Van Camping! Big Sur, California
A few weeks ago, my friend and I traveled up the coast of California, without an agenda, but only a final location in mind.
Big Sur is about 6.5 hours away from Los Angeles, by mini-van, and the coastline of the park itself is 89 miles. We didn’t know that last part. All we knew, is that we got a really late start, and by the time we got up there, it would be dark, and we hadn’t reserved a campsite. What we did have was a really sweet mini-van whose seats folded down and away into the floor and the knowledge that in California, it is now perfectly legal to sleep on public property. I know the sign at your local park probably says closed at dusk, but it is safe to say you won’t get arrested if you lay down your sleeping bag on the sand beneath the swings and catch that Eta Aquarids meteor shower that will hardly be visible in the northern hemisphere this weekend. (edit – last weekend)
Camping like this is not for the high-maintenance. On a 3 day trip, I showered zero times, went to the bathroom in a porta-potty a few times, but when that wasn’t available it was straight into the bushes. ‘Um, I’m gonna go for a walk.’ Big Sur is pretty quiet, but it’s also pretty well traveled, so be ready for some car lights to come around the corner and catch you like a peeing deer in headlights.
By not having a plan, we made some awesome discoveries. On the way up, we stopped at a beach to catch the end of the sunset and found bunches of sea dollars lying around on the beach. If those sea dollars were real American money, we would been rich…or at least had enough money to spend the weekend in a lodge with a hot tub instead of on a ledge in the middle of nowhere next to a fire pit that we were too lazy to light. Hmm…I’m not sure if I’d trade in my sand money for that tradeoff.
The first night we didn’t decide on a spot until 1:30am. We pulled over to the side of the road and got into the back of the mini-van. We popped open a bottle of wine and hung out till we fell asleep. In the morning, we heard a buzz of people walking by the van. Opened the door to find this…beachfront property.
The next day we spent driving up and down the 80 mile coast. We stopped at a little park. It may have been called Sand Dollar Park. Grills and bathrooms abound, with $10 to park for the day. It was time to cook some food on the grill! P.S. You also have to be very patient if you’re going to go camping. They next morning it took at least an hour to make the 5-minute quick oats.
But, oh, did we find something special here! Party Beach! Okay, we named it, yes. There’s a pathway down to the beach, and be careful, because it’s a steep climb. Take the right at the fork, otherwise, you’ll end up trekking over a slippery road of rocks, as you see all the college kid fun happening at party beach in the distance. Oh, the rocks, they’ll feel like a great massage if you like the feel of rocks under your feet, but for those more sensitive soles, just make sure you take a right at the fork. Ouch!
California coast water is pretty cold, and the water in Big Sur is raging because of the rocks, so bring your bathing suit and hopefully you’ll find a nice stagnant pool of water that’s detached itself from the ocean at low tide. And maybe you’ll even find some swimming ladybugs! Did you know ladybugs could swim? I can’t believe I didn’t join these beauties in the pool. I just wasn’t feeling a swim.
Finally for the big gem. N…. road. Nacimiento? If you’re driving north, it’s on the right hand side. I remember seeing something about free camping on this road as I quickly scanned a website prior to our trip. The signs posted said that you needed a permit, but, ‘sorry campground officer sir, we didn’t see a place to pay for a permit…’ We were ready with our cover story. As we drove up the curvy road that overlooked the Pacific Coast Highway, the landscape got greener and the view more beautiful. We picked a spot on a cliff that had a little makeshift fire pit, and danced around in the moonlight as the fire pit lay cold. Haha, well, that’s a different story. You get to learn a lot about someone when spending dusk till dawn with them minus any technology. Oh, did I tell you that there is absolutely no service in the park? None. Enjoy it.
And there are only 2 gas stations maybe: one at the south and one in the north. $7 a gallon and $4, respectively, maybe. Fill up before you even get there!
So camping wise, we spent $10 to park in that little park one day and just hang out. Got there Friday night, stayed Saturday night, and left Sunday. We must have saved like 400 dollars!
Don’t forget the firewood, the wine (the bottle opener), and the cooler packed with food.