Essential RV California:
Exploring the Coastal Splendor
of State Route 1
by Carey Sweet
California State Route 1 is one of the most tempting driving adventures on earth, winding along 656 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline—from Orange County to Mendocino County. More than just a highway, it’s a charm bracelet of breathtaking landscapes ranging from cliffside beaches to towering redwood forests, all accented by quaint seaside towns and vibrant cities.
Whether you’re in the mood for luxury glamping, or a casual, more al fresco camping experience, there are so many ways to explore the Golden State’s bounty.
Surfers, sunbathers and nautical types love this palm-dotted coastal city with its wooden Oceanside Pier, spanning 1,942 feet and featuring a marina, Harborside Village dining and a shopping enclave. This is a laid-back, flip-flops and shorts type of welcoming getaway with bungalow neighborhoods, an artsy, quirky vibe, and nearby family attractions—including LEGOLAND California and Sea Life Aquarium, Sea World San Diego, San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park. You can admire dozens of dramatic murals downtown, or tuck into spectacular seafood gems like the busy Miramar Fish Tacos & Beer (the smoked local tuna taco is a best seller), then voyage on a year-round wildlife watching cruise for seasonal blue or gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and aquatic birds.
Where to Stay: As its name suggests, Paradise by the Sea Beach RV Resort boasts a prime location for an easy, three-minute stroll to the ocean and Buccaneer Park and Beach. Ninety pull-through, full hook-up spaces come with bells and whistles like complimentary WiFi, 24-hour security, and resort quality tile, wood and marble restroom facilities with hot showers. You’ll also enjoy the heated pool and spa, a firepit area, contemporary-casual clubhouse lounge, and billiards room.
This posh area is famous for its upscale boutiques, fancy restaurants and multi-million dollar mansions tucked in the nearby foothills. Yet it’s also a coastal wonderland, with the Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Pier, and the affordable family fun of the Balboa Fun Zone—an old-school amusement park with a waterfront Ferris wheel right on the Balboa Peninsula. Take a day trip to nearby Catalina Island on the Catalina Flyer ferry, too, or rent your own boat for some time on the sparkling ocean. For retro-whimsical fun, hop aboard a Cruisin’ Tiki Boat, which is exactly that–a crazy cute thatched-roofed, motor-powered cabana. And be sure to indulge in a Balboa Bar or Frozen Banana, the tasty treats dipped in chocolate and smothered in goodies like nuts, sprinkles or cookie crumbs.
Where to Stay: The 2,791-acre Crystal Cove State Park is nestled between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, and renown for its historic 1930s to 40s beach cottages that are like little candy castles tucked next to the excellent Beachcomber Café, a restored beachfront bungalow specializing in seafood and potent cocktails. Park your own mobile castle of up to 38-feet at the Moro Campground: it’s rustic but convenient with full hook-ups and restrooms/showers, and lovely with ocean views, miles of sandy Pacific Ocean coastline and bluffs.
The beautiful region is about 30 miles east of State Route 1, but well worth a slight detour. It’s chock-a-block with wineries and tasting rooms of all kinds–larger, glamorous destinations such as Eberle Winery with its dramatic cave, and smaller, rustic spots such as Dark Star with its red barns and family and pet friendly atmosphere. Golf is another popular pastime here, such as at the bucolic Hunter Ranch course, framed by stands of century-old blue oaks and sparkling lakes. For more water, visit the Ravine Water Park, which offers private cabanas alongside its pools, plus a cool tiki bar. And be sure to shop, as the downtown area brims with unique boutiques. Outlying areas beckon as well, rich with destinations like Pasolivo Ranch and Tasting Room, a working olive farm offering tours, oil tastings, and handcrafted products like specialty food, kitchen, bath, and body products.
Where to Stay: Designed in part by Mother Nature, the 160-acre, luxury Cava Robles RV Resort is surrounded by meadows, forested knolls, valley views and lovely, pet-friendly hiking trails. There are two pools and hot tubs, fire pits, a splash pad and play ground for the kids, several off-leash dog parks, and the on-site Farmhouse Bistro for signature stone-fired pizzas. The modern lodge-style wood and stone clubhouse hosts arts and crafts activities for the little ones, lounging on the lushly landscaped patios, and weekend live music.
