A California road trip has been on our bucket list for as long as we can remember but in all honesty, we hadn’t really seen it happening so soon for us. When the opportunity arose for us to attend an event in Las Vegas in 2024 we jumped on the idea of making the most of this trip and ticking off some of those places that had been sitting on our travel list for a little too long.

After spending some time in the big cities such as New York and Las Vegas we picked up our rental home on wheels that would be taking us on the trip of a lifetime up the western coast of the USA.

Our journey began in Las Vegas where we picked up our campervan rental at the Travellers Autobarn Las Vegas branch. We were renting a Kuga campervan for 2 weeks and Cheyenne who was working there was extremely helpful showing us the ins and outs of our new van. We had sleeping equipment, cooking equipment, and a powerbank included in our rental, which meant that all we had to do was load our suitcases in, do a quick food shop and we were ready to hit the road!

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If you are looking to do campervan rental Las Vegas, here are some top tips we would recommend.

  • Buy an America the Beautiful pass if you are planning to visit some National Parks. Many of the parks are $35+ entry and this pass is $80/year so if you are planning to visit a few it is well worth your money. The pass will cover your vehicle and all occupants, so you only need one for either a couple or a family.
  • Prepare for some long, yet absolutely beautiful drives. Everywhere looks close but may actually be a really far drive. We noticed this straight away on day one and quickly limited our expectations of how far we would get without wanting to spend everyday doing loads of driving.
  • Look out for California State campgrounds. There are some really great ones such as Thornhill Broome which allows you to park up right on the beach for $35/night. Many of these will have shower facilities as well or if they don’t you a use the facilities at another state park.
  • Try out the Harvest Hosts app for a full list of wineries, breweries, and other local businesses that will allow you to park on their land overnight in exchange for either business or a small donation.

Traveller’s Autobarn Rental Locations

If you are looking to rent a campervan elsewhere in the world then below are all of the different countries 

Roadtripping in California – The Full Story

San Diego to Los Angeles Roadtrip

Our first stop was Coronado, a small island linked to the city of San Diego by a bridge. There was a small quiant town here and a beautiful central beach. We spent the afternoon enjoying the spring weather and watching the sunset from the beach which many people were taking advantage of the picnic benches and fire pits on offer along one section of the beach creating a lovely summers day atmosphere.

The following morning we were lucky enough to spot dolphins swimming along the shoreline of the beach here whilst on our morning walk.

campervan roadtrip

La Jolla was next on our list as we had booked to go kayaking with Everyday California around the caves and the bay and I am so glad we didn’t miss out on seeing this gorgeous town!

The benefits of renting a small van from Travellers Autobarn is that it makes parking in these small neighbourhoods a lot easier than if we had a bigger van. So we ended up spending the majority of the day in and out of the sea, shops and the coffee shops, soaking up the lovely atmosphere in La Jolla.

everyday california kayaking

We already couldn’t get enough of the sun setting over the ocean so we made it over to Ocean Beach to catch the sun setting over the horizon and get some dinner at one of the local Mexican restaurants, Mike’s Tacos for the most massive and delicious bean burrito! To our shock, after the sun had set, we spotted a unique light in the sky which turned out to be a SpaceX launch!

The following day, we woke up near Laguna Beach and had the most relaxing start to the morning wandering around this gorgeous area, watching the surfers in the sea below. Soon after, we started to make tracks north towards Los Angeles where we were hoping to catch a quick glimpse of the Hollywood sign.

We drove up to the observation deck where it was $10/per hour to park and it was jam packed full of cars. We decided to take a quick photo of the sign and head down away from the crowds.

hollywood

Los Angeles to Passo Robles

One of the benefits of having a campervan rental for us, was to be able to escape the cities and busy areas and head out on our own adventure. The weather was glorious so we decided to leave LA and make our way towards Malibu where we found a lovely State campground called Thornhill Broome. We were lucky they had a cancellation as we hadn’t booked ahead.

