Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

One Tank Trip for California Camping (Central)

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Ocean Mesa Campground

The central coast of California has a personality all its own. The setting is like something out of a Gothic romance novel; you’ve got the fog-shrouded cypresses growing along the cliffs, overlooking the surf as it pounds mercilessly against the rocks. Conversely, there are miles of warm, sandy beaches with rides and attractions, and just a few miles away you’ll be able to enjoy some of California’s finest wines at any number of local vineyards.

Do you know the way to San Jose? Let’s hope so, because that’s where our cruise through central California begins this one tank trip. There’s a wealth of things to keep you entertained, from touring the various missions and historic monuments in Old California, to visiting museums like the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, or taking a trip to the world-famous Winchester Mystery House, where the structure is ever changing.

Provided you find your way out of the Winchester House, head south on Highway 17 for 27 miles until you come to Santa Cruz. You’ll see that this town is something of a throwback to the peace-and-love hippie days of the 60s, but has a very youthful, hip vibe, that attracts visitors from all around. The Boardwalk is a particular favorite, with its array of eclectic shops, food vendors, and thrilling rides. You’ve probably seen the Boardwalk already, since it’s been featured in several films and TV shows such as the sequel to The Sting and The Lost Boys. You might also enjoy investigating the Felton Covered Bridge, originally built in the late 1800s. Another interesting landmark is the Mission Historic Park, the site of a recently restored adobe constructed from mud and straw in the late 18th century by the local Native tribes.

Located 40 miles south from Santa Cruz via Highway 1, the picture-postcard town of Monterey is considered by many to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. Its quiet atmosphere lends to the feeling that you and your loved one are the only two people in the world, and with plenty of vantage points to take in some truly wondrous views, you might want to grab a bottle of wine, find a spot overlooking the ocean for a late afternoon picnic, and just listen to the crashing waves. Monterey is also the home of the prestigious Monterey Bay Aquarium, which features more than 200 species of aquatic life in some truly breath-taking habitats. In addition to many permanent residents, the aquarium hosts several traveling events and exhibitions, so there’s always something new to see. If it’s beach activities you’re looking for, the Marina State Beach at Monterey and the Carmel River State Beach provide more than enough sandy shoreline for your enjoyment and California camping.

From here, it’s on to Salinas, made famous by author John Steinbeck. Roll east on Highway 68 for a little less than 20 miles, and you’ll soon find yourself in the land depicted in East of Eden. In addition to featuring landmarks and historic sites devoted to this literary master, Salinas has a quaint Old Town district that you’ll definitely want to investigate. Salinas is also where you’ll find some of California’s richest wine country, so treat yourself to a tasting or two and see what pleases the palate.

Driving south on the 101 Freeway through a little over 90 miles of scenic territory takes you to your final one tank trip stop of Paso Robles. This is also considered one of California’s premium wine spots, with an abundance of vineyards that grow some of the best wine grapes in the world. While the town may seem small, it’s nonetheless filled with plenty to keep the most jaded vacationer entertained. There are museums, a quaint shopping district filled with locally-made crafts, and foodstuffs suited to complement that bottle of cabernet or chardonnay you have already picked up. If you’ve planned your California camping visit for the late summer, you’ll get to enjoy the annual Mid-State Fair, which has featured such A-list musical entertainers as Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Eddie Money, and a slew of others too numerous to mention here.

No doubt about it, central California is as diverse as its people, and just as welcoming to new and returning travelers alike.

Woodall's Recommended California RV Campgrounds