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by | 2018 | The Lills, Travel

After 1 year of traveling cross country in our 1978 VW bus, we finally crossed the California state line! It was an incredible feeling to have accomplished our trip across the North American continent. The experiences we had together on this adventure, strengthened our bond and mission: A Simple Life With Big Adventures.

The last leg of our trip, from Las Vegas to California and up the West Coast, would test us, gift us and teach us more than we could have ever imagined. We simply had to get out of the desert first. Read the full story below!

Will We Ever Leave Las Vegas?

When we arrived in Las Vegas, we thought we would stay for 2-3 days and then quickly trek above the Mojave Desert, to make it to the West Coast. Two days passed and three days turned into four, then five and eventually, we realized that something was holding us back. We were still a bit shaken up from the car crash in the Arizona desert and we needed to get that fear out of the way.

Temperature was another factor. Las Vegas days and nights are hot, to say the least, and potentially deadly, if stranded. Driving an old bus, with no air conditioning and doing 55mph through a desert, which easily reaches 90F at 3am, had us concerned for our cat and dog’s well-being.

Las Vegas Drive Carefully Sign | The Lills

We knew that we couldn’t stay in Las Vegas forever, so it was time to let it all go and trust that we would be protected on the journey ahead. We packed up the bus with pounds of ice, frozen ice packs and gallons of water. We took a deep breath and saw ourselves off.

Sunday, our dog, and Squish, our cat, were little warriors on the drive through southern Nevada. Outside temperatures were extreme and our pancake motor ran record high temps, as we glided over reflections of the sky, mirrored in the sandy heat waves. Solar power was running our evaporative air cooler and we strapped Squish with ice packs. Luckily, our little man was intuitive enough to hug cold water bottles, during the ride. Sunday, took the heat better than he and she accepted an ice pack on her chest to cool off, every once and a while. Their well-being was our number one priority, as we slowly made our way through the heat.

We Crossed The California Border!…Hey, What’s That Sound?

It was a surreal moment, crossing the California border, knowing we had almost made it from one coast to the other, but as we began to whip down the golden hills, a binding and vibration started in our brake pedal. We knew something was up, so we pulled into Bakersfield around noon, to take a break and assess the situation.

VW Hippie Bus California Road Trip | The Lills

We stopped the bus at a little park and sat under the shade of a tree for some time. The intense heat and long hours of driving had taken a toll on the wheel bearings that were just installed and it had warped the backing plate, behind the brake drum, causing some friction. Then things started to feel uncomfortable in the area, with uneasy activity in the park, so we packed everyone back into the bus and found a pet-friendly place to grab a bite. We knew that we were only 2 hours from the coast (in a normal car), so with everything cooled down, we decided to keep trucking.

Around 6pm, we left Bakersfield, climbed over a giant mountain and rode it down into a comfortable (30 degrees) cooler temperature, towards San Luis Obispo, California. It was late in the evening, as we got closer to the coast and the worry of the desert was over. We weren’t familiar with the San Luis Obispo area, so we stayed the night at a cheap motel, right outside of town.

We woke up in the morning, took our pets outside and we were greeted by a friendly guy, named Jake. We sat together and talked for some time about life, energy, 420, business, California and he gave us some wonderful pointers regarding San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach (our next destinations).

We Did It – Coast To Coast!

Forest lined the highway, as we hugged the curvy turns, toward the water. The smell of the ocean was in the air and we got butterflies in our tummies, as the horizon began to appear. When we made it to the beach, there was only 1 beach parking spot available and it happened to be front and center, giving us a perfect first-glance view of the ocean.

California VW Bus | West Coast Volkswagen | The Lills

We had made it, from one coast to the other, with a dog and a cat in a 1978 VW Bus! We looked at each other, with accomplishment in our eyes, and almost simultaneously said, “Well, now what?”. For the rest of the day, we put our toes into the Avila Beach sand and walked around town. When the sun began to go down, we headed North, up the beach to explore our options for camping that evening.

Travel Cat Beach Photo The Lills
California Beach Dog - The Lills

Seaside Camping & The History Of Avila Beach

Jake, the super nice guy we had met earlier that day, mentioned there was seaside camping nearby, so we went to go check it out. We noticed there were a plethora of RVs parked along the beach, but no attendants were in sight. As we drove along, we saw an empty spot, overlooking the water and when we stopped to ask about it, a very personable guy, named Mark, invited us in. He said that the attendants would be around in the morning, so he was happy to vouch for us and let us stay there the night.

