I've always liked the idea of doing a camper van rental in California. It's like having a house on wheels while on vacation. You can stop wherever you want and cook your own meals. You don't have to unpack in a half dozen hotels on a week long trip. However, if you're like me, you don't want to drive and park something the size of school bus.
Camper vans are especially fun when you can park at a scenic spot and enjoy a meal with a view at your own private table. At night, you can cook dinner on a gas stove, eat at an insect-free table for two, and sleep soundly on a comfortable bed. In the morning, you can make coffee without stepping outside. When it's time to park, a small camper van slides into a standard parking place with no fuss.
For two people camping in Yosemite, the cost to rent a camper van can be comparable to lower-priced hotels in the park. And van rentals can be reserved with much less advance notice.
In other locations, an inexpensive hotel or motel may be less expensive than the camper van. When making up your mind, consider the cost of meals as well as convenience before making a decision.
If you decide that an RV vacation is for you, use this California campground and RV guide to find the perfect places to stay in it.
Types of Camper Vans You Can Rent in California
For many years, renting a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van was a great way to go. They're still an acceptable solution for some, but these aging campers aren't for everyone. They feel underpowered on uphill climbs and can be finicky like any older vehicle. The rental companies maintain them well, but they're still more likely to break down than a newer model.
The Westfalia camper van is about the size of a standard mini-van. It's easy to park and drive and gets higher gas mileage than its larger counterparts. These campers come with a stove, sink and refrigerator. Thanks to the easy-to-pop-up top, it has two double beds. It does not have an onboard toilet.
If you like the idea of the Westfalia camper van but would prefer something a bit newer, look for "Class B" campers. They are about as big as a large van. Manufacturers include Road Trek, Pleasureway and Leisure Travel Vans. You'd be surprised how much they can pack into such a small space. Most of them even have small bathroom and showers. We've included links to a few companies that rent them below.
Tips for Renting a Camper Van in California
If you decide to rent a camper van, here are few tips to help make your experience more comfortable:
- If you think you'll save money by renting a camper van, read this first.
- Be sure you know exactly what will be provided in the camper van. Ask about what's in the kitchen kit, and rent sheets and towels if you need them.
- Don't expect to be plugging in the coffee pot (or anything else) in a Westfalia camper van. It has interior lights that operate from an auxiliary battery, but no outlets.
- When you pick up the camper van, don't just watch and nod. Iit looks simple when someone else shows it to you, but it becomes complex when you have to do it yourself. Make notes, take pictures and ask to do everything yourself. Otherwise, you'll spend the first three days of your trip wondering exactly how to start the refrigerator, or how to turn off the heater.
- If you want to cook in the camper van, plan them in advance, and make a grocery list. You may want to bring a few staples from home, such as salt, sugar and cooking oil.
- Unless you plan to travel a very short distance, opt for unlimited miles. The small difference in daily rate pays for your peace of mind.
- The step to get in and out of the camper van is a little high. In some models, you have to step over the wheel well to get in. If anyone in your party has mobility concerns, discuss them before you rent.
Places to Rent a Small or Westfalia Camper Van in California
Only a few places remain that rent Westfalia vans in California. The ones listed here are the only ones I know of. I have also include other companies that rent small, easy to drive and park camper vans. For Class B vans, try an online search.
- California Campers, San Francisco: They rent classic Westfalias from a location near the San Francisco Airport
- Vintage Surfari Wagons, Orange County: Vintage Westfalia vans for rent in the Los Angeles area
- Wicked, Los Angeles and Sacramento: These vans have the cutest designs on them and come in sizes that sleep 3 to 5. They carry a fold-out tent on top.
- Lost Campers, San Francisco: Their 7-seat passenger vans don't have bright-colored paint and are a great way to blend in. They have a sink, storage space, dining table and a bed.
- Escape Camper Vans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas: Equipped to sleep up to 3 adults, with stove, sink, bed and refrigerator or cooler box.
- Jucy Rentals, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas: Their vans are darling, with a rooftop "penthouse" for sleeping, a gas stove, small refrigerator, sink and dining table.