Northern California

We left Oregon a bit early and headed south into Northen California with the intention of driving until we made it out of the smoke. Mount Shasta KOA was the winner! 

This was our first time staying at a KOA and we really enjoyed ourselves. They had a pool, nice playground, paved roads for the kids to use their scooters and bikes, a basketball court, many yard games and blackberry bushes!! 

The kids and I spent every morning going on a walk to pick blackberries, which got eaten by the end of the day 🙂 

One day, after Tony was done working, we took a family bike ride to Mount Shasta City Park.

It was the headwaters of the Sacramento River and there was a playground, bonus! We did experience a different culture at the headwaters that we have not experienced before. A woman that we met at the pool back at the KOA warned us to be prepared for the ‘mountain worshipers’ when visiting the headwaters. I think we were nieve to think that we might just see a few people different from us. What we experienced was many people bathing and filling drinking water buckets from the headwaters while others were using recreationally legal marijuana and yet others were in a large field looking up at the mountains and worshiping. 

Okay, so there really are mountain worshipers! Well, we experienced some great culture and I’m good with that. 🙂 

Riley even asked me on our way back why a woman we saw was wearing a blanket as a shirt. We had a nice long talk about how many people live differently than we do, and that’s what is so great about this world. It was a great learning moment for us all. 

We left Mount Shasta on the Friday of Labor Day and drove to a primitive campground called Steiner Flat BLM on our way to squeeze in a short visit to the southern part of the Redwoods. Our evening at the BLM campground started out great. We grilled out, learned that bees LOVE greasy burgers (who knew?!), went for a walk and bike ride, heard growling so went inside the RV for the night, and woke up in the middle of the night to a couple having a domestic dispute. Well, at least the generator worked so we could turn on the fan on and drown out the yelling. 

We started our Saturday morning having a dance party and singing as a family. It was so much fun! 

Then we started our drive west….across some more mountains…..on a highway that we normally wouldn’t have taken but the other highway was closed due to another forest fire. The route we took was insane!! 

Seriously, it should not have been called a highway at all! 

There was a stretch partway through that was so narrow only one vehicle could drive, and the passing cars had to stop or wait because there was a mountain on one side and a cliff edge on the other….with NO guardrail!

Oh, and might I add the incline and declines were the most drastic we had encountered yet on our traveling. That’s pretty bad when we’ve driven through many mountain passes since we left Minnesota. They were super curvy too! Meaning, Tony would drive our Class C down a 10% grade to then turn into a switch-back turn and then go into another 10% grade into a 90-degree turn at the bottom, or fall off the cliff with no guard rail! Yikes! Yes, I said that right….there were NO GUARD RAILS AT ALL!! 

We were white knuckling it for sure! 

We luckily made a stop at a pull off before the next 10% grade decline and I looked back at the RV and the brakes were smoking! I mean….actually truly smoking. Might I add that it was 103 degrees out too! 

Tony told me later, so as not to freak me out in the moment, that when he stopped at the pull off behind me he had to use the emergency parking brake as the regular breaks completely went out on him because they were so hot!! 

Needless to say…it was our scariest moment yet since we left Minnesota…..

We know to use a lower gear, we know to pump the breaks and let your RV/van go downhill for a few seconds without breaking to allow them to cool then hit the breaks hard for a short time. We were doing that the entire drive. However, the road just kept going up and down, up and down, with huge 10% grades and into turns and curves that you had to use the breaks. 

It was a very stressful day. We stayed in that pull-off and ran the generator so we could run the AC while we ate some lunch and let the breaks cool down.

Then we were able to finish our drive safely, thankfully. The kids had no clue and just continued to do homeschooling on their iPads. 

That night we planned to boondock-it in a casino parking lot, that welcomes RVs, in Eureka, CA on the coast. It wasn’t the nicest town, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to vacation to. However, we managed to find the ocean and decompress for a bit, grab some Mexican dinner out and had a safe place to sleep for the night. 

The following morning we drove to Ancient Woods RV Park. It was on the North end of the Avenue of the Giants in the Redwoods. The people were super nice there, the sights were level and paved, we had full hook-ups, and we were staying among the Giants!!

The only thing it was completely lacking was….cell phone service. We knew this coming here, which is why we came over the Holiday weekend when Tony and I did not have to work. We took 24 hours and completely disconnected and visited the Redwoods. It was beautiful!! 

I was so happy to finally be able to see the Redwoods, after thinking that we might not be able to due to forest fires that were happening north of us! 

We really enjoyed driving the Avenue, hiking up some amazing trails to be up and close to the GIANT trees,

and stopping off at the state park’s visitor center to learn a little about the Redwood forests.

The kids really enjoy the interactive learning areas of Visitor Centers and Science Museums so we always make sure to take the time to stop and explore what they have to offer. This was homeschooling, roadschooling, worldschooling at it’s finest!! It was amazing!