He told us that he had been parked at the Port San Luis RV Campground area for over 15 months and that he was helping his father, who lived in town. He had taken a sort of leadership over the camping area and he kindly provided wireless internet to everyone. His RV was souped up to the max, with large solar panels and a super cool wind turbine. It looked like a very comfortable seaside live/work space.

He had become very knowledgeable about Avila and he explained that it was once the home of the company, Unocal, who pumped diesel fuel, gasoline and crude oil from the bluffs to the docks of San Luis Obispo Bay. In 1989, a community member supposedly struck oil in his basement and it was revealed that a toxic pool of oil had covered the entire town, below the surface. It was said that Unocal paid $200 million to help clean up around 6,750 truckloads of contaminated material, which was then dumped in a Bakersfield landfill…yikes. We asked Mark if the ocean water was safe to swim in and he said he wouldn’t…so, we didn’t.

California Oil Spill

There was some incredible wildlife that frequents these bays and it hurt to see their habitats being so carelessly wasted. Mark also alerted us to the nuclear power plant up the road, tucked in the mountain behind us, which gave us another reason to not jump into the ocean.

He said that in the next year, the Port San Luis RV Campground area would be turned into a V.I.P. RV park, which meant that people like us could never afford to stay there. Big fancy rigs only. This sounded bizarre, when there was so much pollution still being dumped into the ocean. Are they just pretending all is well? He told us that we were lucky to get to see it (even if there was pollution) and when we went to bed that night, with the sound of sealions in the distance, we thanked the energies that be, for getting us there and for providing such a wonderful place to park for the night.

In the morning, Mark tried talking to the attendants, but they let us know that we wouldn’t be able to stay at the Port San Luis RV Campground any longer. They said that only RVs and campers with hookups and lavatory/waste bins could stay there. We thought it was odd, as there were bathrooms for visitors just a short walk away, but we thanked them, paid for the previous night and carried on. We had learned, whenever there is resistance, it is usually best for us to keep moving, rather than try to fight it or try and sway it in our favor.

San Luis Obispo, The Mission Bells & Bubblegum Alley

We drove our bus into the town of San Luis Obispo, one of California’s oldest communities, dating back to 1772. We read that the Spanish Empire expansion brought and spread the Catholic faith to the land and founded a mission in San Luis Obispo. We walked the streets, fell in love with their farmers market and we took a quick peek at the Old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. While we were there, we took notice of the three San Luis Obispo historic bells, which were commissioned in 1818.

Mission Bells San Luis Obispo California | The Lills Travel

We read that two of the original five bells, were lost in the 1880’s and that two of the bells we saw had been re-casted. There is a legend that the bells were protected by a man named Antonio Martinez and that a French privateer and his 400 man army tried to capture the San Luis Obispo bells. Supposedly, Antonio buried the bells in the sand and then put together his own army, made of “seven soldados, neophytes carrying spears, women carrying kitchen knives attached to sticks, children with sharpened stakes, fighting cocks, hens with sharp objects attached to their feet and bulls and cows affixed with artificial horns”.

We read that in the 1940’s and 50’s, an Azorean immigrant, who learned ancient bell ringing patterns from Native American bell ringers, rang the ancient tones and had them broadcasted for National NBC Radio Christmas shows. This makes us go back to Nikola Tesla, who is famous for saying, “if you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of frequency and vibration”. These bells and the tones they created, must have been powerful.

The little town of San Luis Obispo was quite charming and bustling with activity. We learned that it was once named the “happiest town in America”, that it is illegal to smoke cigarettes there and that it is home to “Bubblegum Alley”, a 15-foot high and 70 foot long alley, covered in chewing gum, left by visitors.

Bubblegum Alley San Louis Obispo California | The Lills

We stopped by the local candy shop, started chewing and found the alley. It was disgusting and probably a health-hazard, but we did our best to keep our distance…except when adding our gum globs to the mix.

Camping & Driving On Pismo Beach

We had a lovely time in San Luis Obispo and the surrounding areas, but we were running super low on money and we knew we couldn’t afford to stay at a hotel during the Fourth of July holiday. We headed just a little South, to Pismo Beach, to see if we could find some inexpensive camping/parking options. Every campsite and RV camp that we spoke to, said that they were full to the brim on the 4th or were booked up months in advance…but we didn’t give up.

