Beach-Front Camping, Danish Food & Beer – Central Coast, CA
Following our somewhat emotional au revoir to the desert, we headed back West to reprise our original 2016 route. We aimed to hit the central CA coast just north of LA, an area known locally as “805” (after the area code), and our goals were simple. To camp in a dog-friendly spot right by the water for a reasonable price, find some authentic Danish food and drink oodles of craft beer. All straight-forward stuff right?
The thing is that the central California coast can be a tricky place to travel, especially when you’re “beast” size and you prefer public parks as we do. A lot of the California State Parks are older which means sites are small(er) and generally won’t fit our plus-size curves. Plus they’re not cheap -> along the coastal areas it’s not unusual to pay $35-55/night (for dry camping!), and (with a few key exceptions) they generally don’t allow doggies on the beach. Private parks will fit bigger rigs, but they’re also pricey and unless you’re paying top $$, you’re likely to get veeeery cozy with your neighbors. Plus, there’s still the doggie thing.
So, what’s a nature-loving, paw-ruled beast to do???
Thankfully we had a plan…ish. The “secret” to doing the CA coast without excessive stress is a mix of things. Going off-season helps a ton and being mid-March we’re still kinda there (there’s Spring Break coming up, but otherwise we’re in the travel “sweet spot” right before pre-crazy-Summer). This time of year many of the public parks are still first-come-first-serve, so you don’t have to scramble on the horrible reservations system and you actually have a chance at nabbing a last-minute site, even in our “beastly” size. Plus weather tends to be good (not too cold, not too hot) and if you widen your search to County Parks, Fairgrounds, and Elks (if you’re members) you can actually find some very reasonable deals with dog-friendly spots to boot. A few tips from RV buddies helps too….
Beach Front Camping – Ventura CA
For our first stop we hit ALL those hot buttons. We learned about this spot from fellow RV buddies (Clarke & Elaine stay here regularly, plus Mali Mish, ASoloJourner and others have also called this home at time or another), and on the surface it looked perfect. A County Park along a paw-friendly beach with ocean waves that splash just feet from your RV door for a mere $28/night just north of LA. Inconceivable! The problem is that none of our buddies are quite as “ample” as we are, and with sites that are exactly 45-feet long (exactly!), would our 41.6′ length even be able to get in??
We drove over 300 miles in one day to find out, and once we got there it took 3 different sites and a fair amount of cursing, but we finally squeezed our 33,000 lbs beast PLUS toad within the strict white lines of the campsites. There was not an inch to spare, and if any other big RVs parked in front or behind us we’d be completely boxed in, but we’d made it! Two margaritas and one sunset later we finally relaxed. That night we were lulled to sleep by the rhythmic crash of the ocean and knew we’d made it “home”.
We spent the next 4-5 days lounging at our beachfront RV condo, taking long bike rides along the coast (highly recommend the bike ride south to Emma Wood State Beach) and enjoying endless sunsets from our mini slice of sand atop the sea wall. We even hunted down some tasty beer at Topa Topa Brewing Company, a super cute, high quality (dog-friendly!) spot in downtown Ventura. All the IPAs were excellent (Paul especially loved the Chief Peak & Huckster), plus they had a nice, smooth Oatmeal Stout (Gadabout, on Nitro) and a very decent Russian Imperial Stout (Black Wing). An on-site taco stand and next-door Tony’s Pizzeria shack added some perfect food-pairing options. Score!
We honestly didn’t get out much other than that, so I’m sure we missed plenty of other excellent eateries and brews. The rest of our time we just vegged at our site, walked the beach at low tide and enjoyed the crazy close ocean views. On our planned departure day the site behind us miraculously opened up allowing us to gracefully beast our way out and be on our way.
Ocean front beastly camping in CA -> check!
More Tips -> We stayed at Rincon Parkway (full review coming). If you can’t find a site or don’t want to stay overnight there’s plenty of parking just north of here on Hwy 1 where you can easily park your rig (any size) for free for the day. Topa Topa Brewing has a dog-friendly patio, as does Tony’s Pizzeria and both are biking distance from the campground.
