free camping in the bay area

Free Camping Near San Fransisco, and an AirBnB guest!

Just before Christmas I was trying to find travelers who wanted to help us pay for gas in exchange for a lift, but didn’t know where to advertise.
At the same time we were making comments about how owning a Westy is somewhere between owning a car and a house. And so I laughed about how I should forget about rideshare sites and just put it up on AirBnB.

So I did.

And then, next thing I know people are messaging me seriously trying to join us on our adventures and s*@# got real because I actually didn’t know if this worked with AirBnB’s terms and conditions, or if it was legal to spend the night in your vehicle in the area.

As it turns out, it’s illegal to sleep in your vehicle pretty much everywhere in the Bay Area (and most of Cali) and while we can get away with it if the top isn’t up… well it wasn’t going to work out with a paying guest. I had to turn the first few people away.

However, AirBnB was more than totally cool with it, and by the time Cheko contacted me, I’d done my research and had planned out a perfectly legal and doable little road trip adventure from San Fran to Sonoma Coast State Park, including mostly free camping and amazing sights.

Cheko’s an amazing dude from Mexico who recently quit his engineering job to do a bit of soul searching, and that’s how he found us.

We agreed to meet him in San Fransisco where we’d start our exploration with a tour of Alcatraz, something we probably would have skipped without an external influence, so thanks dude!


We missed our opportunity to reserve tickets ahead of time (while we’re on the topic, don’t get ripped off, get your stubs right from the official tour company Alcatraz Cruises, the other guys just buy from them anyway) so we had to hope for same day tickets, which can sell out pretty quickly.

So we met our stranger guest at the wee morning hour of 6am at Pier 33 (after finding free parking nearby at 2am and sleeping not-so-legally in our van) and were lucky, and early, enough to get ourselves some tickets.

The ferry ride alone and its view of the city is worth the ticket price.

Peeking through the morning fog. #SanFransisco

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Also in the price of the ticket for the Alcatraz tour, is a super amazing audio tour, and art exhibits that change throughout the year.

We prefer #freedom. #cantjumphighenough #alcatraz

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After our we headed up Russian Hill as far as BigBlu could make it to check out the gravity defying tricks of the San Fransisco trolley riding up Hyde Street. Of course we also feasted our eyes on all the tourists having a blast going down Lombard Street’s very windy stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth.

Now take a nice long look at the image below, you’ll notice the trolley and Alcatraz way in the back, but mostly you’ll notice the ridiculous incline on that street, nearing 30% grade.


You might be amazed to find out it doesn’t even make the top ten on San Fransisco’s steepest.

After this we zig zagged our way out of the area, trying as we might to avoid the hills BigBlu couldn’t handle. A map such as this one could have helped:


But we finally made it through Golden Gate Park and over to Ocean Beach for a “home” made meal before making our way to Baker Beach where we got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate… and something else too…


Finally, we drove over the famous bridge.

She’s a gorgeous beast and so we checked her out for a while and through the sunset.


Free Camping Near San Fransisco

As it turns out, there are 3 free campsites just north of San Fransisco in Golden Gate National Recreational Area, each available by reservation only, and for a maximum of 3 nights each, PER YEAR. They are tent only, you may not sleep in your van.

We stayed at Bicentennial campground where we enjoyed a lovely sleep just yards away from this gorgeous beach.


After a stunning sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge, we went off for a nice long hike through the Marin Headlands and its impressive sea cliffs.

If venturing in these parts, be ready for steep climbs, well worth it when you get to the top…


The other side to the Marin Headlands park is its military past, leaving behind traces of mysterious bunkers and other maze-like structural remnants which make this hike extra interesting.


Some parts could pass for modern-day archeology.


Definitely a great hike for those curious-types. Guilty as charged.

exploring the off beat bay area attractions

Cheko loved it.


So did Gabriel.

Great view of a great viewpoint #lml

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And I loved it too! Can’t beat that view!

The next day we headed further north to the Muir Woods and hiked a few hours through an extravagant trail up more hills and back down through diverse landscapes to eventually finish the walk in the shade of the giant sequoias.


The Muir Woods area is gorgeous and has trails for all levels from completely wheelchair accessible to really rough terrain. You can hike from the visitor’s center all the way to Stinson Beach.

Our free Camping stay having run out we headed up highway 1 a ways through the splendid rolling hills and sea cliffs of the coast and into Sonoma Coast State Park’s dunes where we paid for a campsite… gasp!

The sunset more than made up for it.


As did our “home” made gourmet meal on the fire pit: Roasted red pepper, roasted onion, fire-grilled italian sausage and parmesan-artichoke dip on baguette. YUUM!


On the last day of our journey, the weather did not cooperate so much for a hike, but our legs were through anyway.

Besides, the overcast weather gave the scenery a new and different feel.


We enjoyed the coast by car before heading inland to the Sebastopol Farmer’s market, and finally parted ways in Santa Rosa.

We had a fabulous time and met an interesting soul who showed us things we might normally overlook (or just not bother going to) and had great laughs and good times.

It’s given us a taste for meeting more people and sharing more journeys, so we’re keeping the AirBnB listing.

If this sounds like fun to you and you’d like to join us, you can do so, and for FREE! You heard me right. We charge. $15/night, but if you’re not an AirBnB member yet, you can sign up by clicking this link you will receive $30 of AirBnB credit, which means the weekend’s on us!
(if you want to list your space, you can sign up through the same link and you’ll still get 30 bucks to spend for your next adventure)




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