RV & Van Life in Big Sur, Santa Barbara, and Ojai

Big Sur Day Trip

Cruising the California Coast: An Insider’s Guide to RV and Van Life

RV and Van Life have gained a lot of popularity in recent years — Much of it due to the freedom and flexibility that it offers. When traveling, RVs and campervans provide the convenience of having a home on wheels that allows travelers to enjoy the comforts of their own space while immersing themselves in these areas’ natural beauty and adventure for extended periods.

If you’ve been on social media or recently visited California, specifically along the southern and central coast, you have likely seen the hundreds of RVs and campervans that individuals and families have been using to explore the stunning coastal landscapes, state parks, Los Padres National Forest, campgrounds, and attractions at their own pace.

Getting Started with Van and RV Life

When planning a road trip and renting an RV or camper van, selecting the right vehicle becomes crucial for a seamless and enjoyable journey. The choice between an RV and a camper van is significant as they offer distinct features and accommodations.

RV’s (Recreational Vehicles) – An RV typically provides more space, amenities, and comfort, making it suitable for larger groups or families with extensive gear. There are various types of RVs to choose from, depending on your needs and preferences.

Campervans (Converted Vans) – On the other hand, a camper van offers a more compact and versatile option, ideal for smaller groups or individuals seeking a more agile and adventurous experience. Van conversions can vary in features, amenities, and overall size, ranging from compact models with basic facilities like a bed and minimal cooking options to more significant vehicles equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms, and spacious living areas.

By embracing the lifestyle of living in a van or RV, you not only embark on thrilling adventures but also save time and money by eliminating the need for costly hotel and restaurant accommodations, which may also limit your proximity and use up your valuable time on driving. This lifestyle also gives you freedom to roam wherever your adventures take you. The RV or van also allow for flexible work schedules if your job allows you the opportunity to work remotely.

Planning Your Route and Destinations

If you’re planning to live on the road using an RV or van, route and itinerary planning becomes even more crucial due to the limited spaces and destinations available for these vehicles. Not all campgrounds can accommodate larger vehicles, so researching and reserving suitable spots in advance is essential.

• Check the height and weight restrictions on roads, bridges, and tunnels to ensure your RV or camper van can safely pass through.
• Be aware of low-clearance areas such as tree branches, building overhangs, or gas.
• Check the availability and accessibility of amenities such as water, electricity, and waste
disposal at each campground or RV park you plan to visit.

Here are three cities that we recommend for a memorable road trip and camping experience …

Trip Planning in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, often called the “American Riviera,” is a vibrant and captivating coastal city with abundant attractions and a lively atmosphere. Sunny weather, pristine beaches, a vibrant main street, and thrilling events make this destination a visitor’s paradise.

Santa Barbara offers a plethora of camping spots and day-use areas along its picturesque beaches, allowing you to immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty. Whether it’s camping at Refugio, Gaviota, or El Capitan State Beaches OR at many beaches to choose from that are only minutes away from your forest adventure.

Itinerary for Ojai

Nestled away from the bustling crowds, Ojai, California, is a hidden gem known for its breathtaking vistas, picturesque orchards, and charming downtown area. Despite not being as popular as some coastal destinations in the state, this is precisely what makes Ojai so alluring.

Ojai offers various campgrounds for nature enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable experience amidst untouched beauty. The Holiday Group Campground provides spacious sites for larger groups, while the Middle Lion Campground offers a more secluded and peaceful experience. The Rose Valley Campground is also in a scenic valley, offering a serene escape with hiking trails and a nearby creek.

Mapping a Trip to Big Sur

Big Sur is a breathtaking and renowned destination that captures the hearts of travelers worldwide. Its popularity stems from its awe- inspiring natural beauty, including its rugged coastline, towering cliffs, majestic redwood forests, and picturesque beaches.

Exploring this region with an RV or campervan allows you to immerse yourself in the serenity of nature, offering an unparalleled road trip and camping adventure in Big Sur. Whether it’s gazing at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge or surfing at any day-use spots along the coast, the experience promises to be memorable.

