Renting an RV in California

California: the Golden Coast. It’s one of the most lovely and most-visited places in the country, and for good reason. All along the coast, and much further inland, there are so many places to visit that are awe-inspiring. And with so much coastal highway, renting an RV in California and taking in all of the sights makes for a fantastic vacation.

Hitting the road in a rental RV is a great way to take in as much as you can, all while spending quality time together on the road. Plus with all kinds of state and national parks and other lands, staying amid nature in your RV means you get to fully immerse yourself in a real California vacation.

Because California’s terrain and land vary so much from the southern coasts to the northern, and from the coast to the inland forests, there’s a ton to see and a little bit for everyone.

Why Renting an RV in California Is the Way to Go

California is a state practically designed to be seen by the road. That makes renting an RV in California an obvious choice for a vacation and the best way to take it all in. With Highway 1 running almost the entire length of the state along the coast, and various other roads leading through national parks, there’s an abundance of sights to see from the road.

Especially if you’re new to RVing, renting an RV is a popular and easy way to get to your vacation faster. We’ll never talk you out of buying one (in fact, we can help you find the perfect one for you), but there are a lot of upsides to renting an RV—especially in a state like California. The maintenance and upkeep associated with an RV can often be prohibitive to people who are interested in vacationing quickly.

Another reason to consider renting an RV is the costs in California. It’s not a cheap place, and hotels and food for you and your family can cost enough to prevent you from doing other, more exciting things. Camping at an RV campground, on the other hand, can save you a significant amount of money, and you’ll have a kitchen with you everywhere you go. If you’re interested in getting out and getting on the road fast and want to test out the RV lifestyle in California, renting an RV is the way to go.

10 Golden Places to See in California in Your Rental RV

California is a big state, and with such diverse landscapes, it’s difficult to plan everything you want to do. Thankfully, there are lots of places you can reach from the comfort of your rental RV. We’ve put together a list of 10 places that should be high on your must-see list for a vacation in California.

1. Yosemite National Park

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is one of California’s several beautiful mountain ranges, and Yosemite sits on the western side of it. Just within Yosemite’s 1,200 square miles, you’ll find a whole host of different landscapes, like sheer cliffs, deep valleys, meadows, wilderness, and forests. There are over 800 (yes, you read that right) miles of trails that are great for backpackers, and no shortage of other recreation.

Two famous cliffs, both Half Dome and El Capitan, are well known among rock climbers. Elsewhere in the park, there are art galleries and theaters, and orchestral productions if you’re looking for culture. And obviously, there’s a ton of camping available in the park—but be sure to book ahead because it fills up fast.

Learn more about Yosemite National Park.

2. Highway 1

Highway 1 is proof that California was made to be seen by the road. It’s a state highway that runs along the coast of California from Capistrano Beach (south of Los Angeles) to Leggett (well north of Sacramento). It’s commonly called the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH for short. It joins up at several points with Highway 101, another well-known north-south thoroughfare in California.

Taking this route in your RV gives you the opportunity to see a ton of the state’s attractions. Big Sur, a beautiful coastline known for its big coasts and bigger waves, is a key location. But there are dozens of places from start to finish that make for great side trips. The beauty of traveling Highway 1 in your RV is that if you see something that strikes your fancy, you can stop and take it all in as long as you want.

Learn more about Highway 1.

3. Disneyland

How could you not stop at the Happiest Place on Earth during your vacation in California? Disneyland is a huge tourist draw in Anaheim. Home to Disneyland Park, where you’ll find famous rides like It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion, Disneyland is a full resort with many other amenities worth trying out as well.

Daily parades and events make Disneyland an easy place to spend at least a full day—if not up to a week. Foodies? Disneyland is loaded with unique dining options that are fun for an entire family or just a couple. Just under a hundred attractions can keep you entertained and your imagination full. And if you need a break, there are pools and spas to help you relax and get ready for your next full day.

Learn more about Disneyland.

4. Death Valley

A place called Death Valley probably wouldn’t find its place at the top of your to-go list in California, but it absolutely should. Death Valley sits in the Mojave Desert and is one of the hottest places on earth. But with all that heat and desert come a lot of beautiful sights. Because it sits in a rain shadow of mountain ranges, there are glorious views of the peaks surrounding it. Inside the desert, you’ll also find large sand dunes.

While the temps in the summer can rise upwards of 120 degrees, proceeding into Death Valley with caution can leave you awe-inspired. The highest peaks in the desert may still have snow, while very rare rain showers will bring glorious fields of wildflowers. If you plan to visit Death Valley and get out of the comfort of your rental RV, take extra precautions. Drink lots of water and carry extra, wear breathable, long-sleeved clothes and wear sunscreen. Avoid hiking after 10 a.m. But after you’ve seen the sun rise over the desert, you’ll be plenty happy anyway.

Learn more about Death Valley.

5. Redwood National Park

What’s not to love about the tall, glorious redwoods? In Redwood National Park and State Parks, you can get up close and personal with them and stare up at some of the tallest trees on earth—and at more than half of the world’s entire redwood growth. But like much of California, there’s more than just forest in the national park. It’s also full of riverways, coastlines, and prairies.

The national park also partners with three state parks to make up the entire complex. Hiking is unparalleled with over 200 miles of trail systems. Take your time and walk among the redwoods, some of which are estimated to be almost 2,000 years old. You may also run across elk on your hikes or spot whales and seals along the coast.

