Just like the retired Baby boomers, we migrated south as fall temperatures in the Midwest began to drop. The sunny beaches and beautiful people lured us to the West Coast, but we didn’t find the area accommodating for our oversized truck + trailer. We can’t complain about relaxing days at iconic beaches, snorkeling around islands, sunset scooter rides, touring historical old towns, street performers, and going to local festivals and a major amusement park; however, we learned some lessons about camping in so-called SoCal along the way.
Lesson #1: Free camping on public land is non-existent. That means if you’re being frugal, the best you can hope for is sleeping at a parking lot or rest stop, and even that can be tricky with some restrictions. It is terribly awkward to crawl out of the back of your truck with bedhead trying to make your morning Joe and Corn flakes on the tailgate of the truck with a foamy Colgate-filled mouth while nosy shoppers are walking by pushing shopping carts. And having to use the restroom in the middle of the night is beyond awkward under the harsh glare of parking lot flood lights – not to mention most stores have passcode locks on their bathrooms to deter people they don’t take kindly to…like us! You might find a curbside “campsite” in front of residential housing, but opening blinds and peeping eyes can be discomforting when you’re just trying to get a little shut eye.
Lesson #2: Campsites cost more than hotel (or motel) rooms. While this wasn’t true 100% of the time, it was true enough in SoCal. We saw basic state-ran campsites ranging from $50-$75 due to their proximity to the beach. Evidently these campsites are funding SoCal economic issues. And campsites often didn’t have amenities like showers or water. So, when you realize you’re paying the same price for a crammed section of a paved lot, where you’re locked in the campground by 5pm, as a cheap room with a bed, hot shower and breakfast, it just sucks all the novelty out of camping. Not to mention that middle-of-the-night domestic disputes from neighboring campers and proximity to major highways aren’t easily blocked out with the shell of the truck topper as your shelter. A motel can be a welcoming place to recharge and fill water jugs, do sink laundry, charge devices, load up on shampoo bottles, and clean your make-up from the night before after a rowdy Halloween block party.
Lesson #3: Parking means learning lists of rules. As if the LA region wasn’t already difficult enough to maneuver around, its streets are covered in signs that designate where you can and can’t park. But instead of simply stating ‘No Parking’, you have to read all kinds of fine print about which days and times are A-Okay. It’s possible that available for a reason: a heavy homeless population, a tacky tourist trap, or miles from any notable landmark. As long as you’re in your vehicle (easy for us since we slept in ours), you can make a quick getaway and be less likely to get a ticket when parked unlawfully. SoCal spends more on “No Parking” signs than they do on road maintenance. And by the time you find a parking place suitable to your particular day of the week, you realize you’ve driven miles out of the way of your destination only to have found a spot that’s available for a reason: a heavy homeless population, a tacky tourist trap, or miles from any notable landmark. As long as you’re in your vehicle (easy for us since we slept in ours), you can make a quick getaway and be less likely to get a ticket when parked unlawfully.
Lesson #4: The heat can crash your party. While we smiled smugly when thinking about escaping the icy temps in other parts of the country, the heat turned out to be more than we asked for. SoCal was in a heat wave with record-breaking temperatures in the triple digits on a mid-October afternoon. Moped rides became sticky and our sweat soaked into each other’s cotton shirts. Sleeping in the back of the truck in 90-degree nights felt anything but glamorous after 3 days without a shower. Crabby the Clammy Swamp monster would be a more appropriate term for such nightmares of nights.
In general, SoCal has well established ordinances to banish free-loading car campers from an already much overpopulated area. It would be a travesty and a falsity to end with so much negativity, so we’ll let some of the picturesque moments we captured finish by speaking for themselves.