Danish Food – Solvang, CA
Although we lived and traveled the CA coast many times in our pre-RV days, we never stopped in Solvang. The self-proclaimed “Danish capital of the USA” always seemed too touristy for my tastes, and besides we were always more interested in camping/hiking on the beach than we were in “interior” stops.
This time around we found a free overnight RV spot in the area, so we decided to throw it an afternoon and see if we could hunt down some hidden gems. My goal was lofty -> to find authentic Danish food, and maybe (just maybe) someone who spoke Danish? I had no idea if I’d find either, but I figured it was worth a try.
Our first stop was lunch at a Bit O Denmark, admittedly the most ridiculous tourist-sounding spot in town (and with very so-so Yelp reviews) but they had open-faced sandwiches on offer and (more importantly) they boasted liver pâté (leverpostej). If there’s one food item that’ll test the “Danishness” of a place, it’s leverpostej. I grew up on this stuff and I’m a HUGE fan, but I’m also hugely picky.
I paired it with a Danish Snaps and I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised. The sandwich was completely over-priced ($13 each, really?), but the leverpostej was fabulous (honestly, like my mom’s home-made stuff) and they put everything together just right. Plus the Snaps was excellent. Paul had the roast beef open-faced sandwich which was just as over-priced, but equally tasty. Plus we enjoyed it all with doggie on a huge, covered dog-friendly patio. I can’t speak to the other food here, but I was a happy Dane with what I got.
Open-faced sandwiches…score! Authentic….yes!!
Buoyed by our success we turned our noses towards dessert. Now, if you’re ever lucky enough to make it into a real Danish bakery you’ll know exactly what I was hoping for. In Denmark, the local bakery is not just a shop, it’s more like a transcendental orgasmic experience of pastry wonderlushness. I went into 3 bakeries in Solvang and sadly none came close. Nice enough stuff, but eh….just not there, and too many American-type “Danish’s” than actual Danish pastries. In a last act of desperation we went to the “world famous” aebleskiver spot. It was decently tasty, but the aebleskiver weren’t quite right and the owner got miffed at me when I tried to converse with him in Danish (right after he’d told me that he was, in fact, Danish).
Pastries…just okay. Authentic….sorry, no 🙁
Overall Solvang is a kitch and cute town and more likable than I imagined it would be, but the food was expensive and hit/miss in quality (and I’ve yet to find someone who actually speaks Danish). Definitely worth an afternoon, but probably not more. Next time we’ll come for some wineries & biking.
Danish experience in CA -> check!
More Tips -> There’s free daytime RV-parking just outside of town (at Solvang Veteran’s Memorial Hall), a very nice Private RV park in Buellton and a few free places to park overnight in the area (we found our spot on overnightrvparking.com). Downtown is dog-friendly and easy to walk around. You can download Solvang walking & wine maps HERE.
Firestone Walker & Barrelworks Brewing – Buellton, CA
Our last stop was more like a religious pilgrimage than a night out. We have a handful of “top” breweries that we’re hoping to hit on our coastal trip this year and Firestone Walker is one of them. The location near in Buellton (just a few miles from Solvang) has a main taproom and shares the building with Barrelworks, a wild ale and barrel-aging partnership of Firestone brews.
Everything, and I mean everything here was fabulous!
From Firestone, the IPA’s (Hammersmith, Luponic Distortion), the DBA and their ridiculously smooth Merlin Milk Stout all delivered to perfection. And the Barrelworks creations? Totally mind-blowing! We had a Walkers Reserve Barrel-Aged Porter that was out of this world and a Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout that was equally amazing. Food was typical bar-fare (OK, not overly exciting), but the beer was tremendous.
Beer Pilgrimage #1 -> check!
More Tips -> Firestone has a nice outdoor (partially covered) dog-friendly patio. If you sit in the Firestone portion you can eat dinner & bring in beer from the Barrelworks portion next-door. No RV parking, but easy car parking on-site.
Next Up -> More CA central coast and the madness of Spring Break. Will the beast find a spot to park? Or will she be forced to flee the coast? We’ll see….