Our Travels in California: San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Joshua Tree


In our last Travels of California article, we talked about our day in the Redwoods, our excursions in the Bay Area, and our drive down Highway 1 and 101. But we stopped the adventure before we got to our next destination, San Diego. This article will chronicle the rest of our time in California, where we stayed in the general areas of San Diego, Los Angeles, and Joshua Tree. We hope you enjoy learning about what we’ve been up to! If you want more real-time updates on our travels, I suggest you check out our Instagram, where we post somewhat regular and significantly more timely stories of our journey. After our travels in California, we are making our way to Arizona!

San Diego

We got to San Diego on Sunday afternoon, with just enough time to figure out where to stay for the night. After driving all weekend, and moving around quite a lot the week before, we were greatly in need of a laundromat. After finding one that looked clean and affordable in town, we did a large amount of laundry while catching up on work and found a place to sleep in the same neighborhood. On Monday, we spent the day working in the van while parked in Balboa Park. There, we saw many other van and RVs go by and even had a chance to meet a lovely Brazilian couple living in their RV a few parking spots over from us. In the evening, we went to the gym and found a place to stay for the night.

All of the Anytime Fitness gyms in the San Diego area are outside of the main city area, so each day we went to the gym, we had to drive at least a half hour to get there. Because of this, we ended up spending a few days hanging out at the Starbucks outside of town next to the gym so we weren’t driving back and forth. During the week we spent our days mostly in the beachfront parking lot in La Jolla, at the Starbucks next to the gym, and checking out the neighborhoods of San Diego.

On Saturday, after being in San Diego for almost a week, we went to the event that spurred us to go to San Diego so quickly, the van meetup. This was an incredible event where we got the chance to meet so many amazing people who are living or are interested in living life on the road. We spent all day at Fiesta Island enjoying the company of like-minded people and crashed in a pile of exhaustion at the end of the day (other introverts out there will understand). On Sunday, we decided to get another stamp in our passport and check out Cabrillo National Monument. We had amazing weather (sunshine and warm enough to wear shorts) and Cabrillo offered us an amazing view of San Diego and the ocean.

Our last few days in San Diego were uneventful as we recuperated from expending so much energy being social on Saturday and got back into the swing of working. The only thing of note was finding a great physical therapist to visit on our last night in town for some guidance on stretches and moves to help strengthen my calves and alleviate soreness and pain.

Where we stayed

In the beachside neighborhood in La Jolla and we know others who have stayed on Fiesta Island

Los Angeles

We arrived in LA on Wednesday night, our first stop was for a treat at Momofuku Milk Bar. We first discovered Milk Bar in New York and have been obsessed with them ever since. They make delicious birthday cake truffles, something called crack pie, and sweet and salty corn flake cereal milk ice cream. We love them so much that Ben ordered treats from them for my birthday last year. After indulging ourselves with dessert, we made our way to North Hollywood and found a quiet street to stay the night. We spent most of our time in the North Hollywood area because we were meeting a friend up there, it was quiet, and there were plenty of places to stay the night.

On Thursday, I met up with a friend at Groundworks Coffee (this excited Ben tremendously as Groundworks is a Portland-based company that has amazing coffee). After work on Thursday, we decided to check out the Griffith Observatory. We parked in a lower lot, took the bus up to the observatory, and marveled at the views. From the observatory grounds, you could see terrific views of LA, the Hollywood sign, and get a full view of the observatory itself. It is a grand building filled with all sorts of cool displays and information. While we didn’t stay long enough to look through the telescope after dark, we did stay to see a colorful sunset over the city.

Where we stayed

North Hollywood around Verdugo Park but really anywhere people are already parking on the street seemed fine as long as you are respectful, quiet, and keep to yourselves.

Santa Barbara

Over the weekend, we drove up to Ventura and, more specifically, Santa Paula. I actually grew up in Santa Paula and had the chance to relive some great memories when we drove by my grandparents' house (which they owned for most of my life up until college when they moved to Oregon). The mailbox that my grandmother painted is actually still in the yard! After a trip down memory lane, we hung out for the weekend and made our way to Santa Barbara on Monday.

We drove by Santa Barbara on our way down to San Diego but made our way back to check out the cute little downtown and visit with some family of Ben’s vacationing there. It was great to see some familiar faces and have a mellow evening and dinner with family. And we didn’t have to find a parking space for the night because we could just park in their spot!

We made our way to Joshua Tree over the course of two days. It’s only about 3 hours away but as we approached San Bernadino, we were tired, and we were having some difficulties with the house batteries charging improperly. So we picked up a few things from Home Depot, made our way to Bass Pro Shop for the night, and while I made dinner, Ben made some changes to how we were charging our batteries. Apparently, he tried to clean things up with the wiring back in early January and it wasn’t working as well to connect the alternator and the house batteries as the original setup so he reverted it back to what we originally had. The next day, we drove to the Palm Desert/Palm Springs/Indio area to workout, work, and fill up on groceries and water since it’s the last real town before getting to the desert area of Joshua Tree and beyond into Arizona. On Thursday, we drove out to Joshua Tree in the afternoon after spending most of the day working.

Where we stayed

In Santa Barbara, we stayed in the driveway of a family member’s house. in San Bernadino, the Bass Pro Shop lets you stay overnight as long as you email the manager and provide a description of your vehicle.

Joshua Tree

When we arrived at Joshua Tree on Thursday evening, we found a camping/parking spot on some BLM land outside the south entrance to the park and our first order of business was to give Ben a haircut. I have started giving him haircuts since in most towns they want to charge $30+ for a men’s cut that is who knows how good. And because we already have clippers for Arrow’s hair, I can use those and some scissors to trim up Ben’s cut and make it last for 2-3 times as long.

On the BLM land, there is surprisingly good cell signal, so we were able to work there on Friday without any trouble. So Ben worked the day away while I started in on a book that ended up taking up more than 15 hours of my weekend (I’m an obsessive reader). Saturday was spent having a leisurely morning complete with pancakes then driving around the park.

I did not know how massive Joshua Tree National Park was, but it took us hours to drive through the park without going on any long hikes. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus Gardens and did a short little walking tour of the area; the cacti look like some sort of fuzzy sea plant from far away but up close they look deadly with all their spikes. We stopped at the Oasis Visitor Center to grab a few postcards and a sticker for our ever-growing collection, fill up on water, and have a snack before continuing on around to the Joshua Tree Visitor Center entrance and back south. We got a great look at the Joshua Trees in the park and walked around some of the more populated areas to get a good look at the strange Dr. Seuss-esque trees.

The park itself was very busy, full of hikers, climbers, and those escaping the cold winter. We had beautiful sunny weather every day and enjoyed the chance to wear short-sleeved shirts and sunglasses.

Where we stayed

On BLM land at the south entrance to the park.

On Sunday, we left California and headed into Arizona. We greatly enjoyed our time in California and expect that we will probably be back early next year as well to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. We hope to be able to attend the meetup again next January as well as a meetup we missed out on earlier in Arizona. Keep check back in the weeks to come to learn about our travels in Arizona and some interesting facts about the Grand Canyon. (Did you know it was preserved as a National Park February 26, 1919? That means this is the 100th year of the Grand Canyon as a national park and we intend on being there to celebrate her.)