Each parking spot lined the beach and had plenty of space surrounding it, all with their own private picnic bench and fire pit, and of course an undisturbed view of the waves crashing upon the beach. Absolute paradise.

Settling in and setting up camp, we relaxed with our camping chairs on the beach and soaked up the golden light on the surrounding mountains as the sun set over the ocean. This was the perfect start to our Highway One adventure and was a teaser for the tranquility that California’s famous coastline had in store for us.

thornhill broome camping

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As the sound of waves crashing through the night lulled us to sleep, we enjoyed one of the best nights of our trip so far. The following morning was a slow and relaxed start to the day as we enjoyed breakfast on the beach and delayed our departure from this beautiful beach as long as possible.

Still, the allure of what California had in store for us sat heavy on our minds and eventually we hit the road, ready for the next jaw dropping sight.

highway one roadside landscape

As we meandered our way along the rugged coastline on our way north towards Monterey, a quick detour was in order inland towards California’s famous wine region of Passo Robles. After all, no road trip can be complete without experiencing all sides to the country, from the mountains and coastline, to the food and drink that it is so famous for. And so, the quaint and welcoming town of Passo would be the perfect watering hole for us to taste the best wines that the region has to offer.

Yet to try out the Harvest Host app for ourselves on this road trip, we decided that the wine region was the best place to do so. There were plenty of wineries to choose from in Passo Robles that allow RVs to park up on their land in exchange for either a tasting session or a purchase (or two) of their bottles of delicious wine.

As the day rolled on, the least we could do was sample some of the Four Lanterns wineries delicious white wines and hear the story of how the winery came to be, before enjoying our own private picnic at the top of the nearby hill, to enjoy the perfect vista of the surrounding wineries and distant sunset.

passo robles winery

Passo Robles to San Fracnisco

From here, we rejoined the coastline, ready for some fresh sea air to shake off the cobwebs of the previous night’s indulgence. We drove down into Cambria once again and followed the coastline all the way around the bay, and onto the northerly half of Highway One for perhaps our most memorable part of the road trip yet; we were on the hunt for Elephant Seals.

As you drive along the stunning coastline north to Monterey, keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife that call these beaches home, especially during the late winter months of January to March. If you time your visit here perfectly, you can witness the natural spectacle of the mass migration of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals that come to the western coast of America to rest, socialise, and rear the next generation of these beautiful creatures.

The miles of golden beaches that lie between Cambria and Big Sur can be found packed with thousands of male, female, and baby seals, all jostling for their place both not the beach and in their own social circles.

elephant seals landscape

Watch in amazement as they battle for leadership, socialise with old friends, and rest in the winter sunshine as they prepare to head back out to sea for months at a time over summer. This was one of the most unforgettable memories for us as we were lucky enough to catch the tail end of this migration at the end of March, before the beach completely cleared for another year and they all headed out to sea.

With our hearts full of love for the wildlife of California, we continued north for the final coastal section of our road trip, of course saving the best for last. The natural wonder of Big Sur is famous throughout the world for the rugged beauty that this region of coastline has to behold, however, no amount of research could have prepared us for just how breathtaking it turned out to be.

Endless miles of winding and twisting roads lead you along the coastline towards San Francisco, going from sea level to high above the crashing waves in an instant. All the while, the towering mountains to the east of you lie dormant and ponderous, with clouds topping off the tallest peaks and adding a hint of mystery to their beauty.

big sur highway one landscape - USA

Unfortunately, during our visit to California, a large section of Highway One was closed due to landslides and road works, and so we had to drive from Monterey back south towards Big Sur before doubling back on ourselves northwards again in order to see this natural marvel. The extra miles were worth it though, as we were drove in awe at the beauty around us and spent most of the day jumping in and out of the car at the frequent viewpoints that dot the coastline. What a way to round off our coastal road trip!

surfing at santa cruz landscape

As the sky once again turned golden orange and the sun made its final journey into the sea, we arrived tired and content from our final long drive at one of the most iconic cityscapes in America, the towering silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking up just in time to admire the hazy orange glow as the sun illuminated the bridge from its southerly viewpoint, we soaked up the buzzing atmosphere of the crowds that joined us to enjoy nature’s finest show.

