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Rather than pay to rent campsites everywhere I go, I've heard it is workable in the USA to park the RV in Walmart parking lots and do our sleeping there.

I'm renting an RV in San Francisco (actually near SFO) and due to the timing, I want to take my first overnight sleep still quite close to the City/airport. Is there anything I should know?

P.S. We plan to airBnB in the City at the end.

  • @WeatherVane it was suggested that my answer to this question be preserved as a separate Q&A since it was not a straight answer there. That is this. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '17 at 1:53
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    If worst comes to worst you could try El Camino Real south(-east) of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto on the Stanford side of the street. There are generally a few dozen RVs there and Palo Alto has only a 72 hour parking limit to keep them moving. I agree with the answer, though, out of the bay area is better. – Dennis Dec 5 '17 at 4:59
  • Anothet candidate in the City proper is Lincoln west of 19th. But my biggest problem with advice like these is that due to the housing crunch, these friendly areas are so heavily used that tragedy of the commons happens, and that drives new ordinances and enforcement waves, making yesterday's advice wrong today. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '17 at 16:32
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You may want to revisit your Walmart plan

And get out into the country more.

The US is not uniformly covered with Walmarts suitable for overnight RVing. Your use is tourism, but it strongly resembles "locals living in their vehicle", aka #VanLife, which is widely equated to vagrancy in urban areas.

Thinking particularly of the Bay Area proper... many local jurisdictions are acutely aware of #VanLife and actively combat it. This is because affordable housing is such a problem there and #VanLifers there number in the tens of thousands. Zoning may not allow the Walmart (or any store in the mall) to be open 24x7. Malls often have agreements with police to allow police patrol in the malls, who are on the lookout for #VanLife'rs. Streetside parking is also likely to get the 2am rap on the door.

Everything changes once you get over Altamont or Pacheco Pass or out into the Sacramento River Delta. From the airport this is a 1.5 to 4 hour cruise depending on traffic. Now it feels like the "normal" America they're talking about with that "park in the Walmart parking lot to sleep" advice.

Travel centers

"sleep in travel center/truck stop parking lots" works because I am talking about the sprawling 20,000++ square metre facilities such as these brands: Petro, Pilot, Love's, Flying J, etc. They have separate parking areas and fuel pumps for trucks and cars. These types of places do not exist in the urban areas where "no sleeping in vehicles" is enforced.

There is a Petro:2 on Pacheco Pass, and a bunch of stuff in Tracy. I wouldn't be any closer than that.

if you're in the kind of rural territory that has truck stops, parking to sleep in Walmart parking lots is almost always OK, provided they are open 24 hours, which most are. As far as shopping, though, Target is quite a bit finer, cleaner and generally more upscale.

Don't even try to park an RV in San Francisco

Herb Caen stylistically referred to San Francisco as "the City". Don't even think of trying to park an RV anywhere they capitalize City. NYC, City of London... Just nope.

Yes, there are secret places such as way out on the avenues along Lincoln... But do you really want to spend an hour on Muni transiting back to your Airbnb?

Plan to return the RV before your City stay.

  • There are suburbs of San Francisco that allow sleeping in an RV, and many people do it in San Francisco and surrounding areas where it's technically illegal without any trouble. This answer is too pessimistic about the probability of success in the Bay Area. – ajd Dec 5 '17 at 6:51
  • @ajd Citywise, would agree if you were enough of a local to know the ropes and have the street sense to know "ok spot" vs "nope". The #VanLife guys have it down. But it's a lot harder when you don't know the area. I'm saying I don't recommend it to a tourist. Suburbwise, I'd love to have a list of RV sleep friendly suburbs. Worthy answer of its own. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '17 at 16:27
  • They can rap on the door, but if you don’t respond, that’s ALL they can do. – WGroleau Jan 1 '18 at 7:40
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I agree with Harper that Walmarts don't universally allow overnight parking. One of the best resources is the Walmart RVing Yahoo group. They take reports from people on the road and keep a comprehensive list of which Walmarts allow overnight parking vs. those who do not allow it.

The keeper of that list is Bill Halberstadt: http://halberstadt.macmate.me/Walmart/Walmarts.html

Note, it looks like this website is having issues- the direct links to the files are: PDF: http://halberstadt.macmate.me/Walmart/Walmarts_files/Walmart%20Parking%2010_9_16.pdf Excel: http://halberstadt.macmate.me/Walmart/Walmarts_files/Walmart%20Parking%2010_9_16.xls

And then there are overlays for mapping programs.

Otherwise, for smart-phone/app users, the AllStays Camp & RV app is very useful BUT it's $10. The free RVParky app is good (but not as good as Allstays).

For San Francisco, you might be best off just renting a spot at a RV park. It's expensive, but it gives you a place that you can even safely leave the RV for the night. I recently stayed at the San Francisco RV Resort. It's a parking lot (literally) and super snug- but for touring SF, it was a fantastic location. I'd go back again.

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    +1 and welcome to travel.stackexchange! Note that the San Francisco RV Resort is, despite the name, in Pacifica and not San Francisco. If you’re using it as a base to explore the city, make sure you plan out how you’ll get to tourist areas and how long it will take, especially late at night (driving your RV into the city and parking nearby is likely not the answer you’re looking for). – Zach Lipton Dec 28 '17 at 20:49
  • @ZachLipton Transit to that location isn't Great by City standard , but it's Workable if you plan. Good advice +1 – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '17 at 21:05
  • @ZachLipton, that’s a good point. We used Uber to get to/from the RV park a couple of times vs driving our bug truck into the city. I wouldn’t want to take a full height RV around and try to find parking. – Doug S Dec 29 '17 at 2:28

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