Learn more about Redwood National Park.

6. Napa Valley

A name that’s known far and wide around the world, Napa Valley is one of the globe’s epicenters of wine culture. As a premier location for grape horticulture, wineries have sprung up (and continue to) over the last 100 years. Today there are around 400 wineries in Napa Valley.

Known particularly for their reds—especially Pinot Noirs—you’ll find wines of all types (including sparkling varieties) from the wineries. But part of Napa’s charm is its gorgeous surroundings. A nice drive through the valley will show you grape vineyards that are over 100 years old. Visit during harvesting season and you’ll see farmhands picking grapes by hand. And while wineries usually have space for your rental RV, there are many bus services that make it much easier to visit a variety of wineries in a day (or several). However you choose to enjoy, remember to do so responsibly.

Learn more about Napa Valley.

7. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and only trails the midwest’s great lakes in size. With all that water, it’s easy to see that Tahoe would be a huge draw for vacationers and locals alike for a lot of reasons. It sits at the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and it’s enjoyed year-round.

In the warmer months, you can expect a ton of recreational activities on the water like paddleboarding, sailing, jet skiing, and enjoying the beach. Off the beach, you’ll find areas to mountain bike and hike while checking out the views of the mountain range. But the fun doesn’t stop in the winter: Tahoe is a world-class ski resort as well. Tahoe is large enough and offers enough beauty to make it an easy stop (or the only one) on your RV vacation.

Learn more about Lake Tahoe.

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Who knew a desert would be so alluring? Joshua Tree National Park is named for the Joshua Trees that grow native to the Mojave Desert, and they look otherworldly—as well as a wide variety of other fauna in the area. Add all of the rock formations, and it almost looks like you’re on another planet.

Because Joshua Tree is technically a desert, you’ll want to take care when visiting and drink lots of water. But the extra prep will be worth it on a morning hike to see the unparalleled sunrise, or sit out at night and see the unbroken, uninterrupted beauty of the night’s sky. Rock climbing, birdwatching, and camping are all options too—including boondocking just outside of the park.

Learn more about Joshua Tree National Park.

9. Sequoia National Park

California loves its giant trees. Sequoia National Park is named for all of its giant sequoias. That also includes General Sherman: commonly considered the largest tree on earth. You can walk through the forest and feel minuscule among the trees, which commonly grow to 200 feet.

There are dozens of attractions inside the park, like the Giant Forest, the Tunnel Tree, and Mount Whitney: the tallest point in the contiguous United States. Hiking (like on the High Sierra Trail) allows you to see some of the beauty of the backcountry. There’s also camping, caves, Moro Rock, and a variety of other recreational activities.

Learn more about Sequoia National Park.

10. Salton Sea State Recreation Area

The Salton Sea has its own eccentricity, and along with that, plenty of charm. The Salton Sea has an extremely high level of salinity. When it pools in small areas on the beach, the salt creates interesting formations that are, frankly, strange to behold. There are 14 miles of beach shore, though because of its make-up, it’s not considered safe for swimming.

When you want to get away from the water, there are two hiking trails across from the beach. Had enough recreation? Stop up the road and check out the International Banana Museum, which has a world-record 25,000 banana-related items and house-made banana ice cream. Otherwise, the sunsets at the park are beautiful.

Campgrounds and RV Parks in California

Being absolutely loaded with national parks, California is a prime place for camping and RV parks.

 Many of the national parks allow camping, though, of course, those areas fill up very quickly. You’ll also find other camps and RV parks outside of every national park that will be every bit as enjoyable as staying inside the park. On any property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, you can boondock or dry camp. It’s a great option in very temperate areas.

Because California is such a spot for tourism and vacations, it’s important to plan your RV trip ahead. Reserve your campground spots and plan your routes so you can be prepared. See the Good Sam campgrounds in your area here.

Things to Know About Renting an RV in California

Things to Note About Camping in California

When you think of California you probably imagine year-round beautiful weather and temperate climates. While you’ll find that in some coastal cities, it’s not the case for the entire state. From the coast to just a few miles inland, the temperature can swing dramatically. It’s not unheard of to shift 10 to 15 degrees over practically no time at all.

Pack appropriately and dress in layers, especially if you plan to be out doing recreational things. If you’re going to enjoy the beach, bring a cover-up and lots of sunscreen. Mornings in areas like San Francisco can be downright chilly, while the mountains in northern California can have serious snowfall in the winter.

The point is that despite being one state, the entirety of California falls in a lot of different climates. It’s important to take care and pack appropriately when you’re traveling.

Another thing to note about camping in California is that almost annually, California suffers from wildfires. This happens because droughts plague a lot of the grasslands, causing plants to dry out. Then one spark can set an entire field ablaze, and wind spreads it quickly. When you’re camping and have a campfire, be sure to put it out completely with both water and stirring to make sure there are no embers remaining.

Dry Camping or Boondocking in California

California has a lot of property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can plan to boondock or dry camp on any of these lands—at least where you can easily drive your rental RV.

Dry camping or boondocking means you’re camping in your RV without hookups. You’re relying on the amount of water in your tanks and your generators for electricity. It does present a different kind of challenge than a traditional site with hookups, and it’s important to be prepared for what nature may throw at you.

If you can’t find a good spot in nature or if you’re simply tired and need to stop for the night, many large stores with big parking lots will allow you to dry camp overnight.