12 Days in California: Van Life in the Golden State
FINALLY A NEW POST! Since my last post, Troy and I have traveled across seven states and we’ve packed adventures into every second. Unfortunately, most of those adventures were a little lacking in the Wi-Fi department, but luckily I found myself some internet in a brewery in Colorado. So, as promised, here’s the round-up of everything we did with our twelve days in California.
It’s insane to think that we spent so long in one state, but in our defense, California is a HUGE state with so many different things to see. We started in Los Angeles on April 19 (!!!! We’ve been on the road so long) and we slowly made our way North, crashing with friends and family and winding through cities, National Parks, and lots and lots of In-N’-Out Burgers.
After we got un-stuck from the sand outside Needles, we made it to my sister-in-law’s place in LA on Wednesday, April 19th. So began our twelve day Californian adventure. Our first day in LA was a little overwhelming. Navigating a giant fifteen passenger van through hopelessly congested city streets is no joke. I felt like the captain of a barge trying to go under a bridge that was obviously too small to accommodate my vessel. Luckily, LA is a very walkable city, so the places that we could walk to, we walked. The spots that were a little too far, we usually opted to take an Uber instead of dealing with Betty in traffic.
Since my sister-in-law lives right by Hollywood, we went down the Walk of Fame and got some kick ass ramen on our first night in LA. I’d also like to mention, if you saw a mysterious third dog that wasn’t Chewy or June Bug in any of the pictures I posted from the beginning of our trip, that pup’s name is Jetta and, no, we did not acquire a third furkid (yet). Jetta is actually Troy’s sister’s pup, but Jetta stayed in Florida a little bit longer while her mom hunted down a new apartment in LA and got all settled in. Since we were planning on going to California on this trip anyway, we took Jetta with us so she didn’t have to fly to be with her momma again and officially become a Hollywood pup. Fun fact about Jetta: Chewy is a puppy from her one and only litter. It was so cute how happy they were to be in the van together <3
With Jetta safely settled in to her new Hollywood home, it was time for some more LA adventures. Troy’s sister was our spirit guide to the city and took us to the Grove and Venice Beach. Then, we went out to visit a friend in Culver City and escaped to Los Angeles National Forest for some hiking and a break from the city’s craziness.
Speaking of craziness, I think we were the most stressed we’ve been on this trip when we were in LA. Not because we didn’t love seeing our family and friends, but because Los Angeles and cities that size in general exhaust the living shit out of me. I wasn’t built for it. I think there’s some gene that you either have or don’t that allows you to thrive in that environment. I can live in a van. I can survive in the wilderness. If you ask me to live in a city for extended periods, I will slowly implode as a result of claustrophobia and too much human interaction. Hats off to people who live that life and love it, but I couldn’t do it for more than a few days.
That’s why, when one of Troy’s buddies offered us a weekend at his family’s cabin in Big Bear Lake, we jumped at the chance. Staying in the cabin with lots of space for us and the dogs to run around was an awesome change of pace. We stayed in Big Bear for two days and, in that time, we went hiking on Castle Rock Trail, played by the lake, and generally enjoyed running water and a clean, warm bed.
After Big Bear Lake, we spent the next few days driving to Yosemite. We tried to stay on the Pacific Coast Highway for the whole drive up to Yosemite, but some sections are currently closed. We found this out the hard way when we went on an accidental joy ride through Los Padres National Forest only to hit a dead end when Highway 1 was closed. I’m actually really glad for that experience though because we found the most magical little creek that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. I loved exploring Los Padres and sticking my toes in the freezing creek. Those are moments I wouldn’t have had if we had just taken the easy way out and stayed on the interstate the whole trip.
After our accidental adventure in Los Padres, it was time to go to one of the places that I was most looking forward to. It was finally time to see Yosemite.
Being from Florida, which is about as far East and as flat as you can get, I’ve dreamed about going to Yosemite National Park since I learned it existed. Yosemite is the quintessential “not Florida” place. Plus, it’s one of those places where, when you see pictures of it, you can just tell the images don’t do it justice. Man, is that true. Coming through the tunnel and seeing the stunning monoliths and waterfalls shook me to my core. It’s the kind of view that brings you to your knees. It’s a temple where people come from all over to worship an awesome wilderness; it’s indescribable.
