.

Here are a few super-scenic, newbie-friendly private campgrounds to consider, listed north to south, and most with RV hookups:


Caspar Beach RV Park and Campground, Mendocino County: This North Coast spot, which also features log cabins, is surrounded by state parks and faces its own protected cove. The resort has bike trails, a store, and even cable in the RV sites.

Dillon Beach Resort, near Tomales Bay: This resort of charming, tiny house–style cabins sits on 55 acres along the Marin-Sonoma County Line and has big views of the Point Reyes Peninsula. You can rent a surfboard, chill on the private beach, and eat at the on-site locavore cafe.

Carmel River RV Park, Monterey County: Just 4.5 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, this park is also close to glorious coastal spots such as Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Casa de Fruta RV Orchard Resort, Hollister: Located about 15 miles from the garlic-loving town of Gilroy, this 300-space RV park sits on the grounds of the fabulous fruit stand, sweets shop, and 24-hour restaurant Casa de Fruta. Kids will love the on-site playground, miniature train, and carousel.

Ocean Mesa RV and Campground, Santa Barbara County: Park an RV or pitch a tent at this gorgeously scenic spot right next to El Capitán State Beach, just north of Santa Barbara.

Mono Campground at Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Beach: This Orange County park is coastal bliss, with wooded canyons and an underwater park just offshore for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

Vail Lake KOA, Temecula Valley: This 385-acre park in the Temecula Valley has nice access to the area’s rolling-hills hikes—not to mention wine country. The park offers RV and tent sites and also has three pools, mini golf, and pickle ball courts.

The Springs at Borrego RV Resort: Set within massive Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a few hours east of downtown San Diego, this resort offers plenty of options for hiking and stargazing (the region is an International Dark Sky area). The resort also features a nine-hole golf course, three dog parks, catch-and-release fishing, and mineral pools.

Paradise by the Sea, Oceanside: This resort in Oceanside, just north of San Diego, boasts of being the only RV resort situated on a Southern California beach—in this case, Buccaneer Beach, which has surfing, picnic areas, and harbor fishing.

Removed from Likes

Related Articles

Traveler Photos

Tag #VISITCALIFORNIA on Instagram to have your trip featured on our page.

California Winery

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up and get weekly travel inspiration and ideas

Subscribe to our Newsletter