We arrived at Russian River – Thousand Trials on Monday and stayed for 4 nights after we left the Redwods. It was about 1 1/2 hours North of San Fransisco and near Sonoma and Napa Valley. 

The campground was decent, but nothing super exciting. Very hilly, a nice playground, water and electric but no sewer for the RV, no pool but they do have a river people tube down. We managed to get laundry done, bike and run a little and take few a day trips outside of the campground. The kids and I drove into Santa Anna, CA to visit an amazing playground! 

You see, whenever I ask the kids “What was your favorite thing about today?” or “What was your favorite thing about that campground?” They almost always say ‘The playground!’ or ‘The pool!’. So, whenever I’m looking for something to do with the kids that’s free and gets us out for a bit, I often seek out a nice playground outside of our campground. This place was awesome!

Later that week I managed to convince Tony that we should take a family trip to see a winery and go on a tour in either Napa or Sonoma. I selfishly wanted to SEE Sonoma and Napa, but I also thought it would be a great learning experience for the kiddos.

I looked online for a few hours before I came across the fantastic Cline Cellars winery and vineyard. You see, many wineries didn’t offer tours, and those that did charge a small fortune for a tour and usually do not welcome children! I wanted to take the kids to the vineyard and winery and allow them to see how grapes grow and how they turn them into wine and make it a full learning experience. 

The tour we went on was perfect! It lasted about 20 minutes and brought us to see the vines, the wine cellar with the HUGE barrels, the donkey’s and rare birds they have housed there, the carp and duck pond, and the best part was….they openly welcomed the children and it was completely free! Tony even agreed that this was a good find and was grateful that we took the time to visit Sonoma and then drove back to the campground through Napa and caught a beautiful sunset!

We left Friday for our next campground Southeast of San Fransisco and San Jose called San Benito Thousand Trails. This location allowed us to have full hook-ups (no need to use the dump station) and had a pool that I could use to keep the kids and me happy while Tony took his first flight for a week away on business since we left Minnesota.

Tony flew out of San Francisco, CA for Austin on Sunday evening, so we used all day Sunday to see a little bit of San Fransisco before we dropped him at the airport. The Golden Gate Bridge and the original Chinatown were at the top of our list so that was our goal! We learned from new friends we made at San Benito, that you can see the bridge well from Crissy Field park and beach. So we went right there and even found free parking!  It was a clear and calm day…perfect to see the bridge! 

Following the visit to the bridge, we made our way to our country’s original Chinatown. We were told to expect to feel like you were in a completely different country, and we really did! 

Tony googled and chose a great reviewed restaurant ahead of time so we headed that way. The food was amazing and the kids had a fun time trying to eat with chopsticks 🙂 

While Tony was gone for a week, the kids and I kept busy back at San Benito campground. We swam a lot, played at the playground, scootered around and played in their game room. They also enjoyed playing in our tent that we finally set up, it was the first time we’ve set it up since we launched in June! 

We did experience some mishaps that I posted about here: We Missed our Daddy.

The memories we made going to and visiting the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA were priceless. Jasmine had a pee accident on the way into the museum, and I did not have a change of clothes. We ended up buying a new T-shirt and made a dress for her so that we could still visit the amazing museum! 

However, we made it through the week and made some incredible friends too! 

The day Tony flew back into San Fransisco, I took the kids to the Children’s Creativity Museum downtown before we picked him up. The kids had a blast!! We were able to use our MN Science Musem pass to get into this particular museum for free too! Bonus!

We were excited to pick Tony up from the airport that evening and have him to ourselves for the next week before he had to leave for yet another work trip!

Our plan was to drive to the Pismo Bay and Avila Beach area in Central, CA for a week before heading to Southern California. However, we came into a major problem with our van tire….and didn’t notice it until we were 6 miles up a dirt road at a primitive campground!! 

Check out our next blog – Central California – to find out how we managed to get ourselves out of this situation! 





  1. Judy Murschel Sivula

    Jill sure am enjoying all the pictures & everything you do with the kids. They sure are lucky to have GREAT parents that do so much with them. Sight seeing is what Doug & I did so much of too. The mountain drive you had is what we also had & it was enough to PEE your pants. Beautiful but I could not see semi trucks coming down them but they did. Thank you for telling us of all your fun & not so fun moments. We have had them too. LOL But learning the world & seeing so many things over rules the bad moments. Keep enjoying everything, for care & keep us in touch. Thank you Love Aunt Judy

    • Thank you, Judy. Our family really is thriving with all of the experiential learning we are doing during our travel. Not to mention how close we have all grown to one another. There are difficult moments, but there is bound to be difficult moments in life no matter where you live or if you travel or not. The memories that we are making are superseding our expectations!

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