Van Life in California: Camping & Adventuring Tips

California seems to be at the top of many van life destination lists. One could argue that it’s the most popular state for van life overall. With the variety of scenery and activities California can provide, it’s no wonder that the state is so intriguing. Want mountains for hiking or skiing? Beaches for sunbathing and swimming? How about cities with diversity and excitement? California checks all of the boxes.

Why Van Life in California?

Co Written by Sierra Eberly and Dave Lewis

California seems to be at the top of many van life destination lists. One could argue that it’s the most popular state for van life overall. With the variety of scenery and activities California can provide, it’s no wonder that the state is so intriguing. Want mountains for hiking or skiing? Beaches for sunbathing and swimming? How about cities with diversity and excitement? California checks all of the boxes.

5 Best National Parks to Visit

California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state in the US. This doesn’t even include all the National Recreation Areas, National Beaches, and National Monuments. If you’re a National Park Chaser, California is the state to check a few off your list.

California’s best National Parks are popular and are just going to get even busier with time. Some are even implementing a reservation system to enter the park during peak times. All the more reason to plan your trip sooner than later to be able to experience these understandably outstanding National Parks.

We’re not going to review each park, but from what we’ve heard, the following five National Parks in California are a must-visit for van lifers and other tourists alike:

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is described as “Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.” If that alone doesn’t make you want to visit, we’re unsure what will.

Joshua Tree National Park

Boasting “Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features,” Joshua Tree National Park is truly magical.

Death Valley National Park

“The land of extremes” makes a visit to Death Valley National Park well worth it. Be sure to plan your timing here accordingly. They aren’t kidding when they say this National Park is extreme.

Sequoia National Park

Who wouldn’t want to see the largest trees on the Planet? Sequoia National Park will leave you marveling about “The Land of Giants.”

Redwood National Park

California takes the cake by also having the tallest trees on earth in Redwood National Park. It even has 4o miles of coastline, adding different scenery to the mix.

Explore California’s Beaches

Are you more of a beach person looking to catch some waves or relax in the sand? California has you covered. We started a “top beaches” list, but it could quickly have become an entire book in itself. We recommend looking at the region of California you’re planning on being in and choosing your beach based on amenities that meet your needs.

You can also opt to view the beaches by taking the scenic highway along the entire coast of California. Plenty of boondocking spots can be found on apps like iOverlander, or plan your trip strategically with the many, many reservable (far in advance) campgrounds along the coast.

California’s Public Lands

If you want to travel in true van life fashion, you won’t be disappointed with California’s public lands. There are 15 million acres of public land in California. Only being 15% of the state’s total landmass doesn’t leave you lacking options. California van life has it all, from sand dunes to the rugged wilderness.

Most public land allows for free dispersed camping for up to 14 days. Public land most commonly includes BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest land. Be sure to check before just showing up, as not all public land is open for dispersed camping. A good rule of thumb is to ask about dispersed camping at local visitor centers or call the public land management office directly.

3 Challenges of Van Life in California

Van life in California doesn’t come without a few challenges. With proper planning and some safety measures in place, you’ll still be able to have an incredible adventure.

Gas prices

It’s no secret that California has the highest gas prices in the entire country. This can put a damper on those who need to start on a tighter budget or if you don’t get great gas mileage.

Parking

There are limited parking options in California without putting in quite a bit of effort pre-planning for van life. Beachfront parking is limited and highly sought after. Stealth parking in hotel parking lots won’t be an option either. Even many rest stops don’t allow you to sleep in your vehicle overnight.

Rugged terrain

As with most public land when living van life, often access roads are rugged, unkempt, and unpredictable. Cell service is also sparse or non-existent in the backcountry. We suggest always having additional traction available and never heading to an unknown area without letting someone know your plans. If possible, carry a GPS SOS device to communicate in an emergency if you don’t have cell signal.

Ready to Van Life In California? Rent a Van!

If you’re ready to check out van life in California, you can find your perfect van rental with our extensive van rental directory.

5 Steps to Finding your Van Rental

No more scrolling through Google results to find your perfect van rental company. Our directory quickly filters van rental companies by region, state, and/or vehicle model. We have personally connected with each company and thoroughly vetted their offerings to ensure that what you see is what you get.

If you’re looking to find a van to rent in California, follow these five easy steps:

  1. Click the "Rentals" tab in the top menu
  2. Select California from the drop-down menu on the left
  3. Select your preferred van type from the drop-down menu to the right
  4. Cruise through van rental company listings
  5. Click on the title of a van rental company to view their profile OR click "go to website" to head directly to their site

It’s that simple. Now all that’s left is for you to share where you’re going! Drop us a comment below with any tips on van life in California!