Once again, we kept moving and somehow, we were lead to Oceana Dunes Campground, which was just a walk through the dunes, to reach the beach. The campground attendant told us that they hold a handicap spot, until 5pm and that if it is not taken, it is up for grabs. We were blown away by this chance opportunity and when 5 o’clock came around, we happily paid the fee and made it official.

Pismo Beach Fireworks | The Lills

When night fell, we walked out to the dunes, where multiple firework displays went off, 360 degrees around us. Although we don’t normally partake in religious/traditional/corporate holidays conventionally, it was fun to observe the celebration and spend a beautiful evening together at Pismo Beach.

The following day, we explored beyond the dunes and drove our VW bus on the sand and up the Pismo Beach shoreline. Campers were parked out and cruising the beach. We imagined there are not that many places left where you can do such a thing, so we found it very exciting and freeing to zoom around, on the sand and in our bus.

Pismo Beach California | VW Bus Drive On The Beach | The Lills Travel

The two of us woke up the next morning, with a clear understanding that we needed to attract some money into our field. We decided to get in touch with our insurance company, who miraculously had a small check for us from the car accident, earlier on. We were blown away. They said we could either drive to Bakersfield or the San Francisco area to pick up the check. We chose San Francisco, as we were hoping to see it anyway.

Morro Bay & Morro Rock

Although Moksha, our 1978 VW bus, was still not acting right, we kept moving and made it to Morro Bay, a little town that rests right on the water. It is known for Morro Rock, a 576 foot high gigantic volcanic plug, which is one of the “Nine Sisters” (all volcanic plugs, from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay). Morro Bay was naturally surrounded by water, but at some point, man filled the northern channel, to make the harbor. We drove through town, by the bay and headed to Morro Rock.

Morro Bay California Volcanic Plug - The Lills

Morro Rock was surrounded by a thick fog that day, so we parked our bus at the base of it. We were immediately drawn to the water, where a community of happy sea otters played. We had such a lovely time filming them, as they bobbed peacefully in the wake of passing boats and coasted along effortlessly on their backs.

While we were there, we met a wonderful family from England, who was traveling the U.S. They were so kind and their little ones excited us about the possibility of our own family one day. It was wonderful to see children, so young and out on adventures with their loved ones. We were amazed to hear they had covered 49 states in the U.S. They too had a VW Westfalia bus, back in the U.K. and they had plans to travel more, when they returned home.

Later in the day, we saw them again and when we were heading out of Morro Bay, we noticed a man pushing his cat, who was sitting on the top of a baby stroller, out by one of the local businesses. We couldn’t help but bring Squishy, our travel cat, over to say hello. The man was so thrilled to see Squish and he quickly introduced Sunshine to us. Our Mr. Squish looked tiny in comparison to mighty Sunshine and we think Squish may have been a little intimidated. It was fun to see another cat out and about in the world.

Landslides On Highway 1

Before heading out of Morro Bay, we drove into town and picked up a vegetarian treat pizza at a funky little pizzeria. The sun was setting and we still had to find a place to spend the night.

Mark, the fellow we had met earlier at the RV spot on Avila Beach, reminded us before we left, that landslides had closed down part of Highway 1. He showed us that we would have to take I40 and cross over to highway 101, then hook a U-turn to get to Big Sur.

California Landslides

One of the employees at the pizzeria told us that we could take a different route, which would mean we wouldn’t have to go so far North. It sounded helpful and faster at the time, but when we got to the road, it was super dark, the condition of the road was terrible and we didn’t have enough fuel to feel comfortable driving on for the remaining miles. We turned around, fueled up and found refuge in King City. Thankfully, we had a few hours of really good sleep and woke up bright and early, the next morning.

We carried on North and we quickly stopped at Carmel Beach, to stretch our legs and let our pup out. It was very cold, foggy and wet, but we got to see some dolphins swimming close to shore. We took pictures of a super sweet couple at the famous tree that looks out over Carmel Beach. There were a lot of people there and it got busier, so we continued on through some beautiful communities by the beach and finally entered Big Sur.

Big Sur, Big Problem!

