Boondocking / Dry Camping, Off the Beaten Path Series, Travel Destinations & Stories

Off the Beaten Path in California. Our Top Hidden Gems

If this is your first time here – WELCOME! If not, welcome back!! As full-time RV’ers, we travel and see a lot. This is part of our Opting Out of Normal series where we explore the hidden treasures in every state. We love the big popular attractions like everyone else, but there is just something incredible about discovering something unique and different. And taking the roads less traveled. We certainly can’t explore them all, but we’d love you to share your own off the beaten path stories. Each post will have a link to our favorite boondocking (free) camping areas, plus reviews or information on paid and membership camping areas.

I (Stacy) was born, raised, and lived in California for the first 27 years of my life. I met the love of my life there, and at 27 we moved to VA for a few years. We moved a lot in our 20 years with the military but California will always be a part of me. Though I’m told I’ve lost my “California lingo/accent”. Funny, when we were in Germany on a train, someone asked me if I was from California. I knew then and there that we speak a little differently. Ha!

The amazing thing about California is within a few hours one way or another, you can be in the mountains, the desert, or the beach. There are amazing lakes, beautiful ski areas, and hot desert places to explore. 

Highway 1 – Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

Though it’s not an unpopular thing to do if you ever get a chance to drive the PCH, do it! Down in Los Angeles County you’ll find houses hanging off the side of the highway which — may not be there forever.

As you head up toward San Francisco, you’ll find the most breathtaking views of the rocky coastline. Fun Fact: Highway 1 is one of the most filmed car commercial areas in the US. 

Bixby Creek Bridge

This is probably my favorite bridge in CA. Yes, even more than the Golden Gate Bridge. It reminds me of the “Bridge to Nowhere” which I have included in this blog too. The concept of building something like this into the rocky mountains of CA is just mind-blowing to me. This Bridge is on Hwy 1 which is such a spectacular drive. You can pull over and take pictures, have lunch, and just overlook the Pacific Ocean. 

Catalina Island

If you haven’t taken the boat trip out to Catalina Island, it’s a must! I’ve taken a boat out several times, and it’s a pretty popular thing to do, so I won’t go into details, but let me know if you have any questions.

The Sunny Jim Cave Store


This is the only entrance to any sea cave in California that you can access via land. The entrance is a narrow and dim tunnel that leads from the store to a staircase made of 145 incredibly wet and dark steps that descend directly into the sea cave. The narrow tunnel and cave walls are very colorful, due to the natural minerals and the effect the saltwater has on them. Address:  1325 Coast Blvd., San Diego 

Natural Bridges in Calaveras County

This is a relatively unknown swimming hole that will really make you feel like you have stumbled on a true gem! If you’re planning to stop here, bring a flashlight, or headlamp. That will help ensure you really get to experience this!


I would never recommend going on a weekend or during the summer months, or any long weekend. Unless you like to immerse yourself in people. We tend to do everything off-season and during the week. This is a busy place on weekends, but it’s still one of those very unpopular places. Bring your water shoes and if you like to float you can bring your “pool floats” but please remember to pack it in, pack it out. 

Heart Rock Falls

Heart Rock Falls

Carved by a waterfall this heart-shaped rock has inspired lovers for many years. A woodland hike of a mile round trip ends at a lovely waterfall, but if you don’t recognize the end of the trail by the waterfall, you definitely will when you see the heart-shaped rock. In fact, there are two heart-shaped pools on the side of the cliff where the waterfall hits. A few yards before you get to the waterfall, you’ll come across a massive, very old oak tree, seemingly to signify how old this place is,  A little further down the stream is a slide rock pool. From there you can backtrack up the stream to reach the base of the falls. 

Crowley Lake Columns

Located in Mono County – The giant plateau formation sits in one of the world’s most interesting volcanic areas. You know, our country and the rock formations tell such amazing stories.  Lava! It’s all about Lava! The columns are along the east side of Crowley Lake. Access roads are winding and sandy, four-wheel drive recommended. Walking inside these amazing columns is a feeling like no other. I hope they are standing for many more years. What a really neat part of our country!

Bridge to Nowhere

If you have followed my blogs, you know I love mysterious, strange things. You know, the things that make you go “huh?” So here’s a little strange one for you.

Near Mount Baldy, CA you’ll find the old, abandoned bridge.  The Bridge to Nowhere remains one of the most bizarre artifacts of the San Gabriel Mountains. During its initial construction, Los Angeles County claimed that the bridge and connected highway would be one of the most scenic roads in America. The food in 1938 washed out the entire road to the bridge, and it still makes me wonder with the expense of such a bridge, why not build the roads back up. But it remains a Bridge to Nowhere. It may have changed now, but I believe the only way in and out is to hike it. It’s a breathtaking, beautiful hike through rivers and streams, and a pretty amazing sight to see when you get there. 

McWay Falls and Waterfall House Ruins

This Big Sur waterfall drops 80 feet directly into the Pacific Ocean, and inspired the hillside house up top. Big Sur’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is renowned for its 80-foot McWay Falls and some of the most breathtaking views anywhere along the California coast. The story of how this property could have been owned by one family and then let go, is quite interesting in itself. I’ll leave the exploring to you! 

Point Reyes Shipwreck

Have you seen the shipwreck in Point Reyes? My first thought was “yeah, right, just behind a shopping area?” But once you read the history and walk out to the abandoned ship, you realize it a real deal.  Point Reyes shipwreck is perched on a sand bar off the shoreline of Tomales Bay. It is located in the small town of Inverness, just behind the grocery store. Easy access, no hiking required. 


I’m definitely going to have to do a part 2 for CA. But make sure you check out Alcatraz and Morro Bay, and one of my all-time favorite places to visit and wander around is Solvang.

Also if you want to see something really over the top with an interesting story behind it, check out Hearst’s Castle. The views alone will make it worth it. But take the tour, and the bus trip up there is fun! We’ve actually done it a couple of times, and it’s really worth it. 

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is located East of Yosemite National Park. When you think of California, you don’t think of a place like this. They call it hauntingly beautiful for a reason!

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline.


Hope you enjoyed our ideas! Thank you so much for visiting our little corner of the internet. We would love to hear what you find “off the beaten path” in California. Check back often! We are always updating our blogs with new hidden gems!

Looking for the best boondocking or paid campgrounds to stay while you’re traveling in California? Check out our ever changing, always updating list! Click the button below to see our best RV Camping in California!

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9 thoughts on “Off the Beaten Path in California. Our Top Hidden Gems”

  1. I love all of your picks!! Big Sur is my favorite. We have a 38 foot class a that we would not even attemp hwy thru there, but when we are able to full time we’ll stay inland and take the Jeep out to the 1.
    Thanks for the article, a few places I’ve never been!

    1. You’re so welcome! There are so many more picks! I was remembering where Justin re-inlisted up at the Rock Store. I think most motorcycle peeps know about it, but it’s a beautiful drive up there. So many places! I will have to do a PART 2 for California. Ha!

  2. Great post! I’m a CA native and I had never heard of most of those spots. We ‘be been full-time RVing for 5 months. Wish us luck!

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