RV Life – week 9 – San Francisco

Here in California we plan to spend a few months dodging the winter and implementing our new 14 days in the Thousand Trails parks and 7 days boondocking schedule.

We roll into California still high on our Oregan buzz and are hit with some new changes. For starters, and probably most important – it is incredibly difficult to dry camp at any establishment because of their new bi-laws. Due to the high numbers of homelessness and the amount of people who are now forced to live out of their cars (umm hello middle class) the state has now made it illegal to park overnight at most places. 

I guess the people living in their million dollar homes were sick of getting bummed out by seeing the lower class “slum” it in their car in front of their mansions. How dare they.

This leaves us without a stop on a 14 hour journey since even our beloved WalMart is forced to follow these rules. We resort to pulling our RV onto the side of a curb (with a few other poor souls) BESIDE the Walmart and try to get a few hours sleep before continuing our way south. 

I must say, aside from that disastrous night in Naples, this was the worst night sleep of my life. Up to this moment, dry camping out in the woods and sleeping in parking lots has never bothered me. I always felt safe in the company of others doing exactly the same thing. Not here. There was no sleeping with the sounds of sirens, domestic squabbles and every few minutes hearing rustling beside your trailer. Let’s just say we eagerly escaped the madhouse come morning and the arrival of Bryan with a shopping cart full of groceries. 

California is not what we expected. When you think of the golden state, you are transported to a place of surfers, beautiful women, and fame and success. Yeah not quite. There is a great divide between that picture and what it really looks like here. 

Bryan put it perfectly; “California is hard on people.”

The best I can understand, is that so many have flocked to California in search of a break only to come up empty handed when the reality of life is forced onto them. 

Our final destination is Yosemite National Park where we will spend two full weeks. We are so tired from moving every few days, that we can hardly believe that we will get the opportunity to just sit and relax. But not quite yet. We still have a few stops ahead of us before we reach this destination. 

We arrived at our first campground in the Sonoma Valley, the land of wine and… well I think wine is all they do here.

Our first taste of California is Santa Rosa, the birthplace of Charles Schulz and his beloved Peanuts. It’s also Bryan and I’s 12th wedding anniversary.

But like everything in California, Santa Rosa (which is giving Moses Lake a real run for its money in the “best city” department) just isn’t quite as charming as we had initially hoped. We roamed the streets looking for culture and life, only to find transient and homeless.

The day was not lost however, as we retreated to a Barnes and Noble for the afternoon and a few dishes of paella in the afternoon. The food was amazing, even tempting Charlie to have a her own plate (OMG!), however we were feeling like we didn’t quite celebrate our anniversary to the full extent that we wished we could. 

So the only way to top it, was to pack up early and hit the road for day in San Francisco. Remember, everything in California costs money, which really rubs me the wrong way since I don’t like to do anything that costs money – but I think I have cracked the code on this. 

There is a rest stop on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Epic views, with absolutely no cost. At least that is what the few reviews said on Campendium, my go to source for free camping. 

So before reading any further down the page I get Hunter on board, and Bryan is reluctantly behind. We pack up all our belongings and leave our campground early – a strange move I know – but I have big dreams here and am playing the “anniversary” card.. so the family is forced on board. 

We hit the freeway at about 4pm all excited to spend the night at this fabulous FREE rest stop overlooking the golden gate bridge with a full day in San Francisco tomorrow when it occurs to me that I should most likely read the rest of the reviews on this “camping” website. 

Upon further discovery, it becomes clear to me that in order to access this “free” rest stop, one must cross the golden gate bridge, pay the $45 (American!) toll charge, do a U-Turn and come back over the bridge again. This rest stop is on the SOUTH side and can only be accessed from the highway LEAVING San Francisco.

At this point I am keeping my cards pretty close to my chest. I know if I come forth with this new information it could totally spoil our entire plan, and we may have to ditch San Fran all together.

This, is not free, and it certainly is not EASY. If we manage to make this U-turn in the city of San Francisco with a 50 foot rig combo (let that sink in for a minute) we then have to fight for the only THREE RV spots available. Again, information learned only after I finally read the remaining reviews. 

About 30 minutes before the bridge, and after 45 minutes of exhaustive research trying to save my ass I have to fess up. 

At this point, almost 2 months into this fantastic RV journey, I truly have to give Bryan some serious props. Living with me is a major rollercoaster. I want the world, but only if it’s free, and let me tell you – that does not exist. 

…Well maybe not. ..

We decide to go for it. Worst case scenario, we have to turn around and pay the $45 (AMERICAN!!!) and just admit that it was … Ahem.. a bad idea and head towards our next destination. 

We cross the Golden Gate bridge, kids all super excited, and do the dreaded U-Turn in downtown San Francisco and start to make our way BACK across the bridge when we see – there is a spot for us to park!!


We unpacked our bikes the next morning and biked over the bridge and into the city for a day full of fun. I am telling you, biking San Francisco is the ONLY way to see this beautiful city.

Every time we see a photo of the golden gate bridge the girls say “I BIKED THAT!!”

We took in the sights at the Fisherman’s Wharf, saw the barking sea lions, attended a playground (obviously) and tasted the famous chowder and sourdough bread. So Good!

San Francisco is so amazing, and definitely worth the visit. After over 15 miles back and forth on the bike, we packed up our rig, watched the sun set on that golden bridge before making our way back onto the highway to our next destination – Lake Tahoe. 

** Just a quick update, when we tried to pay our toll for crossing the bridge, the lady said that the camera didn’t pick up our licence plate and that we did intact have a free night out in San Francisco. YES! 

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