Rules of the Road Trip: Camping from Malibu to San Francisco

Rules of the Road Trip: Camping from Malibu to San Francisco

One VW van, four friends, a quiver of long and short boards, and 400 plus miles traveled from Malibu to San Francisco. What happened in between? The rhythm of the waves guided Leah Dawson and Ashley Johnson's PCH journey.

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Ashley Johnson wears the Tabatinga Top and Calafia Leggings. Leah Dawson wears the Zuma Surf Suit. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 

One VW van, four friends, a quiver of long and short boards, and 400 plus miles traveled from Malibu to San Francisco. What happened in between on those open road stretches in Big Sur and Santa Cruz? The waves guided Leah Dawson and Ashley Johnson's PCH journey of when to stay longer, detour or move on.

We asked Ashley to share her favorite moments of the trip, and her advice for a fun-filled surf getaway from SoCal to NorCal waves and temperatures.

Leah at Malibu, wearing the Nazare bodysuit. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 

Rules of the Road Trip:

It's all about the surf.

You can make a plan, but its always going to change based on where the waves are the best. Let the swell be your guide. “Although we did hit up each spot we planned to, the amount of time in each area definitely changed based upon surf and also holiday weekends! We pretty much got super lucky in most areas we scored surf every place!” Ashley says.

Dress in layers — swimsuits and clothing.

Malibu was warm enough to surf in swimsuits, but by the time they hit Big Sur, and parts of Santa Cruz, neoprene is a must. Same goes for clothes on land. For SoCal sunny days, Ashley packed lots of Seea swimsuits, good sunscreen, wide brim hat and sunglasses for sun protection. For chillier Northern coast camping, she wore a good wetsuit the cold surf, warm layers such as a Patagonia down jacket and beanie for cold nights and mornings.

Keep your van tidy.

Ashley says they started each sunrise getting their gear in check to be ready for whatever the day holds. “Most important is utilizing the space the best and organize all gear stuff everyday! Things get messy and tight, so it’s best to start each day packing all your gear up organized daily before you start the next destination. That way you get the most room and comfort along the long drives,” Ashley says.

Make sure you have a place for your wet stuff, and to dry it between sessions.

“When on a surf trip, bring a bucket of some sort to put your wet gear in. And also be sure to dry out at the end of each day! Super key so other things don’t get wet."

Ashley wears the Tres Palmas Top and Capitola Bottoms at Malibu. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 

Leah wears the Nazare bodysuit and Montara Rashguard at Malibu. Photo by Bryce Johnson.
Ashley wears the Tres Palmas Top and the Capitola bottoms at Malibu. Photo by Bryce Johnson.
Don't forget to dry your Seea suits at the end of the day! Photo by Bryce Johnson.
Campsite for the night. Photo by Bryce Johnson.

Snacks and good music make for good vibes during stretches of road.


The memories outside your van — the glassy waves, the pink sunsets, the hiking views —probably stick in your memory the most after a road trip. But don’t forget that time spent actually driving. On Ashley’s snack food list: Stumptown coffee and French press, sesame seed almonds, trail mix, avocado, and bread.

Tell everyone load up playlists before you go. “Good playlist and gear for good jams! Any road trip you need the jams for good vibes — it’s a must! One of my fav parts of trip jamming to Bob Marley while Leah and I sang the tunes through weaving through Big Sur – Epic!”

Leah wears the Zuma Surf Suit. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
Ashley wears the Tabatinga Top and and Calafia Leggings. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 

Detours are all part of the fun.

There were no waves in the central coast stretch, so instead, the crew met up with a friend Preston, who took them to a cliff jump at Avila Beach. “Super fun detour from plan, but it was a HUGE jump. Biggest one I ever did. We had to swim around the cove to get there too! Climb up the rocks to get up to the cave and cliff. It was definitely super sketchy to get to the top with crumbly clay and not much foliage to grab onto. Once we got to the top, literally the only way to get down was to jump! It was about 35-40 foot jump. One of the highlights of the trip honestly, it was awesome!” Ashley exclaims.

Beware of Holiday weekends. 


Sometimes it’s unavoidable. The crew ended up scoring amongst the thick crowds, but its not the most comfortable situation to be sitting board to board out there and paddle battling for each wave. 

You thought Hawaii was crowded? Ashley, a Kauai local, hadn't seen anything like a California swell day. “We surfed Pleasure Point. It was a bit of a culture shock for me. It was a holiday weekend, so everyone was out. SO much water and so many waves, and so many people. Everywhere. I couldn’t believe how many surfers there were. But somehow we all scored a lot of waves. Super fun!”

Anytime you’re outside surrounded by nature can only be a good thing.

Ashley knows her trip was really lucky for swell. When the waves don’t deliver, you’ll still have unreal cliff views and chances of a pretty light show every night to look back on. “One of the best sunsets is where we stopped off the side of the road after being on a look out. The sun just bright pink, our VW van silhouette and fins just glowing in the night.”

Before the cliff jump. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
Cliff jump! Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
Relaxing on the road. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
Snack break. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 


Spot check in Big Sur. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
The best sunsets. Photo by Bryce Johnson. 
All photos by Bryce Johnson featuring Leah Dawson and Ashley Johnson.

Video filmed by Ben Weiland with the Sony Action Cam.

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