Ever wonder how to find amazing accommodations while traveling in Southern California — like those cute vintage trailers by the beach or a yurt with an incredible ocean view? Check out these tips on how to book the best rentals and camping spots in Southern California.
I first came across Felicia’s Instagram account @everydayadventurefam earlier this year after searching for new places to explore by our new home in Orange County. Scrolling through, there were pictures of her and her family (including her two incredibly cute young boys) hiking through an amazing red rock canyon, staying at a cozy cabin among the pines and a cute vintage camper on the beach, and going for a morning walk with some adorable llamas. I soon realized that most of her pictures were of places right here in Southern California.
Felicia’s family seems to be one of those that have mastered the fabled concept of work-life balance, as both she and her husband work busy jobs as physicians, but still manage to head out for hikes and camping trips on what seems like almost every weekend. While they do go on longer trips, so much of their travel is within a few hours of their home in Orange County.
For Felicia and her family, rentals and camping spots aren’t just where they sleep at night; they provide a huge part of their experience, whether that’s just hanging out at the beach where they are camping, or going for a hike up the stream behind their rented cabin. I was inspired by Felicia’s approach to travel and applied it to some of our more recent trips. While looking for a hotel in Tulum, Mexico we opted to go glamping, where we had a cenote (natural swimming hole) right on the grounds with stand up paddle boards and kayaks. It was so nice to be able to wake up and get right out on the water or take a walk through a natural mangrove forest instead of curated hotel grounds.
I asked Felicia to spill a few of her secrets on how she manages to find the coolest rentals and camping spots in Southern California. I’ll let her take it from here!
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Tips for booking unique rentals and camping spots in Southern California
We choose rental and camping spots based on location and nearby activities that interest our family. We live in a city, so we like to unwind in nature — the mountains, woodlands, or near the ocean. During the week, our boys are learning wonderful things in the classroom and are busy with extracurricular activities (violin, art, soccer). On the weekends, I like to plan trips that let the boys to “be kids” and experience new things in a less structured way. They are active and energetic, so I look for places where they can run around freely, ride their bikes, hike, or play in streams or by the ocean.
Go-to websites for finding unique places
I have a fondness for public lands, so we often plan trips around county, state, or national parks. Once I have a destination in mind, I search rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO, Hip Camp, or Glamping Hub for lodgings that have a nice design aesthetic, are located in a beautiful setting, and most importantly, meets our needs. Sometimes the same listing is posted on several sites. I have found it worthwhile to compare prices because depending on site fees, there can be a difference in total cost.
Considerations when looking for the perfect place
Sometimes we travel as a family of four, but we often travel with grandparents or another family or two. When planning, I think about who is traveling and narrow down places based on what makes the most of us happy. For example, when traveling with others, it’s very important to consider the number of beds and bathrooms the group needs to have a comfortable stay. The goal is to make the hardest-to-please person comfortable because then the others in the group will be fine. I am mindful of the group’s budget, and sometimes we have to trade a bit of style or comfort for affordability. To stay with a lower budget, we tend to opt for road trips, rather than locations where we would have to fly as airfare adds up for a family when you no longer have a lap-child.
Travel inspiration tools
When travel planning, I often look to Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration, ask friends for recommendations, and search TripAdvisor community boards. I’m a visual person and appreciate design and architecture, so when I’m scrolling through Instagram, unique rentals or locations will catch my eye. I bookmark it and put it on our travel wishlist.
When considering activities and things to do, I’ll sometimes put the location into Instagram search, and see what fun things other people have done in that area. I have found the Instagram community to be a wonderful resource. Whenever I reach out to a user with a question about their trip or stay, I usually get a helpful response back. I also use Pinterest for travel planning and create boards to organize good articles and tips for the places we visit.
1 The Holidays Camp Community in San Clemente | Booked on Reserve California
Since oceanfront lodging is pretty pricey, our beach and ocean getaways on Southern California have been via camping or glamping. One of our favorite places to glamp with friends in Southern California is at The Holidays, which is a fun camp community of 4 vintage trailers + an optional add-on airstream in San Clemente. Last summer, we were able to book all five trailers with friends. We enjoyed spending the days at San Clemente State Beach, scootering around the campgrounds, and hanging out by the community fire pit after dark.