The narrow, 2 lane stretch of Hwy 1, curved along the shoreline and was the most beautiful landscape we had seen on our cross country trip. Every turn was incredibly picturesque and we both agreed, Big Sur seemed right out of a fairly tale. Our bus made it over huge cliffs, above crashing water and when we came to Bixby Creek Bridge, we pulled over to take some photos. The moment we turned off the bus, the motor stumbled, with a violent shake and rattle, which gave us chills. The bus wouldn’t turn over and with no cell service and with being up so high, we weren’t sure what to do.

Bixby Creek Bridge Big Sur California | The Lills

There was another family there, who had locked their keys in their car, so a tow truck was already on the way. We wondered if our fate was for the tow truck to haul us and our bus out of Big Sur.

In moments like this, we tried to remain calm and trust that there was a reason for everything. We took out all of our Volkswagen manuals and began going over the possibilities. We checked the starter, solenoid, spark plugs, distributor and the fuel lines, with no problem in sight. Then, we noticed a critical wire coming from the coil, which had jumped out of its connector. With the wire back in place, the first turn of the key started our bus right up!

We had a wonderful chat with a local police officer, who loved working in Big Sur. Even though he was conventional, he told us that his wife calls him a tree hugger. We said goodbye and thankfully, made it over the bridge.

Arguably, The Best Drive in the USA

From coast to coast, Big Sur was our favorite drive. The two lane highway hugged the coast, it brought us over more gorgeous cliffsides and by stunning beach, after stunning beach. When we were over 20 miles into the winding cliffsides, we decided to look for a place to park for the night.

Big Sur California Road Trip | The Lills

We checked with nearby camp areas to find a place to stay. Once again, all of the campsites were full and we weren’t sure what to do. We took a chance, driving a few miles deeper into Big Sur and eventually, we asked a park ranger at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, if she had any thoughts. She had already made others turn around, but somehow, we were given the okay. It was amazing and she said we could have the spot that no one had showed up for! We thanked her and the universe for taking care of us…again!

We had a lovely night in the woods, among ancient tall trees, eating and laughing around our campfire, with Sunday and Squish, our fur-babies. In the morning, we took the same road back through Big Sur and continued North, toward San Francisco. We stopped at Monastery Beach to stretch our legs and on the way to Santa Cruz, we visited a farm to grab some organic snacks.

Santa Cruz & Sleeping On HWY 1

Later in the afternoon, we made it to Santa Cruz and got stuck in heavy traffic, heading to the boardwalk. We circled back and stopped at the top of a cliff, overlooking the ocean and boardwalk, from afar. There were surfers catching waves below and skateboarders, whizzing by everywhere.

Travel Couple | VW Bus Santa Cruz Ca | The Lills Travel

We heard through the grapevine that Rvs, campers and cars are allowed to park on Highway 1, just past the Santa Cruz county line, at any pull off, as long as there aren’t signs stating otherwise. So, we took our bus, just out of Santa Cruz and searched for the spot that felt right. We drove for three miles and we really didn’t like what we saw, so we turned around and drove 3 miles back, to a row of other vehicles parked for the night.

After parking our bus and getting settled, a mustang pulled up in front of us and a guy got out to puke. Later in the night, a huge van with tinted windows pulled up in front of us and backed up, with but a foot or so between us. The motor of our Volkswagen bus is in the back, which makes the front of the vehicle flat. Their rear window practically met our windshield, so we put our windshield screen up and closed our privacy curtain, for some much needed privacy.

Large semi trucks, heading up the rustic coastal highway, illuminated our bus and gusted our pop top bed, which shook us about until morning. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep, but we didn’t spend a dime and it was super easy to get back on the road.

Scott’s Beach, Waddell Beach & Half Moon Bay

Shortly after getting on the road, we stopped at Scott’s Beach, which had a cozy little spot on a hill, overlooking the ocean. We spent about an hour, just relaxing in the wind, with our dog. Only a few people passed by, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Scott's Beach California | The Lills Travel

From there, we made it to Waddell Beach, where the sky was filled with colorful kites, as kite-surfers took to the waves. We thought this was a great location and a great time to break out our $1 kites, so we joined the party.

After having our fun, we noticed a husband and wife with two little girls, who we thought would enjoy our kites. They were most excited for the gifts! As we walked toward our bus to leave, we looked back, held each other and watched them, as they made new memories with their new kites.

