“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
California is a place loved by many. Residents and visitors alike can go on for hours about the wonders of the Golden State and the various activities available for all. Many flock to the state each year, soaking up the sun, the beaches, and the mountains. It’s a paradise for city folks and nature lovers. When I tell people I grew up in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), I’m often told “Lucky you. It’s beautiful there.” And that’s usually followed up by, “why did you leave?” Now that, that is a long story. A quick synopsis would be something along the lines of: it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, I’m afraid of earthquakes, we have family drama. Bottom line: California creates a ton of anxiety for both myself and my husband. As we made our way towards the coast, I said to Clayton “my chest hurts, I’m feeling anxious.” He nodded and said he was feeling the exact same way.
And that is where the Alain de Botton quote comes in. We had to change our mindset. I was certain this wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel uncomfortable while traveling. We had to come up with a plan, something we could revert to when we feel like this again. At that moment, we decided that a pep talk before hitting the road would get us through our travels in California. We’d discuss worst case scenarios and how we would handle them…”there’s going to be a lot of traffic. That’s okay, we’ll just talk about something fun and listen to the radio”, “gas is going to be very expensive. That’s okay, at least it will be cheaper when we visit other states”, “we might encounter negativity from our families. That’s fine, we can always leave if it gets bad.”
As salty as I was feeling (pun intended), I knew that everything was worse in my mind and if I approached this anxiety differently, everything would be fine. Why am I sharing this story? I like the quote above, and I feel it’s something we can all relate to. When we travel, I find that most of us will accentuate the negative like it needs to be paired with the positive. Think about it… when asking someone about a trip they’ve been on, they usually name the bad parts. “It was too hot”, “it was too cold”, “my flight got delayed and they lost my bags, I was so pissed”, “I got a million mosquitos bites, it was terrible”, “the food sucked”, “the people were rude”, and so on. I’ve recently started to notice this much more because when we tell people about places we want to visit, we often hear: “oh, I didn’t like it there…” (fill in the blank with specific reason), or “watch out, people are really racist there.” My thoughts are, we should try to cut down on the negativity and try to keep an open mind. In my case, I eventually saw the beauty in a place that makes me anxious. I took the bad parts and realized it was part of the experience. Travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, there are also hard times and that’s okay. That being said, I’m currently working on saying “California is a definitely an experience everyone should have” and I’ll follow that with a positive and honest comment like, “I LOVE San Diego!”
Now enough with the chatter. Here’s what we did:
Day 1: Arrived at Pismo Beach after sunset. Found a campground for $30/night with no amenities. Couldn’t justify the price so we headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had signs everywhere stating that overnight parking was prohibited. We spoke to another RVer who stated that the city is pretty strict with that rule. We went inside and spoke to an employee. The employee stated they usually send people to K-Mart down the street. We headed to K-Mart and no signs were posted. We were exhausted and decided to opt out of asking a K-Mart employee if overnight parking was okay. If we were told no, then we’d have to leave. If we didn’t ask, then we honestly didn’t know. I’d rather get a couple hours sleep and get a knock at our window to leave rather than getting no sleep while trying to find a place.
Day 2: We woke up at 6am and grabbed coffee at Carl’s Jr in the same parking lot. As we were ready to leave, a police officer slowly circled us. I waited for him to wave or come out to talk to us, but he didn’t. He left and so did we. This day was also our wedding anniversary, so we had to do something special. We headed north on Highway 1 and made our way towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle.
I was super excited to see Hearst Castle even though we knew nothing about it. I heard about it growing up in northern California and always heard great things. We arrived at Hearst Castle and saw that the area is a California State Park. The place was busy and they only had port-a-potties due to the drought. We went inside to the information desk and I literally said “sooo.. what is this place all about?” The older man behind the counter laughed and gave us a brief yet in depth history of the castle. He also suggested that we visit the free museum. We headed over to the line at the ticket counter and found the prices for the tour were a bit high. $25 per adult and $12 for children over 5. We were not in the mood to spend $62 on a tour, so we grabbed food at the café then headed to the museum which was fairly empty. If you’re on a budget, skip the tour and head to the museum. It’s full of information and interesting exhibits.
SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH
We headed across the street to San Simeon State Beach. Beautiful place and dogs are allowed. We played around in the water for a bit. It was November, but it was warm and sunny. We had so much fun that we worked up an appetite, so we headed to our next destination down the street.
HEARST RANCH WINERY/ THE TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S
We walked over to Hearst Ranch Winery/Sebastian’s for some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary. Wine tasting is $10 per person, but if a bottle is purchased, one tasting is waved. We told the bartender that we intended on purchasing a bottle, so he suggested that we share a tasting to save $10. The tasting room also serves as a café so we also ordered food and Riley went through 4 small cups of ice cream. We had a really great time and the folks at this place were incredibly friendly. We chatted with them for a while and told them about our roadtrip. It was cool to also hear about their travel stories and places they would love to visit. We left with a $32 bottle of Malbec which was half the price of a castle tour! The day ended up being perfect and a very memorable anniversary for us.
WILLOW CREEK ROAD DISPERSED CAMPING/ LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
We headed north on Highway 1 and spent 4 nights at a free campsite with an amazing view of the ocean. We found this spot on freecampsites.net and it was a great find. The only downside was the amount of trash we found scattered in the bushes, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from people these days. Our time at this campsite was AMAZING. We had this incredible view, I couldn’t believe we were camping for free. People pay good money to have a view like this from their hotel room, yet there we were in our homebuilt teardrop, camping for free while watching the sunset on the horizon.
Day 3-7: HIKING-BEACH ACCESS
There are many spots right off the 1 to go hiking. We love finding trails on everytrail.com
Here is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california
We took a mini hike behind the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This trail leads to a small black sand beach that is open to the public, but is known as a “private” beach because it’s hidden and usually empty.I read that beach access north of this point is very rare, so it was a treat to find beach access in Big Sur. Head behind the cafe and you’ll see a warning sign at the start of the nature trail. The rugged trail is steep with switchbacks and drops 300 feet in 1/8th mile. It was a short yet heart pounding hike. I lost my footing a couple times, so I’d recommend a good pair of hiking boots. There were several people looking at the view from the top of the trail, but we were the only ones who hiked it. There was a family dressed in workout clothes at the trailhead, so I thought maybe they were going on a hike, but when their pre-teen kids asked to hike down, they were quickly reprimanded! That kind of gives you an idea of what this trail looks like. It’s definitely not for your average tourist, but it’s totally worth the views and having an entire beach to yourself.
See, I told you California is an experience. Information is below!
*HIGHWAY 1 CAMPSITE – source: freecampsites.net
Willow Creek Rd
Big Sur, California
GPS: 35.886967, -121.45916
Website suggests rigs should not be longer than 30 feet.
Keep an eye out for the Treebones Resort, it’s the same road off Highway 1. Once you make the turn on Willow Springs, turn left for free camping because a right turn takes you towards the resort. You’ll see the National Forest signs with camp rules. We camped on one of the first pull outs up the hill. Initially, we kept driving up the steep hill and realized we lost our great view of the ocean. Turning around with the trailer took a bit of skill, but luckily Bear’s giant tires made it easy to turn around and head back down the hill. I would not recommend this site to big class A’s. You might get stuck!
*SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH:
I wanted to add the yelp site so you can see what others are saying about the beach. This is located right across the entrance to Hearst Castle on Highway 1. And it’s DOG FRIENDLY!
*HEARST RANCH WINERY/TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S:
442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon, CA 93452
Hours: Open Daily 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM
*RAGGED POINT INN WITH TRAIL ACCESS TO BEACH
19019 CA-1, Ragged Point, CA 93452
Hiking List: http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california
*K-MART NEAR PISMO BEACH:
*The store is actually located in Arroyo Grande
1570 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Phone: (805) 481-8484