To date, Yosemite might be one of the most beautiful places we’ve been on this trip. We ended up spending two days in the park. The first day was rainy and foggy and I worried that it wouldn’t be as beautiful with all of the clouds and fog. I’ve never been more wrong. We entered the park and were immediately greeted with the sight of El Capitan piercing the clouds. Waterfalls seemed to fall straight out of the mist. I wasn’t ready for the quiet, grey beauty because that’s not the Yosemite you see in photographs. You see sunny valley photos and thundering falls. But here was a centuries old monolith, dark and timeless, that looked as though it was holding up the clouds.
I could’ve stood there looking at El Cap in the clouds forever, but we decided to head to the Visitor Center and do a little bit more joy riding through the park. We camped for free at a dispersed site outside of Yosemite for the night and then headed back in the morning for some hikes.
Our National Parks usually have a pretty strict pet policy. Most of the time, dogs aren’t allowed on trails, but luckily, Yosemite had a pretty sweet trail where we could hike with the pups. Once we packed up our camp, our second day in Yosemite began with a 4 mile hike with the pups on Meadow Loop Trail. It was a really pretty trail, not surprisingly, looping a meadow.
After our hike, we drove around a little bit more of the park and then Troy hung out with the pups in the areas that they were allowed while I did two more hikes.
The first was kind of an accident, but I did the Happy Isles Trail and then Mirror Lake Trail. Mirror Lake Trail was more like a walk up the street to Mirror Lake, so I was happy I got to experience the Happy Isles hike too.
If you’re keeping score, I hiked about ten total miles on day two of Yosemite and, by the end of it, I was ready for a beer. We found a small brewery a little ways outside of the park called 1850 Brewing Company. If you’re ever in Mariposa, California, hit them up! We had awesome beer and food and ended up staying in a hotel that night (the third time we paid to sleep since we started) to take some much needed showers.
After Yosemite, we drove North on a quest to experience the Pacific Northwest. We drove through San Francisco, but we were promptly reminded of why we made the decision in LA to never drive Betty through a city again. We did see the Golden Gate Bridge, though, so that was pretty sweet.
We camped for the night outside of San Francisco and continued the trek North the next day. In the morning on the 29th, our penultimate day in California, we drove through Redwood National Park and ended up in Crescent City, California for the night.
Crescent City is a pretty little beach town right on the Pacific. Luckily, a couple of the beaches there were dog friendly so the pups got to play in the ocean.
On the 30th, we did a little more exploring at Point Saint George, our favorite beach in Crescent City, and then it was off to Oregon.
If you think our trip sounds a little hectic or like we’re going an inch deep and a mile wide, you’re right. We never had a set plan when we started out and that’s why we’re having so much fun. Could you easily spend a week in any of the places that we spent like six hours and still have stuff to see? Hell yeah. In no way am I claiming that we did and saw everything there is to do and see, but that’s really not what this trip is about. We kind of just roll along like the little tumbleweeds we are and, when somewhere speaks to us, we stop and explore.
I’m thankful for every friendly face I saw and every house I crashed in in California, but ultimately, California was only one stop on our whole summer long adventure. I was happy to experience all of the things we did in California, but I was also happy to leave.
After all, this is an adventure. We keep it rolling.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we’re currently in Colorado. Since California, we’ve rolled across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and now we’re almost ready to head out of Colorado and into Utah. I can’t wait to write more on the things we’ve done since California and share our stories.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for more than a month now, because every day I wake up, I am still beyond excited that this is the life we’re living. If you take one thing away from these posts, I hope it’s this: we have everything we need in a van. We’ve survived and thrived for a month with the amount of things that fit in our vehicle. There’s a lot of excess in this world and, if I’m going to be a victim of it, I hope that the things I have too much of are memories and pictures and miles on our van. I wouldn’t trade this experience for all of the “stuff” in the world.
If any of that speaks to you in some small way, I really encourage you: sell what you don’t need, make plans but not too many, and go. Even if we don’t have tons of money or tons of stuff, I haven’t regretted this for a second and, in all likelihood, neither will you.