I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.
If you love scenic RV drives, you may want to spend some time cruising the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
My husband and I have traveled across the entire coastal highway, but we have found that the most beautiful and pleasant section is the area that goes north from Santa Barbara all the way up Route 1 through Washington State. The road can be steep, windy, and narrow in some spots, but the scenery is worth the hair-raising drive!
Let me share some of the highlights of this trip with you so that if you decide to go, you’ll be able to get the most from it. If you want to enhance this virtual travel experience, listen to the song I've added at the end of this article before you begin today's journey. You'll be glad you did!
One of the things you should not miss is Pea Soup Andersen’s. This restaurant has been in business for years and is great fun to visit. They are known for their all-natural pea soup that comes with your choice of homemade bread, but they have other menu items as well. The soup is “all you can eat,” and you’ll want to eat plenty of it! Prices are reasonable and the soup is absolutely delicious!
When you finish, you can head to their gift shop and get a free sample of their wines.
2. San Simeon
After your visit to Andersen’s, you should head north a ways to San Simeon. It is a great place to visit because there you can take a tour of Hearst Castle, the original home of William Randolph Hearst. The guide will provide you with all sorts of interesting facts, such as that when formal dinners were served in the huge, fancy dining hall, Hearst put bottles of condiments on the table rather than placing them in fancy serving dishes! You’ll also learn about the famous people who stayed there and even hear some interesting stories about them. It takes the better part of a day to visit this famous landmark, so you will want to find a nearby campground before you go there.
San Simeon State Park and Campground is about five minutes away from the castle and might be your best bet for a one night stay. It only has dry camping but does have a dump and a place to fill your fresh water.
Note: I strongly suggest making advance reservations because parks near major California entertainment venues fill up fast.
Your next stop will be one of the most beautiful areas in America, The Monterey Peninsula. It’s the home of Clint Eastwood, and in 1986 he was the Mayor of Carmel by the Sea, a small wealthy town and artists community which is located there.
Monterey County hosts many arts festivals, so if you get your timing right, you’ll be able to visit one of them. Here’s the 2018 schedule. If you bookmark it, you’ll be able to research the same information for upcoming years.
There are several state parks nearby where you can camp, but some are quite primitive. My husband and I always use our Good Sam Camping Guide or RVers Friend book to get contact numbers for these parks so that we can know ahead of time about costs, facilities, and availability. If you don’t have these guides, you should make it a point to buy them because they’ll prove helpful for many travel issues you’ll encounter on this and other RV vacations.
4. Sequoia National Park
Next comes a beautiful drive that will allow you to relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery along the Redwoods Coast.
There are a number of parks you can visit as you tool up Route 101, but you won’t want to miss seeing Sequoia National Park. It’s located Southwest of San Francisco. It is one thing to read about the majesty of the huge and very old redwood trees, but quite another thing to actually be among them.
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You cannot camp in this park, but you can take a leisurely drive through it, stop to take photos and have a bite of lunch. There are some gift shops along the way that you can also peruse.
After your day trip, you can stay at one of eight campgrounds that are located in the surrounding area. You can find contact information about them here.
Check with the local highway patrol to make sure that your RV isn’t too big or long to make the drive.
5. San Francisco
If you’ve never been to San Francisco, it’s one place you won’t want to miss seeing. However, driving is difficult due to narrow, steep roads and way too much traffic, so be advised to find a campground before you visit. Regardless of when you visit, it will be cold, so plan on dressing in warm clothes. When we visited we had to stop and buy sweatshirts!
San Francisco is a beautiful but very crowded city. If you want to enjoy the best of it, head down to Pier 39. There you will find a multitude of great restaurants and shops and can even take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage. Don’t forget to walk down to the pier itself and say hello to the famous seals who lounge there!
If you want to eat something really good, find one of the restaurants that serve homemade clam chowder in a bread bowl. Top your meal off with a visit to one of the many chocolate shops, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Ghirardelli Square, the original headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, is close to the pier and features cafes and resturaunts, chocolate and other local shops.
I must digress here for a minute because just writing about this is bringing back so many wonderful memories of this place.
The famous trolleys, Chinatown and all of the other great things to enjoy make me yearn to go again. You’ll leave there feeling as I do, that’s for sure!
6. The Oregon Coast
If you continue on Route 101 you’ll cross into Oregon. From this point on, you’ll find many beautiful camping spots where you can enjoy fishing, hiking and plain old relaxing in cool and sometimes foggy weather.
It’s a nice break from the city that will give you time to explore the history of the small towns that dot the area and enjoy some of the local cuisine.
7. Washington State National Parks
Once you cross over the famous Hood River, you’ll be in Washington State. It will be chilly and rainy there most of the time, but it will be worth seeing because of three beautiful national parks.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park sits a bit East of Highway 101. It is mostly wilderness that will allow you to enjoy snow-capped mountains, rushing streams, and rainforests.
There are two campgrounds with water and electric hookups and several others that are for dry camping only which you can enjoy while you tour the park, fish, hike or just relax. Most are first come first serve, but a few require reservations. Look here to learn more.
Mt. Ranier National Park
Mt. Ranier National Park, which houses the highest mountain range (14,440 feet high), is in the Cascade Range. It is located inland, 54 miles southeast of the city of Seattle, which is also an interesting place to visit because it is a dynamic and beautiful city loaded with a large variety of entertainment venues.
Mt. Ranier National Park is an active range volcano that sits in the middle of 35 square miles of snow and glacier ice, making it quite a sight to see!
You can dry camp in this park for about $20 per night but would be wise to reserve a spot in advance due to the park's popularity. Here is some basic information about their camping facilities.
Mt. St. Helens National Park
Another National Park is Mt. St. Helens. You may remember that this volcano erupted several years ago causing a huge amount of damage to the surrounding areas.
Although still active, it is quiet for now, so visiting will be safe. More than 500,000 people visit this park annually because it offers gorgeous scenery, fishing and other similar types of activities. You can find detailed information about it here if you think you might like to visit. This site will share information about both public and private campgrounds that are available in the immediate vicinity of the park.
Note: Circling around the state to access these cities and parks may be tiring, so you may want to choose just one spot to see.
The Trip of a Lifetime
People like me who enjoy exploring different areas of the country and driving along beautiful roads will love taking this trip. It will require plenty of advanced planning, but at least now you have a template that will help you to organize your trip.
I hope you’ll have as great a time as we did, and will return again and again to enjoy the wonders of cruising Pacific Coast in your recreational vehicle.
© 2018 Sondra Rochelle