Our 10 days road trip in California with a camper, discovering Yosemite National Park and the coastal area from Big Sur to San Francisco!
For a long time now, we have been dreaming of traveling to the USA and discover California with a camper van. Finally, this easter we managed to book the trip and off we went! It was my second time in the USA, first time in California, so I was super exited, as you can imagine
Our trip was in total 10 days, and we knew that, unfortunately it wouldn’t be enough to see all of California. We decided that we wouldn’t go as far as Los Angeles and would leave that part together with Death Valley and the Sequoia National Park to another trip.
We started and ended in San Francisco, driving kind of a circle to visit famous spots like the Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Big Sur, but also passing by other cities and small towns.
Click HERE for the map with pins
Traveling with a camper is probably our favorite way of traveling. There is something very special about traveling with your house on your back. You can stop when and where you want, you are not limited by getting to a specific place at a specific time, or find a restaurant to eat, or book a hotel to sleep. You have total freedom! Probably the most relaxing way of traveling.
We were very happy to have found Travellers Autobarn to rent a campervan with. They have cool campers at very reasonable prices. They have several locations, but we chose to start our trip from their San Francisco store.
Our camper had a dining table and sofa that transformed into a bed, also had a full equipped kitchen with stove, microwave, sink and fridge. There was no toilet in the van but there was plenty of public restrooms, road stops or camping parks along the way.
The van is also equipped with a solar panel and has USB ports that are 24h available for you to use, which is just amazing! You can always connect the van to electricity at a camping site to have a bit of extra energy.
In the USA, in some areas you can do wild camping, which means you can park overnight wherever you want unless it is a private property or inside a national park. The closer you get to bigger cities this becomes more difficult, but there are a lot of Camping sites that you can either book in advance or just come and find a spot available.
Driving the van was much easier than I expected. The size is perfect that it is easier to drive and park but also big enough for you to comfortably live inside. The gasoline deposit was humongous so we could drive for hours and hours without stopping or worrying.
We started our trip in San Francisco around 12 am. and drove all the way to Lake Tahoe. We disgracefully drove by the wine? And only realized it when it was too late to go back. If you have the opportunity stope there cause everyone says it is worth visiting.
We arrived at Lake Tahoe just in time for the sunset. The magical pink sunset was just what I had in mind when thinking about California, and was the perfect atmosphere for a romantic stroll along the beach.
Then we ate dinner, found a place to park for the night and were ready to drive to Yosemite the next day.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite was definitely the highlight of this trip. I was expecting it to be amazing, but my mind was blown away! We stayed there for two full days and had very different experiences.
Our first day was spend in Yosemite valley village that has a lot to see and do! Just driving in this valley is an unique experience by itself. All around us were spectacular stone walls like the El Capital or the Half Dome that felt were going to fall on top of us at any point, together with gigantic waterfalls and enormous trees. The nature is just jaw dropping and takes you back to prehistoric times. There was only missing the dinosaurs. It was a warm day, the sun was shining, so we chose a couple of medium level hikes to do, and just went exploring!
On our second day at Yosemite, we woke up surrounded by snow! It looked like a completely different place, colder, more mysterious but still very magical. We spent the day at the Mariposa Grove and did a long hike to see all the gigantic sequoia trees. This was something I really wanted to see and was mesmerized by the size of all these ancient beautiful trees. Definitely something you cant miss!
It was time to drive south, away from the snow to the famous California coastal area. On the way we drove through infinite agricultural and oil fields which made me feel in a Hollywood movie.
After driving many hours, we finally arrived at Big Sur, where green forests and colorful pastures meat the see. We drove through curvy roads with steep rocky cliffs that stood between us and the bright blue ocean and its beautiful white sandy beaches. In a way it reminded me about Portugal, my home country, and even the smell brought back memories from home.
Something that surprised me was how windy and chilly California is. I don’t know why, but I was expecting to have only a summer dress on and even go for a swim. However, despite the bright sun the wind was quite cold and I ended up having a wool sweater and even a jacket sometimes. Still, it was lovely
CARMEL BY THE SEA & MONTERREY
Along the coast, on our way back to San Francisco, there were a lot of cute town to visit. Our favorite one was Carmel by the Sea. Although there is not much to do or see here, we had a lovely day strolling around, discovering all the tiny street with gorgeous houses looking at the sea. We also had a romantic walk on the beach and stopped for an ice-cream. We kept imagining ourselves leaving there so close to the ocean with that view.
Right next to Carmel by the sea you will find Monterrey. A charming port city, also with a long sandy beach and livelier. Here you can drive through the scenic 18 mile drive, visit the fisherman’s dwarf or just enjoy a day at the beach.
Something I had on my list was to visit a board walk. I have seen these in movies and always wanted to experience it in real life, so off course that we had to stop in Santa Cruz.
The board walk was so much more extravagant than I had imagined it! A mix of an amusement park, a candy shop and a circus.
So many games, rides, peculiar food and overall fun! I absolutely loved it and wish we had more of these in Europe!
My boyfriend is a tech freak, so it was only fair that we visited Silicon Valley. We checked out Apple, Google, Nasa and Tesla. To be honest it was a bit of a disappointment to both of us. I thought that these companies would be located closer to each other, almost like a tech hub with streets connecting them together. Instead we had to drive quite a bit from one company to another and there’s nothing really special happening in between, just normal residential houses. On top of that you cant really go inside the building, or in some cases you cant even go inside the premises. You can just look from far away or reach the building entrance. That’s it… We also tried to visit some tech museums, like the Intel one, but they were either closed or would only open on weekends. I clearly had the wrong idea about this place…
What saved de day was the visit to Harvard University! Really recommend it!
And this was the end of our campervan road trip. Everyone told us that it wasn’t a good idea to try to stay inside San Francisco city center with a camper, so it was time to go back to San Francisco and deliver the van.
San Francisco city really surprised me for the best! Definitely a city I could see myself living in!
It is without a doubt a big city, with big avenues and tall building towers, but at the same time it feels very homy and cozy. It is easy to walk everywhere or take the public transport. It has a special character with its steep streets, colorful traditional houses and different neigbourhoods.
I really loved the connection the city has to the sea, with long sandy beaches and fishermans peers. And at the same time all the nature and green areas you can find in the city center, like the high line park or the central park.
People were extremely friendly and food was just to die for. I gained some weight on this trip and I would had it any other way cause it was totally worth it.
It was one of those trips I didn’t want it to end. I could stay there for one month more I think, not only because I fell at home but also because there was so much more to see and experience. I guess I will have to go back one day.
Watch the videos from our trip here: