RV Camping Getaway

First Person Experience

Adena Zender is a middle school teacher/influencer living in Santa Barbara with her husband, James, two children, Duke and Maile, and boxer pup, Koa. Their pandemic pivot resulted in a new mode of travel that is introducing them to unexpected California adventures, like-minded friends, and lifelong memories. 

Never Say Never: How We Became an RV-Loving Family

Thats it… we are never going camping again,” I growled at my husband after waking up exhausted from a sleepless night in our windblown tent.

Seriously?!” he replied.

Seriously,” I stated. Then I clarified, Unless.” I paused. “Unless we get an RV or trailer, Im never doing this again. I want a comfortable bed to sleep in and a clean bathroom.”

As my middle school students understand, I am a woman of my word. Since that day, I have never tent camped again. Fast forward four years from that declaration — it was the summer of 2020 and we had planned to take the kids to Hawaii for our family vacation. Lo and behold, the pandemic hit and our travel plans were halted, just like the rest of the world.

Featured Photo: Stijn te Strake
Photo: Courtesy of Adena Zender

And if this wasnt the perfect time to do it, I dont know what was. I texted my husband at work on a Friday, about how I was manifesting a travel trailer for our family. We are big into manifesting. After pulling a silly prank on me about purchasing a refurbished mobile man cave,” my husband agreed to go RV shopping that Sunday. He made it clear that he thought, we were just looking,” but according to me, we were just purchasing.” Our shopping styles have always been a bit different. 

You know what sold us? What actually sold the whole family? It was the lanai. I know youre thinking, Lanai, how is there a lanai on a trailer?” Oh but, there is. Its called a Toy Hauler and the back opens down into a deck or ramp to bring in all your big toys, like dirt bikes and motorcycles.

This was the beginning of my love affair with camping. Not the kind of camping where you pitch a tent in the dirt, sleep on a blow up mattress that has a slow leak, and wake up exhausted from hearing other campers yell all night as they party by their campfires. Oh no, this kind of camping is bougie — its glamping at its best. Did we purchase a trailer that day? We absolutely did! And our family has never been the same since. We are now a part of the new Covid Crew, RV-loving Americans. 

Photo: Courtesy of Adena Zender

Top Location Highlights

If you decide to dive into the RV camping world, there are many amazing sites you dont want to miss along the California Coast and nestled in California’s mountain ranges, too. Here are some of them.

Tahoe Valley Campground

Moving from north to south, we begin at Lake Tahoe. Oh, our blessed lake in California. It is the largest lake in North America, as many of you know — over 1,600 feet deep and 22 miles long. If you havent been to Lake Tahoe in the summer, its a must see spot. We were so stoked to reserve a place for a week at the Tahoe Valley Campground in the middle of the summer. TVC is affiliated with Encore Resorts and Thousand Trails. Both companies encompass fantastic camping sites with amenities for even the pickiest campers. This site is surrounded by huge, Goliath-sized pine trees that give you a sense of majestic beauty. 

Tahoe Valley Campground was a blast for our whole family and our best friends who camped with their pop-up trailer next to us. We had plenty of space to stretch out and create little zones. Im all about the zones — cooking zones, eating zones, fire-pit roasting s’mores zone, and creative play zone for the kids. The campground itself has plenty of amenities for families including a clubhouse, great showers, a pickleball court, basketball and volleyball courts, a swimming pool, playground and more.

Our days were filled with exploration, hiking, swimming in the pool, biking on the dirt paths, and of course renting a pontoon boat and jet skis for the day and ripping up the lake. Our nights were filled with barbecued tri-tip, sauteed veggies on the grill, local wines and sticky sweet s’mores around the campfire pit. Ahhh, speaking of campfire pits, its always best to bring your own; you never know what surprises you may find at the bottom of those pits. Our family recommends portable wood or gas fire pits. They put off amazing heat and fire without the smokey side effects. Some campgrounds only allow gas fire pits, so you want to be prepared with both. This weeklong trip was one of our best memories of 2020. Tahoe Valley Campground, we will be back again to create more camping magic. rvonthego.com

Photo: Courtesy of Adena Zender

Cava Robles

Now moving south down the 101 Freeway, this spot is smack dab in the middle of California, on the Central Coast. Cava Robles in Paso Robles has become a family favorite because theres something for everyone. Beautiful views and on-site wine tasting for the parents, and an awesome splash pad attached to the kids pool in addition to a playground. The whole crew can enjoy the larger pool and the two Jacuzzis, especially on hot summer days on the Central Coast. Throughout the Covid season, the pools have been open for 90-minute time blocks to give all the guests a chance to swim in small groups. And when youve been in quarantine with your crew for so long, getting outside to swim and cool off is extra refreshing. 

Even though the Farmhouse Bar & Bistro has been closed during Covid, the Cava staff make sure the camping guests have access to the Cava market and can taste wine in various lounge-y spots outside by the fire pits and all around this luxurious property. They even bring in fabulous food trucks on the weekend for their glampers. Delicious carne asada tacos anyone? Guests can also rent golf carts and scooters and cruise around the property or play mini-golf with the family. And Fido doesn’t have to suffer. This glamping hot spot has a dog park and a place to run your pup onsite, too. Long story short: staying at Cava Robles is like having all the amenities of a lavish resort right outside your travel trailer or motorhome. sunrvresorts.com

Photo: Courtesy of Adena Zender

Ventura Ranch KOA

About a three-hour drive south of Paso Robles is the Ventura Ranch KOA, in Santa Paula off the 101 Freeway. This was a huge family hit. Its also a blessing for travelers who live in Santa Barbara or Ventura County because we dont hear the dreaded question from the kids, Are we there yet?” Since its only about an hour-and-a-half away from our home in Santa Barbara. If you want a close getaway, I recommend this awesome campsite. Its made for adventure and local groups like The Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts of America practice here on the zipline and ropes course.

Something unique to this campground are the peacock families that roam the property. We thought it was just a one-time sighting when we arrived, but came to find out the history of the peacocks at the check-in desk. The peacocks had been on that land for generations and were owned by the Chumash Indians. Once the Chumash Chief visited the Australian Head of State, the Chief gifted the Australian leader peacocks as a welcoming gift. Thus, the peacocks have resided on the campground since. 

Ventura Ranch has ample activities for every type of camper. It boasts a rock-climbing tower, gem mining station, a rock labyrinth, and of course the incredible zipline and ropes course. The first few activities were fun for the kids, but the one that truly blew us away was the serious zipline and ropes course. This course is no joke. There are 6 ziplines and 12 individual ropes courses, which takes about 30 minutes to complete and its over 40 feet above ground. 

Heres a Mama brag moment. The bravery of our 8 year old daughter is astounding; she decided to do the whole ropes course by herself. Since it pushed my fear of heights’ limits, the coaches partnered my girl with another mom walking the course. My husband and I witnessed our daughter click into each carabiner and glide above our heads with pride, as if she had done it 100 times in her sleep. It was literally mind blowing! We came for a fun camping trip and left with a daughter who had conquered her fears like a boss. She even encouraged me to do it next time. Ventura Ranch KOA exceeded our expectations and made us want more. koa.com

Photo: Courtesy of Adena Zender

Big Bear RV Park

Last but not least, we cruise all the way down south off the 210 Freeway through the San Bernardino Mountains to Big Bear. A popular ski spot in the winter, but also an amazing getaway in the summer and fall. It has similar vibes to Lake Tahoe, but is a smaller town and a bit more intimate. 

Big Bear RV Park is a wonderful place to camp with the family. There are full hook-ups for your trailer or motorhome, great showers, a washer & dryer onsite and a community lounge with a pool table, TV and full kitchen. A big kitchen is always a bonus when youre traveling with friends and need more space to cook. 

We loved how close the campground is to the lake and all the nature trails surrounding the property. As a family, we are avid mountain bikers, or should I say, we love all toys with wheels. We bring bikes, hoverboards, one wheels, skate boards, you name it! Can you see why we needed to purchase the Toy Hauler? Big Bear RV Park did not disappoint. We found some crazy, fun biking trails to play with all our wheeled toys.

Since the lake was so close, we were able to swim and have beautiful lake days on the water. Renting kayaks and boats is also simple at Big Bear. Even though we have lots of toys with wheels, we usually rent all our gear for the lakes at our destination. The peacefulness of the mountains, the relaxation of the lake and the joy of adventure at our campsite made for a fabulous trip to Big Bear. bigbearrv.com

The Beauty of Renting RVs

For travelers who arent ready to invest in a camper or trailer yet, but want to test drive” the experience, RVshare.com is a fantastic place to start. Its like Airbnb for the RV world. Simply search your local city, see what travel trailers and motorhomes are available and rent one that suits your needs. Many even allow pets, so you dont have to leave your puppy at home or find a pet sitter. There are even trusted reviews of rented RVs and some families continue to use their favorite motorhome or trailer trip after trip. rvshare.com

Did the pandemic change the way you travel?

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