Highway One: 4 tips to take on California’s coast in a van

Taking a road trip up or down California’s Highway 1 is an item on most people’s bucket list. And for good reason. Dramatic coastline with large coastal mountains crashing into stunningly blue waters keeps your jaw open around every bend. But figuring out what to do and how to prepare for a trip down HWY 1 can seem overwhelming. Do you try to see it all or stay posted up at a primo spot? Is it better to wing it without reservations or plan out months in advance? 

Personally, we love a good dose of spontaneity when it comes to travel. And the Golden Coast is one of those places that truly allows it. All it takes is just a touch of preparation and some serious flexibility. Here are some of our tips and tricks for traveling the coast.

How to find a campsite 

Highway One California

Photo credit: @eremer

This is probably the most daunting part about traveling the coast. Overnight parking along HWY 1 is prohibited, so a campsite is the way to go. There’s 2 ways to secure a campsite:

1.) Book out a spot at a popular campsite 6+ months in advance 

2.) Arrive to campsites the day of and try to secure a first come, first serve site

We promise, the second option isn’t as scary as it sounds. Lots of campsites have this option and people who make reservations far in advance can be no-shows, leaving open spots. 

Before going, get the lay of the land. The coast is filled with different types of campsites, from being surrounded by towering Sequoias to open, airy beach camping. Know what campsites you’d like to try and get in so you can arrive at those first. Find out what time check-in is and try to be there before, so your chances of getting a spot are higher. However, you’ll likely need to be flexible as you might not get your first or even second choice. Basically, we’ve learned that if you find an open spot at a campground, TAKE IT. This is especially true if you’re traveling on a weekend during busy season. Which brings us to our next tip…

Travel during the week

Highway One California

Photo credit: @eremer

If you can swing it, staying along HWY 1 during the week is by far the best option. You’ll be beating the crowds along with the traffic. With less people, your chances of securing a first come, first serve campsite are higher and you’ll ease the stress of trying to find a place to camp for the night. If you can’t get swing having your trip fully during the week, try to at least leave Friday morning to beat the weekend rush. 

Be flexible

California Highway One

Photo credit: Nicole Y-C on Unsplash

As with most camping, it’s important to be able to ebb and flow with what comes your way to make the most of your trip. Weather may be bad; campsites might be full. Being open helps you adapt when unexpected circumstances come up. If the weather is bad and you’re on the northern half, drive south. If the campsite you were hoping to get into is full, keep driving until you find an open one. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised with your outcome.

Bring your own food/supplies

California Highway One

Photo credit: @eremer

Obviously, things are more scarce and expensive along HWY 1. So bring as many of your own supplies as you can. Plan out your meals and make sure you have all the supplies for it. Taking a Voyager van can help make your packing list a little shorter. Each comes equipped with a butane stove, cooler, pots, pans, plates, utensils, cups and coffee making supplies. Most campgrounds will have firewood, but some might not have water. Basically, if you have the room, bring it! 

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