Though a rugged area, this stretch of land along State Route 1 is some of the most spectacular in all of California with a narrow, winding two-lane road running along seaside cliffs and over the impossibly tall Bixby Bridge. Once you get here, you’ll be mesmerized by the beauty of splashing surf (keep your eyes peeled for adorable otters peeking out of kelp beds), wildflower carpeted meadows, stream-lined valleys, and some three million acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. It’s easy to just camp and admire views and do nothing—though if you want some luxury, you can indulge in some of the many excellent restaurants nearby. The cliffside Sur House is particularly magnificent, with huge windows and a terrace overlooking the ocean as well as modern Cal-American cuisine, fed by an on-site garden plus a 10,000-bottle cellar of small-production Central Coast wines.
Where to Stay: With 1,006 acres centered on the Big Sur River, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a paradise of more than 2,000-year-old coastal redwoods, cottonwoods, willows, a beautiful river gorge, and abundant hiking trails for nature walks and wildlife viewing along the Santa Lucia Mountains. Motorhomes up to 32 feet are welcome, and many campsites are located along the river. For extra convenience, the park’s Big Sur Lodge is home to a cafe and grocery store.
With just over 1,000 residents, this tiny town is a quaint community of artists, chefs, anglers and ocean lovers, with plenty of tourists, too. Visitors come for the water activities like swimming at Doran Beach, playing with their pups in the many sandy coves, hiking hills and meadows, and snagging fresh fish and crab from the boats that come into the harbor. There are dozens of local wines for tasting at the cleverly named Gourmet au Bay, outfitted with a patio overlooking the water (try the flight with the glasses served on a tiny surfboard). Treat yourself, too, to fresh-from-the-water rock cod fish and chips at the shanty shack Boathouse (the owner has his own fishing boat), and shrimp tacos with a Great White Shark beer at the Birds Café overlooking the bay (yes, its named for the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed at this burg).
Where to stay: The family owned Bodega Bay RV Park offers basic facilities, but hey, the beautiful ocean is just a quick walk away through the Bodega dunes. Some nice forest shade sits around the perimeter of the lots, full hook-ups are available, there are restrooms with hot showers, plus there’s free WiFi and cable TV, a four-hole putting green, a fenced dog run, and bocce ball court.
Sonoma Coast State Park
The Sonoma Coast spans more than 55 miles, including 17 miles of beaches, bluffs, headlands and regional parks. Wherever you stop, you’ll find sunbathers, beachcombers, picnickers, hikers, surfers, kayakers, and at some spots, folks playing with their frolicking dogs, and horseback riders. There are also tiny beaches dotting the more northern areas of Highway 1, for more private meditation, plus secluded bluffs that make prime viewing spots for migrating gray whales late winter through spring.
Plan a fun day with a stop at Candy & Kites in Bodega Bay to pick up…well…candy and kites. Then stop in for local picnic fare at the Tides Wharf gourmet grocery, deli and wine shop. Find your beach and relax, while keeping an eye out for Bodega’s protected Western Snowy Plover birds–the tiny, one- to two-ounce birds are fluffy white and gray delights wearing distinctive black eyebrows and eyeliner marks.
Where to Stay: Among the park’s three campgrounds, the Bodega Dunes Campground offers the most amenities, such as hot showers, flush toilets, a potable water fill station and a trailer sanitation dump station (but no hookups). The place is very popular for its direct beach access via a boardwalk so make your reservations up to six months in advance. Motorhomes up to 31-feet can park on the paved pads, and some pads are extra cozy in the shade of large cypress and pine trees.
Anchored by cliffside trails and beaches of Mendocino Headlands State Park, this laid-back, friendly town brims with history. Visit the 1909 Point Cabrillo Light Station and Museum, then tour the magnificent Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, encompassing 47 acres of canyons, wetlands, coastal bluffs, a closed-cone pine forest, thousands of flowers, and wild mushroom patches. Historic downtown Mendocino is a jewel box of unique shops, pretty bungalows, and restaurants: the Fog Eater Café is a local hot spot, known for vegetarian and vegan Cal-Southern cuisine like savory, soothing succotash of runner beans, hominy, heirloom grits, ruby kraut and herb cream.
Where to Stay: Recently remodeled, Caspar Beach RV Park is a favorite for its forest and beach access. Doyle Creek runs through the property and the park offers a well-stocked cottage convenience store, modern tiled showers, full hookups with WiFi and cable, billiard and arcade game room, and playground. The beach itself boasts a large, protected cove, perfect for fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving, beginner surfing, and kayaking.