One way to affordably see all that California has to offer is to rent a Campervan.  I had never camped in my life before.  I felt secure traveling solo in a campervan and staying at campgrounds.  You can travel at your own pace, take a nap near the beach…sleep under the stars….

Campervan Laura Atkinson

This campervan was my traveling home for a week. It had a comfortable bed and a full kitchen with a fridge. Strawberries and avocados are inexpensive in California, so I stocked up!

Big Sur is a beautiful region in Central California. The road to get there alone provides some real beauty. Highway 1 is a series of twists and turns along a cliff-laden coastline. Ten minutes east and you are in thick forests and the Saint Lucia Mountains.   This part of Highway 1 wasn’t as severe as the northern part of the state!

p1060521Highway 1 North…somewhere between Fort Bragg and Point Arena…a twisty road with extraordinarily, ominous cliffs.  Throw in the added challenge of some one lane road closures, construction and wandering deer. One particularly precarious point is actually nick-named “Dramamine Road” with hairpin turns and steep roller coaster descent. (I grasped the steering wheel with all my strength, and renamed this road the Holy Sh#@ Highway.)

Every quarter mile there are “turn offs” where slow drivers can pull to the side to allow faster cars to pass them.  I was amazed by the number of zippy little sports cars that hugged the road.  Since I was in a top heavy camper van, I frequently pulled over the side.  This allowed me to not only catch my breath and balance, but also got to take a lot of photos of this beautiful coast line.2014-06-june-california3

My tip would to be to fill up your gas tank completely.  There is only one gas station that I found along the route, and they charged about $5.00 / gallon for gas.  They can get away with that because you’ll definitely be stranded on a cliff some where, and they are the only station along the route!  I added more gas to the tank when I got down as low as a 1/4 tank, because I had no perspective on how long the rest of the road would be.  That being said, I still find it to be worth every penny.

You just don’t see cliffs like this on the East Coast.

img_4835Monastery Beach in the Monterey area of California was a great place to rest for the night. The campervan fridge was stocked with chilled organic white wine and plastic cups, so this beach provided a great spot to watch the sunset and listen to the waves.

As an added bonus, at dusk the wild dolphins came out to play, splashing in the surf right on the coastline.  There were cheers and applause from people sitting around bonfires enjoying their evening every time a dolphin launched itself out of the water. It was magical to observe.

Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur California has reached the status of one of my favorite places on earth.2014-06-june-california1

I became absolutely captivated while watching and listening to the elements–the sound of the ocean crashing through the naturally formed rock doorway.  There was a special sense of energy being part of the elements mixing together, water vs. earth.

Since I was determined to put my feet into the Pacific ocean (one of those silly bucket list things) so I stood near the waterline at the entrance to the two caves to make some photographs. As I was snapping away, I found myself suddenly knee deep in a wave. A woman standing nearby but on the sand, who was also making photos, said “That’s so impressive, you didn’t even flinch! That water is freezing!” I guess that comes from years of childhood training of swimming in the cold waters of New England.

Did you know that the Point Arena Lighthouse is situated on the closest point of land to the Hawaiian Islands in the continental United States? The point is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean.  It’s a very isolated place, requiring a three mile drive down a narrow road before arriving at the lighthouse.img_5066

I almost wished that a coastal storm would start brewing so I could see this lighthouse in action.

Here’s some imagery of Bird Island, a section of Point Lobos, that paints a better picture of the trail. There’s a nice staircase lined with wildflowers to bring you to the overlook section. This year the Brandt’s Cormorants are breeding and nesting in view (photo of the birds making a large circle in the sand.) Interesting fact: The Brandt’s Cormorant is the least vocal of the North American cormorants at the nest. It makes sounds that are audible only from a few feet away.img_4938The park with the overlooks is really something special. You may want to hold your nose at Bird Island (thousands of birds are pretty smelly.) China Cove was blocked off, so the stairway down to the beach was inaccessible. The grounds here are maintained quite beautifully, and there was a student field trip group and an older group of nature lovers exploring the rocks.

San Francisco is colorful in all sorts of ways…between the fog, the restaurants, the hills and trolleys, the tourist traps and the traditional….p1060310 p1060788

However…when 100 happy and smiling nude bicyclists pedaled by my van I have to admit that I was surprised… now THAT’S not something you see everyday.

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Getting grounded — after a week in a campervan, things can feel a little gritty.  I turned in my rental, and got a hotel room the night before flying home.  I got to walk around the great town of Burlingame, which sounds like jazz, tastes like espresso and smells like lavender.  It’s the place to spend time waiting for your evening flight out of San Francisco International Airport.  A little travel secret, most of the hotels in the area have free shuttle service to Downtown Burlingame.  They provide a map, and you just wait for the pickup.  They are remarkably timely.


It was my final day in California, and I was simply too tired, and my feet had far too many blisters, to attempt to walk around San Francisco another time.  So I opted for the free shuttle.  I wound up sitting at a bar, sipping a double espresso iced coffee, listening to Sunday Brunch Jazz.  The female singer held a note for what seemed like two minutes. When I applauded,  she said “Thanks for paying attention.”  If it were later in the day, I would have opted for the promoted “caipirinha” drinks (thank you World Cup Brazil!)

From there, the nail salon opened, and I opted for a pedicure with a 10 minute foot massage / reflexology treatment.  My feet really felt damaged, this was a heavenly experience.