The best place to park for this sunset to remember is the forest area park that lies just to the south of the bridge and above the museum and car park. It is worth noting, however, that care needs to be taken to ensure the safety of your vehicle as unfortunately break ins are common around these areas. The natural light show is worth the care though as the sunset gives the Golden Gate Bridges name its true meaning; a towering, manmade, behemoth of steel and cables, crawling with human-ants and bursting with colour.

With the shoreline of California all but complete, we turned our weary heads inland and began the final section of our epic road trip. The natural parks were calling our names, starting off with the beauty of Lake Tahoe. It was time for some snow.

golden gate bridget san francisco landscape

Exploring Lake Tahoe

We drove through the night, climbing in elevation from sea level to eventually reaching a peak of over 7000ft, before we finally arrived into the snowy paradise of Lake Tahoe the following morning. We had gone from sunbathing to snow in less than 12 hours and our bodies were very confused. Nevertheless, our hearts had missed the mountains and we were ready to get out and explore the wonder that Lake Tahoe had to offer. 

Arriving into Lake Tahoe Village, we couldn’t quite believe the sheer size of the lake itself. Stretching a total length of BLAH, the lake connects California and Nevada, with each state bordering the lakes West and East side respectively. It takes around two hours to drive all the way around the lake, and even that will take you through two entirely different landscapes. Mountains line the western edge of the lake, resulting in deep snow and dramatic vistas over the crystal clear water below. The eastern side is much flatter and more tranquil, lined with beaches and viewpoints where you can enjoy the refreshment of the lake during the hot summer days of Nevada. 

There are so many great things to do in Lake Tahoe it is definitely worth a visit on your California roadtrip. 

Our favourite part of Lake Tahoe had to be the Emerald Bay viewpoint, which sits 1000ft above the water. This perfect vista gives you an incredible view of the small, natural bay of Lake Tahoe, where certain areas of the lake have shallow beaches and give off a mesmerising emerald colour when the sun hits then right. Despite the freezing temperatures of the lake, this clarity and inviting colour is sorely tempting for a swim, if you are brave enough to attempt the steep descent into the bay.

After a day or so of exploring the mountains and soaking up the wonderful views of the lake, we turned our noses southeast for the final stop (and definitely the most exciting place on our road trip). It was time to see if the hype of one of America’s most famous national parks is truly well deserved; we were headed for Yosemite.

lake tahoe

Yosemite National Park

We have all heard the tales of the natural wonder of Yosemite, a valley of natural beauty that defies all logic and leaves you wondering if something so beautiful could truly be the result of the accidental and random glacial erosion. After all, from the crashing waterfalls to the towering granite faces of the surrounding mountains, it all just seems too perfect to be true.

We entered the park from the western entrance and began the snaking and winding journey down into the valley floor, clueless to how big an impact the view that was waiting for us would have on our lives and all future travel plans we may have.

It is difficult to express just how beautiful the sight that greeted us in Yosemite turned out to be for us. We had gone from driving high into the mountains from the flat planes that lie between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, to descending into the basin of Yosemite Valley and being completely surrounded by thousands of feet of sheer granite cliffs. It was here in this basin that we would spend the last 48 hours of our epic California road trip, exploring the crashing waterfalls, towering mountain viewpoints, and beautiful secluded spots that sat empty at this quieter time of year.

When it finally came time to leave the Yosemite Valley, we turned our noses back to San Francisco to sadly return to our home on wheels. This was a road trip to remember, made a lot easier by renting from Travellers Autobarn.

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