How to Take the Ultimate California RV Road Trip

Last updated 16th October 2017

As a family that loves to explore the world whenever possible, we have enjoyed some great travel adventures with our daughter, Kitty, over the last eight years, with the hope we are instilling a sense of wanderlust in her too.

For one of our favorite trips, we set aside three weeks in late March to take in the stunning California coastline starting in Los Angeles and finishing in San Francisco. We mapped out an ambitious and fast-paced route taking in the cities of LA, San Diego and San Francisco, as well as the Californian desert, mountains and countryside and of course, the not-to-be-missed and legendary coastline.

An RV trip is perfect for families with a sense of adventure and those who want to explore. The beauty of this type of trip is that you can choose to see and do exactly what appeals to you, since you have the luxury of building your own schedule and driving to any and all of the sites that most interest you.

Settling in

Picking up the RV from Cruise America we were shown around our 24 foot-long home on wheels and talked through the essentials, such as how to fill water and gas and how to empty the tanks. Our RV was perfect for our family of three, with a double bed in the back, kitchen and dining areas, a toilet and a shower. Kitty especially loved having her own bed and den above the driving cab. As soon as we were satisfied we had asked all the right questions we were on the road and heading south to our first stop – San Diego.

The first day in the RV was all about finding our feet – getting confident on the road with the size of the vehicle, driving to the first site, unpacking and shopping for supplies.  It was fun and exciting and felt almost like we were playing house. By the first evening we were fully settled, happily toasting marshmallows on a campfire and enjoying being in the great outdoors.

After time in San Diego and visiting the impressive collection of museums of Balboa Park our route then took us inland and driving through the stunning landscapes of the Californian desert, brand new and very exciting territory for us.

Californian desert

With temperatures soaring to 100 degrees when we visited in March, the climate here needs to be carefully considered when planning a trip. We managed the heat by exploring Joshua Tree National Park first thing in the morning and venturing out to walk in the wilderness at sunset, with the pool at the campsite providing the perfect place to cool down in between. The desolate beauty and vastness of the desert was spectacularly topped off each night with clear skies and we were rewarded with the best stargazing we had ever witnessed.

During our adventure we stayed in the lush forest of the Mount Jacinto National Park at Idyllwild, a picture perfect town we fell in love with that boasts log cabins, cute shops full of local produce, friendly faces and plenty of excellent places to eat and drink. We also had another great stay at a national park camp ground literally on the beach at Carpinteria.

Disney magic

We managed to squeeze in some time for a day trip to Disney. In terms of ticket prices, this isn’t the most cost effective way to visit the park and doesn’t give you enough time to do it all, if that’s your goal, but it worked for us. To make the most of our day we headed to the park around midday and stayed until the very end, leaving at midnight, exhausted but with big smiles and lots of exceptional memories.

After a long day at Disneyland, we took the pace down a notch and headed back to the coast joining it north of LA.  Over the course of a week we gradually headed north on the legendary Route 1, hugging the Californian coast and stopping off at some beautiful places along the way to take in the stunning scenery.

At the end of our 3 week adventure, we sadly said goodbye to our amazing voyage with plans to return and a lifetime of memories.

Top tips

During our trip we exclusively stayed at two different types of campground – fully equipped resorts which included pools, shops, laundries and play areas and The National Parks which usually just had toilet and shower facilities but were in more scenic locations.

Research and book all campgrounds at home before starting your trip so you have a smooth journey and can ensure you avoid getting lost along the way. It also helps to secure some of the most spectacular National Park sites as soon as you start planning your trip since they get booked up early.

The lowdown

Price: Drive in fees start at $20 per night