However, it’s important to note that Limekiln Campground has specific restrictions. While you can camp beneath the towering redwoods if you have a tent, RVs and campervans are limited to the Beach Area. So, plan accordingly to make the most of what Big Sur has to offer.

Activities and Adventures for RV and Van Life in those areas

Traveling in an RV or campervan in areas like Ojai, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara opens up a world of exciting activities and unique experiences. With a mobile home base, you can enjoy flexible and seamless adventures, maximizing your time and enjoyment. Here are some of our favorite things to do in those three areas …

Sight Seeing Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the most iconic sightseeing destinations, where the meeting of land and sea creates an awe-inspiring spectacle. Along the scenic highway, travelers can pull over at numerous pull-outs and day-use spots. Discover the extraordinary wonders of Big Sur by clicking here.

Kayaking or Biking in Santa Barbara

This region is known for its relatively flat waters, as the Channel Islands act as a natural barrier, shielding the area from southern swells. This makes Santa Barbara an ideal destination for kayaking, providing calm and serene conditions to explore the coastal beauty and marine life at your own pace.

• Situated about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, Refugio State Beach offers a serene and scenic kayaking experience. Explore the coastline, paddle through kelp forests, and enjoy the calm waters.
• The Cabrillo Bike Path is a popular cycling route that stretches along the coastline, offering stunning ocean views. The path runs from Leadbetter Beach to Butterfly Beach and is perfect for a leisurely bike ride or a scenic workout.

Hiking in Ojai

This area is an excellent place to camp, explore nature, and enjoy a short escape. It’s tranquil atmosphere and natural beauty make it a delightful retreat for those seeking a serene and rejuvenating experience away from the hustle and bustle of busy urban centers.

• Rose Valley Falls Trail: In the Los Padres National Forest, Rose Valley Falls Trail is a short and relatively easy hike leading to a picturesque waterfall. The trail meanders through lush vegetation and offers a refreshing and scenic experience.
• Pratt Trail: Pratt Trail is a challenging hike that rewards hikers with breathtaking views. The trail takes you to the Topatopa Mountains ridge, offering stunning Ojai Valley vistas and beyond. Be prepared for steep sections, and bring plenty of water.

Tips for a Successful RV Lifestyle and Van Life Experience

Embarking on an RV or van life experience during a California road trip can be incredibly rewarding, with a few essential tips in mind.

First and foremost, prioritize safety, mainly if you are not accustomed to driving larger vehicles. Familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s size, height, and weight, and drive cautiously, allowing for extra braking distance and maneuvering tight spaces like a parking lot.

Staying organized within your van is crucial, as everything you need is contained within your tiny home on wheels. Utilize storage solutions and keep belongings secure to maintain a tidy and functional living space.

Additionally, there are a few must-have gear and equipment items for a successful trip. These include camping essentials like a reliable tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, camp chairs, and a portable cooler. With safety, organization, and essential gear in place, your RV or van life adventure in California will be well-prepared and enjoyable.

The Best RV and Van Life Road Trip Along Highway 1

While each location will provide a memorable experience on its own, scheduling a trip to all three will give you a variety of recreations, sightseeing opportunities, and different experiences. From the serene landscapes of Ojai to the breathtaking coastal views of Big Sur, and the vibrant beachside charm of Santa Barbara, each destination has its unique allure.

Take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime journey that will leave you with a deep sense of fulfillment and a treasure trove of cherished moments. Plan your road trip today, and let the exploration begin.

Embarking on a journey along the open road, accompanied by a cherished friend or family member, is an unparalleled experience. Irrespective of your occupation, be it full time, part time, or engaged in seasonal jobs, we all yearn for a temporary escape from the mundane routine, longing to embrace the exhilarating existence of a modern-day digital nomad with the flexibility of WiFi, hot shower, and cozy bed as well.


~ Jack Kerouac, Big Sur