These trailers can be booked via Reserve California up to six months ahead. Once on the Reserve California website, search San Clemente in the box asking for city or park name (for some reason it doesn’t search properly if you type “The Holidays”). The trailers are made to accommodate up to five people each. The low season rate (November 1 – March 31) is $189 a night, and $209 a night in high season (April 1 – October 31).
Each trailer is equipped with everything you need for a fun weekend of playing at the beach, including beach towels, boogie boards, outdoor games, and a fire pit. You’re also provided with everything you need to cook up some great meals, like a fridge and freezer, a stove, charcoal grill, and cast iron cookware.
2 Historic Cottage in Crystal Cove State Park | Booked on Reserve California
Another one of our favorite spots for a beachside getaway in Orange County is the historic cottages at Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove is 3.2 miles of undeveloped coastline in Newport Beach, except for the small historic district that includes a few dozen coastal cottages built in the 1930s and 1940s. A few of these were renovated and reopened in 2006, so you can now book them at Reserve California.
These cottages are often booked out (reservations open up to 6 months in advance), so either try your luck at 8 am when online bookings open, or check Reserve California to see if a spot opens up through cancellation. The good news is that the Crystal Cove Conservancy is working on raising money to restore the remaining 17 cottages on the North Beach, so there may be more cottages available for booking in the future.
3 Yurt in Santa Barbara | Booked on Airbnb
We recently stayed in the Refugio Mountains at the Santa Barbara Luxury Yurt booked on Airbnb. It was the most serene place, high up in the mountains, with a view of the ocean. It would have been a perfect romantic getaway, but since we brought our kids we planned a fun day trip in Santa Ynez wine country which included a visit to an ostrich farm.
4 Cabin in Forest Falls | Booked on Hip Camp
Another one of my favorite websites to look for unique rentals and camping spots in Southern California is Hip Camp. (If it’s your first time booking, use code everydayadventurefam for $10 off!) This website is sometimes called the Airbnb of camping since landowners can rent out spots where you can pitch your tent in addition to more traditional rentals like cabins.
We headed up to Forest Falls, a small town located in the San Bernadino mountains, a few weeks back to enjoy the start of the fall season. We booked this cozy cabin on Hip Camp and this stream was literally right in the backyard! The boys loved playing by the rocks and the stream. We even hiked to a nearby waterfall together!
Another fun experience we had through Hip Camp was camping at Oak Hollow Farm in Oak Glen, also in the San Bernardino mountains. We had the incredible opportunity to hike with llamas at the farm during this trip. Although the campsite is closed for the season, you can still book the experience to hike with llamas with the wonderful host Brenda through Airbnb.
5 Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai
We don’t always stay in vacation rentals or camp/glamp when we travel around Southern California. Last spring we stayed at the Ojai Valley Inn. We booked our room during their pre-black Friday sale for 20-40% off regular room rates. This deal will be going on again this year starting on Monday, November 19, 2018 — check the link here to get the Black Friday deal once it goes live.
We enjoyed their restaurants, community fire pit area, majestic oak trees, pool, and borrowing their bikes to ride around the property with access to the Ojai bike path. Just a note, we brought Brian’s tricycle since he was still too young to ride a bike, but they have a few bike trailers to loan out for hotel guests.
We hope these tips help you find fun and unique accommodations for your next trip. Let us know in the comments your favorite place to stay in California!
About Felicia Wong of Everyday Adventure Fam
Felicia is a mother of two boys, wife, psychiatrist and wellness enthusiast. She looks for the wonder in every day and shares a little bit of the things that inspire and energize her on Instagram (@everydayadventurefam) and her newly launched blog, Everyday Adventure Fam.
Felicia is from a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts and her husband grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada. They met in Massachusetts, and when she finished her psychiatry residency training, she convinced her husband (also a physician) to move out to California because “the weather’s better”. They first moved to Los Angeles in 2010, and then down to Orange County in 2013, where their eldest son was born. Felicia and her family love the outdoors, and the weather in Southern California is really conducive to getting outside and being active year round. Both Felicia and her husband work full time, so their weekends are all about family and adventuring together. With two energetic and enthusiastic little boys, they focus on places and experiences that are family friendly and fun for each age and ability level.