Waddell Beach Kites Kite Surfing California | The Lills Travel

We jumped back on Highway 1 and kept moving, until we saw a lighthouse in the distance. We learned that Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest in the U.S., it was built in 1871 and it used to be illuminated by an oil lamp, which was later replaced by a 1000 watt bulb. The lens includes 24 flash panels and is made up of 1008 hand-polished lenses and prisms. Eventually the lens was retired and we read that, in 1972, an aerobeacon was mounted to the lighthouse, to send signals of flashing light to boats. While we were at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, they had the lens on display and an employee explained to us that it would cost over a million dollars to reinstall.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse California | The Lills

We passed by Pescadero Beach and landed in Half Moon Bay. When we arrived, we quickly made it over to Half Moon State Beach. The person at the entrance said that they were full, but that we could check with the camp host to see if the handicap spot was taken. They said if it wasn’t, there was a good chance we could grab it.

Half Moon Bay CA | The Lills Travel

We waited for 2 hours by the beach, we did our best to let it all go and we checked back in with the camp host. Once again, we were somehow able to secure the spot. It was just off the dunes and adjacent to an open field, filled with bunnies. The campground area was charming, there were trails that led us along the pretty beach and our pets loved getting to enjoy some playtime.

Another Miracle

We were thankful for a place to sleep, but we reminded each other that it was a Thursday. We were running low on funds, so there was pressure to get to the insurance company (which was really in Brisbane), before closing time the next day. If we could make it in time, we could pick up our check and continue on. If we didn’t make it, we’d have to wait two more days.

Montara Beach California VW Bus | The Lills Travel

The next morning, we quickly stopped to see the fields of flowers at Montara Beach and we hopped back on Highway 1 to zoom to the insurance office. The moment we passed through the tunnel to San Francisco, everything changed. There was no more beautiful coastline, the traffic was heavy and congested and there were hillside shanty town looking communities, which seemed out of place, as we moved toward Brisbane. Time flew by and we were starting to get anxious. Could we make it in 30 minutes?

Then, something incredible happened. Our phone alerted us that we were out of data, minutes, texting abilities and most importantly, GPS. We now had no idea what directions we needed to take to get to the insurance office!

We believe this was when we started exercising some breathing techniques and we did our best to kick our intuition into high gear. We jumped off a random exit and climbed a steep road, over a mountain. We didn’t have very high hopes and we began letting go, when all of a sudden, we came to the top of a hill. As we began to descend, the number of the building we were looking for, glowed in the distance. In the five last minutes we had before closing hour, the check was in hand. We almost couldn’t believe it!

“If You’re Going To San Francisco”…Be Sure To Put Gas In Your Car…

We jumped back in our bus and followed signs to San Francisco. We drove through bubbles at Fisherman’s Wharf, which was packed to the brim with tourists. We were in desperate need of gas and with no GPS and zero clue as to where a station was, we stopped at the end of the wharf. Our reserve tanks were on top of the bus, so we were going to fish them out. Before doing so, we asked a fellow, getting ready to head out on his motorcycle, if he knew where the nearest gas station was. We got to talking, he enjoyed our story and he explained a little about himself.

Fishermans Wharf San Francisco | The Lills Travel

He was a swimmer for special forces and he swam the English Channel, Alcatraz and other amazing feats, multiple times. We talked for a while and he offered to guide us through downtown San Francisco, to a gas station. It was like an angel was sent to us and in just a few minutes, we waved our goodbyes and turned in to fuel up!

We then found a place to park and connect with family. We let them know where we were and we gave them an update. They lovingly stepped in and paid to get our phone turned back on, even though they too were going through financial issues. We were so thankful to have such supportive people in our lives. From coast to coast, they really did cheer us on and they really did love what we were doing.

The phone was back on, we had the check and we used our bank’s mobile deposit app, but we knew we had to wait for them to release the funds. Meanwhile, finding a place to camp, park or sleep was most difficult in San Francisco. It seemed impossible to directly contact any of the parks or campgrounds and we were told they book up months in advance. Hotels, motels and hostels had no vacancy or were too pricey and our options seemed to diminish into none. After many attempts, we decided to let go and just keep driving.

The Other Side Of The Golden Gate Bridge

We made it over the Golden Gate Bridge and we thought we could sleep at the H. Dana Bower Rest Area. When we arrived, the scenery was great, but there were signs regarding frequent theft and the vibe just didn’t feel right. We carried on through Marin County and entered Sausalito, as the sun was going down. We found a little organic grocery store that was still open and we grabbed some small bites, with what little funds we had left.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco - The Lills

While checking out, we asked the cashier, who happened to be the manager, if there was anywhere we could park for the night. He was super friendly and he said that it was no problem at all for us to stay in their lot. We were grateful for the spot and before tucking in, we were approached by a friendly local, who enjoyed our story and pets. He gave us 2 boxes of dog food and some good pointers about the area.

