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I am planning a 10/11-day family trip in an RV this coming January (yes, winter!). Since we are a small team of four people, we are looking at the smallest RV possible, such as this one.

So far my plan is to visit Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe before driving along the famous California Highway 1 (tour Big Sur, Solvang, etc. along the way). So here is our route.

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How viable is this route in winter? Any issue with road conditions or with sleeping in a RV in this season?

P.S.: As @Nate points out, it will be quite inconvenient to drive an RV while touring San Francisco City and Los Angeles City. So I am only asking for the route in between these two cities.

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    I can't think of a single place in San Francisco where you could park an RV. Don't drive it there. – Nate Eldredge Dec 29 '16 at 6:51
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    Another question: how long is your vehicle, and how much experience do you have driving vehicles of that size? The route to Lake Tahoe will probably have snow and ice (you may need tire chains, which are a serious business on a large vehicle). Highway 1 is narrow and winding, and there are signs advising against trucks over 30 feet kingpin to rear axle (not sure how that translates into RVs). – Nate Eldredge Dec 29 '16 at 7:02
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    And how carsick will the passengers in the back be? – Nate Eldredge Dec 29 '16 at 7:06
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    Maybe open a separate question about driving from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento in an RV during winter? That would make a lot more sense. – JonathanReez Dec 29 '16 at 8:07
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    Have the car-sick one sit in the front, passenger seat of course, and with permission to open the window when feeling very unwell. Front seat already works well against most motion sickness, opening the window will help in many of the rest of the cases. – Willeke Dec 29 '16 at 12:11
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California in winter is generally rainy, but otherwise not an issue. The I-80 - road from San Francisco to Tahoe - may be snowy after you pass Auburn - as others stated, the chains might be required (this happens relatively often), or it would be closed completely (this is rare for I-80). Highway 50 is an alternative road, but it is not suitable for RV in winter (one lane, windy), and is more likely to be closed. Don't drive to Tahoe from Bay Area on Fri afternoon, and don't drive from Tahoe to Bay Area on Sun afternoon unless you enjoy heavy traffic.

Your main problem however would be overnight RV parking. NateEldredge already mentioned difficulty in parking in San Francisco (to which I can only add difficulty of overall driving in San Francisco with RV). It will also be difficult in Mountain View - not as bad as SF, but we're getting there. Also driving through San Francisco Bay Area would be painful experience overall, unless you do it on a weekend, or late night/very early morning (4am) - we have very bad traffic here. Don't count on find a spot in the RV park in Bay Area - we have some, but they are occupied by people who live there for many years (rent here is crazy too).

Big Sur has day use parking (which also fills up fast on weekends), but if you intend to stay overnight there, you need to book a campsite. Those are usually booked well in advance (this is a very popular spot with locals, and there are few spots), so make sure you book one. If you don't, as far as I remember, there is no place to camp with RV overnight, it is pretty tight area.

No idea about Santa Barbara, unfortunately. Highway 1 will have no snow, but it has low speed limit (45 mostly), and it is quite windy itself.

  • Thank you very much for the useful tips! Sounds I need to abort this RV plan. Driving an SUV sounds much more flexible and convenient. :-) – Sibbs Gambling Dec 30 '16 at 6:41
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    Yes, driving an SUV and staying in hotels is indeed a more reasonable plan, and considering RV rent prices you'd probably save money this way. – George Y. Dec 30 '16 at 20:52

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