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  • Writer's pictureMarie Bailly

Driving the Pacific Coast of California

Southern California

Camp in Los Padres National Forest, 20 mins from downtown Santa Barbara

SoCal leg of the coastal roadtrip

San Diego

Perfect warm climate, white sandy beaches, surfing heaven and amazing Mexican food - that's San Diego. Campgrounds for you to spend the night at: Chula Vista RV Park, De Anza Harbour Resort, San Diego Metro KOA Campground. Otherwise, book one of our overland campers and try out dispersed camping in Cleveland National Forest.


Just outside of San Diego, Encinitas is a small charming coastal community of 60,000. Encinitas bills itself as the “flower capital of the world” thanks to a pretty perfect climate. Stay at the San Elijo State Beach Campground - right on the beach - and fall asleep to the sound of waves.


Locals form Oceanside, CA claim to have the shortest thermometers in the United States - temperatures range between 65 degrees (19 celsius) in January and 77 degrees (25 celsius) in August, you can see why. Oceanside is home to a beautiful stretch of surfing beach. Crave some culture and history? Check out the Mission San Luis Rey - a former Spanish Catholic mission, built in 1798. If you're into surfing, make sure to stop by California Surf Museum, internally recognized as the world class museum for surf buffs. Camp at the Oceanside RV park or South Carlsbad State Beach.

Dana Point

Dana Point is a small, romantic seaport and its nautical heritage can be seen all around. For anyone driving along Pacific Coast, Dana Point is significant as the starting point of Highway 1. Camp in one of 3 beach campgrounds: Doheny State Beach, San Clemente State Beach or San Onofre State Beach.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is famous for its restaurants, laid-back California vibe and beautiful beaches. Grab a snack at the iconic Urth Cafe and head to Heisler Park and Victoria Beach to chill by the beach. Crystal Cove State park nearby is perfect for daytime hikes. If you're into campground, check out the Crystal Cove State Park Moro Campground - or drive 1.5 hrs towards San Bernardino National Forest and take advantage of dispersed camping with amazing views.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is known as one of the most beautiful communities on the Pacific Coast - and rightfully so. If you're into the Spanish Colonial style, you're going to love it here - the city has ensured that all buildings are built in one style. What's even greater is the proximity to the Los Padres National Forest - great for hiking and overlanding. No need to break the bank for expensive hotels - rent one of our overlanding vehicles, whip out Google Maps, set it to satellite view and look for roads that can be suitable for dispersed camping. If unable to camp in the national forest, check out Carpinteria State Beach Campground and Ocean Mesa RV and Campground.

Pismo Beach

Ever dreamed of camping RIGHT on the beach? At Pismo Beach, you can! $5 will buy you an overnight stay on the beach. Watch epic sunsets and fall asleep to the sound of the waves.

San Luis Obispo

SLO lucked out with the scenery - set among rolling hills and ancient volcanic overtoppings, those lush green hills will take your breath away. This is a great place for California history buffs - many of cities' houses and commercial buildings were erected in the 1800s and have been carefully preserved by the locals. One of the most prominent sites is Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Try to visit SLO on a Thursday night - the town comes alive with Thursday Night activities and Farmers' Market. Proximity to the Los Padres National Forest allows for dispersed camping - overlander's dream.

Northern California

San Simeon

San Simeon is worth stopping by - it's home to the famous Hearst Castle, one of the greatest attractions on this stretch of the coast. Into elephant seals? This is the place to be - the Piedras Blancas Rookery is one one in the world and it located just 7 miles north of San Simeon. It's free and no reservations are required so come hang with the seals! Check out the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk and camp at the San Simeon State Park.

Big Sur

Ah, Big Sur! One of nation's biggest treasures and scenic wonders. 90 miles of narrow, winding roads - best explored with no rush. Enjoy it, savour it. There are multiple campgrounds that fill up pretty quickly but if you want to enjoy the views from above the mountains, there is dispersed camping allowed in several areas. You won't find big grocery stores or much infrastructure at all - make sure both the fridge and the tank are full! Nights and mornings can get chilly because of the fog so be sure to bring layers.

Carmel & Pebble Beach

No Pacific Coast Highway drive is complete without visiting Carmel and 17 mile drive. Walking through Carmel will feel like you've stepped inside a magical village where there are no neon signs, no parking meters, where houses have names instead of addresses and every tree is registered. Carmel is also famous for one of its former mayors - Clint Eastwood - who ran in the town in the 80s. Carmel is home to one of the oldest missions in California - founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra - if you are looking for a dose of history and beautiful architecture, this is for you. The beach in Carmel has the most perfect waves and is known as hot spot for surfers, but lounging on the beach or having a picnic is encouraged too!

17 Mile Drive

Once you get your dose of the fairy tale in Carmel, take the 17 mile drive that will lead you to Monterrey. Entering this private community will cost you $10 per vehicle - you will get the detailed map and guide to more than dozen attractions along the route. The opportunities for hiking, picnicking, exploring tide pools and taking awesome photos are bountiful along the 17 Mile drive.

Monterey & Pacific Grove

Monterey has gained new worldwide fame thanks to the popular show “Big Little Lies” but Monterrey has long been considered a special place on the Coast. It's home to the Monterrey cypress, which has served as an inspiration for our logo and we think its one of the most beautiful trees in the world! Monterrey is one of California's oldest cities and was the capital during both its Spanish and Mexican periods. Craving sardines? You're in the right place! Known as Cannery Row, the area was over-fished in the 1950s and brought back to life in the 1970s. Cannery Row is now a major tourist attraction. Next to Monterey is the city of Pacific Grove, famous for its monarch butterflies population in October.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz needs little introduction - known as the mecca for its chill vibe, an expansive surfer community and friendly people. Mile-long Santa Cruz Main Beach is probably area's main attraction for getting a tan, swimming and people-watching. Check out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk - founded in 1907, it's California's oldest surviving amusement park.

Bodega Bay

Road trip from San Francisco going north towards Bodega Bay is an epic adventure on its own. Welcome to another California - where environmental diversity is very different from the South. Stop by for fresh oysters at Tomales Bay (book in advance!) and check out the Point Reyes lighthouse - the views of the coast from above will leave you speechless. Make sure to check out Russian River and include a hike in the Armstrong Woods to see thousand-year old redwoods.


Stop by Jenner to see epic ocean views and hike at the Sonoma Coast State Park. To overnight camp, head to Mendocino National Forest, which allows dispersed camping and where more NorCal adventures await in the morning. Or, if you want to stay along the Pacific Coast, consider these campgrounds in Mendocino: Caspar Beach RV Campground (pricey), Russian Gulch State Park (moderate price), Van Damme State Park (moderate price).

Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is known as the largest coast city between San Francisco and Eureka. The harbor is a busy place, with really good seafood restaurants and fish market.

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