As camping grows more and more popular, it gets harder and harder to score a campground reservation. This is particularly true outside the Bay Area, where the need to unplug from busy city life is acute, but the options for doing so within a reasonable distance from San Francisco are scarce. Enter Hipcamp, a brilliant option for finding a spot to park your camper van on your next San Francisco road trip.
The world’s largest provider of unique outdoor stays, Hipcamp offers tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses, glamping, and more—everywhere from national parks to blueberry farms. Increasingly, RV and camper van owners have come to rely on Hipcamp’s community of private landowners when looking for a spot to park their rig for the night. There are thousands of unique properties to choose from, so we asked GoCamp renter Anita Yung to check out some of the best options in the Bay Area.
Anita and her partner set out on a four-day, three-night San Francisco road trip. Along the way, they parked their rented camper van Balou in Hipcamp sites and had no trouble getting reservations just a few weeks out. Below Anita shares a full itinerary with links to campsites, tells us about a stop in Pinnacles National Park, provides restaurant recommendations, and more.
Day 1 – San Francisco to Tucker Ranch
We started our trip by signing off at work and heading to pick up our GoCamp van in San Francisco. The van had all the necessities. It included an induction stove, counter, fridge, sink, cooking supplies, and full bed with cozy bedding. All we really had to pack was our clothes and toiletries. There were camp chairs and a portable folding table ready for us to enjoy at our campfires. The van came with a detailed operating manual, and we were set! We stopped by our local grocery store and stocked our fridge for the three nights ahead of us. Since we started in the evening, we had a quick take out dinner and headed south to our first Hipcamp site, Tucker Ranch.
Located up a steep mountain range, our first campsite had a glorious view. Our van was stellar at climbing and we felt at ease with its power. We arrived just after dark and settled in the peaceful location. There was a fire ban at this campsite so we opted straight for the cozy bed. We spent a little bit of time reading our books before tucking in.
Day 2 – Tucker Ranch to Pinnacles Border Site
We woke up to the sound of a peacock which was surprising and funny. We opened the van door and saw for the first time the expansive view. It was breathtaking to see in the morning light. We were in the Los Gatos hills that overlooked Silicon Valley. It was the perfect view to start our trip. We cooked our breakfast on the induction stove, ate our eggs on toast, and then walked around the property a bit. A few friendly horses appeared and it was a magical scene. We watched them roam in front of the backdrop of the valley. Around mid-day, it was time to pack up and head to our next site about two hours south, near Pinnacles National Park. We were excited as we were eager for a campfire, so we hit the road.
We arrived around 3pm to a campsite nestled in a valley. Pinnacles Border Site was a campground with multiple sites on the same flat area, all marked with numbers. The host was there speaking with other campers. He welcomed us with firewood and told us about a short hike up the property to a great sunset watching point.
Even though the campsites were side by side, it was nice to say hi and meet the other campers. Everyone was really friendly and respecting of each other’s spaces. We prepped our dinner, collected firewood, and set up our camp chairs before heading up the hill to watch the sunset. It was indeed beautiful. The high vantage point provided a nice overlook of the camp area and the sun crested the other mountain top. It was perfectly quiet. We made our way down the hill, cooked some pasta in the van and ate our dinner while sitting by the campfire. There’s just something about watching the flames of a campfire that makes food taste that much better.
Day 3 – Pinnacles to Grey Oaks
When we woke up most of the campground was empty of our fellow travelers. Likely, most people were heading out to hike the Pinnacles. In rained heavily in the middle of the night, which was quite relaxing while sleeping in the van and listening to it hit the roof. We made some coffee, tidied up the van and got on the road towards Watsonville. I used to live in Santa Cruz and knew of a hidden gem of a burrito place, called Ranch Milk. Unassuming in a gas station, it is one of the best breakfast burrito spots in Watsonville. We filled up our tank and ate the burritos that tasted just as great as I remembered. Our last Hipcamp site, Grey Oaks, was located just 15 minutes just east of Watsonville.
We got to the property in the afternoon and our host greeted us with a small basket with two eggs from their chickens! What a delight! He showed us to our campsite. It was tucked within some trees with a picnic table, campfire ring, and free firewood. He also gave us an over the fire popcorn maker with kernels and butter and wow, it did not disappoint!
The site was amazing, there were four campsites that shared two communal composting outhouses. Everything was so well maintained that our stay was beyond comfortable. A nearby walking trail led you to their horses and chicken coup that you could visit as well as a koi pond. For dinner, we roasted hot dogs over the fire and cooked some veggies over the induction stove. The firewood was cedar and smelled heavenly. Cooking the popcorn was the best part. We ate till our stomachs hurt.
Day 4 – Back to San Francisco via Highway 1
On the last morning, we woke up rested and full of energy. It was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time! We had a slow morning, enjoying the relaxed pace. For breakfast, we cooked the two eggs that the host gave us and enjoyed our coffee in the morning light. Since it was a beautiful and sunny day, we decided to take Highway 1 along the coast back to San Francisco. Along the way, we popped into Pescadero for a cup of coffee and then sailed smoothly up the 1.
We stopped at a state beach parking lot on the way up and relaxed with the doors open. From the bed, we watched the surfers in the water.
Balou, our rented Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, was incredible and I only wish I owned a camper van of my own now. It was just the perfect amount of space with everything we needed and nothing more. I can’t wait to book our next trip.