Finally! After over a month of working our way up the California coast from Cambria on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, we've hit a stretch where you can honest to goodness boondock – camp right on the side of the highway overlooking the ocean. There were spots here and there north of Santa Cruz where it was technically legal, but they weren't the combination of day and night spots necessary to put together a nice long stay.
To understand this, you have to look at the tangle of regulations governing boondocking. First and foremost, there's the California Vehicle Code dealing with how long you can park (not camp, park) alongside highways on the right of way. It's eight hours. Then there are all the municipal and county exceptions to this statewide rule. Good boondocking spots are defined by what they are not. Don't try to boondock in state parks or vista points. They are great day spots, but be out of town by sundown. Stay out of small towns, make sure you are outside the city limits of them before you try to spend the night.
There is an eleven mile stretch of highway north of Fort Bragg, CA that has the requisite combination of day and night spots to allow you to stay right on the water, day and night, while obeying all applicable regulations. It starts at the pulloff ten miles north of Fort Bragg, after you go through Cleone and Inglenook and right where the highway comes back out to the ocean after an inland detour around sand dunes. GPS coordinates of this pulloff are 39.567642 N, 123.770369 W. There's a second pulloff another 1000 feet (0.2 miles), right before the Kibesellah Rocks Vista Point – anywhere you want to overnight on the gravel pulloff is fine, just stay out of the vista point itself overnight. The vista point is at mile marker 71.84.
There is a second larger vista point 2.1 miles north of the Kibesellah one, with not as nice views of the ocean, but another 1.4 miles north at mile marker 75.4 is Chadbourne Gulch, where the highway has to go inland and down in elevation. As you start back oceanward and upward, look for a pulloff on the left, with a short gravel road down to Blues Beach. This is day stay only, and signed accordingly but is the only spot along this stretch of highway where you can walk right out onto a sand beach from your parking spot. Expect heavy traffic, especially on weekends – many of the locals like to fish and surf, drink beer, etc. here. GPS coordinates are 39.6135652 N, 123.7830057 W.
To find a second good night spot, head north from Chadbourne Gulch 2.5 miles through the tiny town of Westport, CA. As you pass the main collection of buildings and head out of town, there's a pulloff on the left, right before the road curves inland at the Westport Beach KOA at Wages Creek. GPS coordinates for this pulloff are 39.6466571 N, 123.7847851 W. One time we nestled in among the road construction equipment CalTrans decided to leave there for convenience, normally it's unoccupied. It's small and easy to miss- turn around at the RV park if you overshoot it the first time. It's at mile marker 78.00.
Headed north from Westport, there's the Westport-Union Landing State Beach, which has picnic table and fire ring camping along the ocean for $25 a night and tends to be crowded. They have a dumpster and a nonthreaded fresh water spigot if you need to get water or throw out your trash – otherwise, it's back down to MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Bragg at mile marker 64.8 for water and dumping accommodations. At the north end of this state beach there is a vista point which is a nice day stay area, GPS coordinates are 39.6860301 N, 123.7937817 W. There's been considerable erosion along this stretch of coast, and portions of the roads and parking lot have fallen into the ocean, but they make do with what's left.
One last night spot before the coastal highway gives up and goes inland is another 1.3 miles north of the vista point at Juan Creek. There's is a largish pulloff on the ocean side on the south side of Juan Creek, GPS coordinates 39.7022991 N, 123.8038686 W. This is our favorite spot along this section of coastal highway, where you can prepare for a restful night as you look northward into the Mendocino Lost Coast territory, where no paved road has gone before, and probably never will.
So that's how we do it – with three good night spots and a variety of day spots we move up and down this ten mile section of highway, staying mobile and not aggravating the local constabulary or landowners. We have stayed a week or so this time, and will be back this way as we work our way south in the fall.