Stealth camping is a commonly known practice among the van life community and helps promote a rent-free lifestyle. What is stealth camping? According to StealthCamping.net, “Stealth Camping is the act of sleeping in non-conventional areas without trace or discovery…Though it may sound illegal, stealth camping, by definition, does not imply an illegal activity. Instead, stealth campers take advantage of free or extremely low-cost sleeping areas where other campers never think to stay. Proper stealth camping is an art and requires forethought, consideration of the property owner, and safety consciousness in order to keep it legal, safe, and comfortable.”
Now that you know the definition of stealth camping, I want to share some of my top places to stealth camp along the central coast of California. Before I actually found these spots, I tried to research myself on the best places to camp for the night without paying money. In this area particularly, there are spots to avoid and there are spots that are acceptable. I am highly familiar with this area, so I thought I’d put together an acceptable list to help those who are looking to travel to this part of California.
Where is the central coast of California? Well, it’s about an hour north of Santa Barbara and a few hours South of Monterey. Here is an overview of what is considered the Central Coast. Sadly, it’s often an overlooked part of the California Coast.
Los Osos, CA
If you are unfamiliar with Los Osos, CA, it is probably one of the sleepiest little beach towns you will encounter. It has cosy little cafes for your morning coffee, and the best Chinese restaurant I have ever had. In this particular town, the police enforcement is low-key and there are some clever little spots you can find. Remember to be respectful and watch out for any signs that say no parking, and don’t park right in front of someone’s house. Here are my top two spots in this little beach town.
First Picture: This is a small side street that has sufficient lighting. Commonly, you will see another RV’er or van lifer parked on this road. I would recommend staying away from this spot during holidays as police are more on guard.
Second Picture: These are little businesses that are open during the week Monday-Friday. This does have a street light, but other than that this is a pretty dark corner street. This a great weekend spot.
Morro Bay, CA
Morro Bay is a beautiful little beach town that is home to one of the most astonishing rocks you will ever see. I had the pleasure of living in this little town for a short while and enjoyed every minute of it. When stealth camping here, you want to stay more in the residential areas. As far as I was aware, there weren’t any public parking lots that allowed overnight parking. Depending on what your rig looks like, you can be able to get away with parking in one of the many mechanic lots. If you do this, be sure to be out by 6:30 am before they open. Regarding residential streets, here are a few I had success with.
First Picture: If you are familiar with churches, these are typically great places to park. This specific street, I’ve seen people park their RV or their van. It may get windy at night, but other than that it’s been a good spot so far.
Second Picture: This is heading a little bit into downtown Morro Bay, but this street has cars overnight parking all the time. This is right next to a nice trailer park and you could get away with being there for a night or two.
San Luis Obispo, CA
SLO is a college town that has lots of cool neighbourhoods and amazing restaurants. At one point, this town was deemed the Happiest Town in America. However, since rent has become so high I would say otherwise. If you are looking to camp here, I would recommend staying either more in the country or on this specific street. It’s only a block away from the world’s greatest doughnut shop. Do not park your RV on this street. Car camper or van lifers only.
San Simeon, CA
This town is really small and is home to the Pierdras Blancas Light Station, Hearst Castle, and the famous elephant seals. I’d definitely recommend visiting this town as it’s very quaint and has some great sights to see. With this town, you can really just wing when you get here. It’s not hard to find a nice little place to park for the night. When it comes to 40 Hours of Freedom, they parked just on one of the pullouts for the evening overlooking the ocean.
When it comes to San Simeon, there is also the state park as an option. If you choose the most inexpensive camp option which is $20, you will stay alongside other dry campers who have trailers, vans, and truck campers.
Cambria is one of the towns that you visit that will make you feel like you’re in a storybook. If you are looking for the perfect woodsy/beachy small town feel, well this is a winner. If you are hungry, a great recommendation would be Linns Fruit Bin which has delectable chicken pot pie. Cambria is not governed by any ordinances, however, you still want to be careful where you park.
This neighbourhood of houses is a safe area, and you won’t run into issues when it comes to hills. I would not recommend staying here if you have a trashy looking car or van. There are expensive vacation homes and homes that are also occupied. Choose wisely, and fall asleep to the sound of waves nearby.
Pismo Beach, CA
Pismo Beach is a popular town that embodies the California spirit with its own style and charm. This is a bustling place to be during the summer and most weekends through the entire year. If you want to attempt stealthing in the downtown area of Pismo, don’t do it. The best thing to do is stay a little bit further out towards the residential areas of Pismo. If you are able to find a quiet place to lay your head, then go for it. The police might give you a knock if you are not careful with your choice of parking.
What I’d recommend? Stay at Pismo Beach State Park/North Beach Campground
This campground is really nice all times during the year and typically this park is cheaper than most in the area. If you are able, try to make a reservation in advance. They do have hookups, water, shower, and bathrooms. You would be staying right next to the beach, and next to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. Do a little research on this campground, you won’t regret it.
When it comes to stealthing on the Central Coast, you will have to use your common sense and stealth camping senses. If you have a gut feeling about the area you are parked in, then move. If you are a woman travelling solo in a van, I’d recommend staying in Los Osos or Morro Bay. These towns are very safe. When you are in the little beach towns, the police are very lax and lowkey. If you do come across the police, just let them know you are travelling and ask where the best place to park would be. Don’t overstay your welcome in a specific area, make sure to switch it up a bit.
If you have any questions about this area, please leave your thoughts below in the comments!
Want to read about my most recent van life post? Click here: Van Life with Bali
Until next time,