We rose early the next morning, just before the sun came up and when we brought our animals outside, we were greeted by a father and son (Peter and little Leo), who were most interested in our cat on a leash. We spent a good amount of time talking with them and said our goodbyes, unsure of where to go next.

We drove to Pelican Yacht Harbor and we found a little Italian coffee shop/bakery, called Taste of Rome, where we grabbed some hot drinks and an authentic almond croissant. We’re not sure if anyone could tell we hadn’t showered in 2 days, but we were ready to get cleaned off.

“The Mountains Are Calling & We Must Go” – Muir Woods, Muir Beach & Stinson Beach

After lots of phone calls, we connected with an itty bitty motel on Stinson Beach, even more North on Highway 1. Detours and road work led us over the Panoramic Highway. The weather changed back and forth, from thick fog to sunshine. As we descended through the forest, the beachfront became visible. We made it to the motel, but we couldn’t check in until 3pm.

Lara Lill VW Bus Stinson Beach California - The Lills

There were only a few businesses on the little main street, but there was a decent amount of activity that day. We parked at the beach and we took a quick glance, we split a veggie pesto sandwich and we picked up a sticker for our collection. Eventually, we checked in at the Stinson Beach Motel for $80. Their rooms were in need of serious updating, but the price was right and the attendant, Carl, was the man.

Stinson Beach California | The Lills

It was nice to be able to get cleaned up, but we had less than a hundred dollars. We received an early-morning email, letting us know that our bank wasn’t going to release the funds from the insurance check…until Tuesday of next week! We quickly jumped on the phone and called our local branch on the East Coast. It was 4pm EST and time was ticking.

Less Than $100…

After multiple attempts and multiple transfers, no manager was available to help us. Once again, we stayed calm and followed our intuition. We called the 800 number and we asked to be connected to any bank manager in South Carolina.

A gentleman picked up the phone and we explained that we made the mobile deposit, using their app and that our funds were being delayed. He insisted that our local branch should take care of the issue, but he understood that we couldn’t get in touch with a manager. He wasn’t sure what he could do, but he asked to call us back in 15 minutes. We waited patiently with our cat and dog at Stinson Beach, hoping everything would work out.

Traveling Cat Stinson Beach California - The Lills

It was already closing hour and we wondered if we’d ever hear back from him. 15 minutes later, on the nose, he called back. He told us that there was no one he could get in touch with to remove the hold, so he went ahead and did it himself! We thanked him so much, to go out his way and on a limb to help us. It was another miracle that we would never forget.

Making $900 Last

On a budget and with not many other options, sandwiches filled us up and kept us alive, even though they were wildly outside of our normal eating habits. When we got really hungry that day, we realized that we could make many more sandwiches for less money, by purchasing ingredients at the tiny general store. We grabbed a very expensive loaf of bread, a tomato, some lettuce, a package of Meunster cheese, a tiny bottle of mayo, some chips, a chocolate macaroon and some bottles of water, for something like, $40.

Bolinas Lagoon California | The Lills VW BusWe ate sandwiches and little nibbles and we camped in our bus, right on the Bolinas Lagoon, just a mile down the road from Stinson Beach. Across the lagoon, we understood there was a somewhat hidden community, but we didn’t check it out. We read later, that the Bolinas locals voted for the community town signs to be taken down, so not to attract passerby’s. Supposedly, they enjoy being reclusive and left in peace. The few nights we camped there, made us understand why the folks living by the lagoon wouldn’t want that to change.

Sleeping in the bus on the lagoon, was probably the best sleep we had in California. There were barely any cars, cruising on the 2 lane road and the stillness was blissful. The only thing that we had to get used to, was peeing outside/or in a bottle and pooing in a bag. It was very unsophisticated, but we did what we had to, to get by. Being out of our comfort zones and in nature, made us realize how unnatural humans have become and for some reason, it felt freeing, to do things so differently. Curling up for bed, in our bus, was such a cozy feeling and falling asleep to the sounds of the outdoors, was something we’ll never forget.

Each morning, we drove back to Stinson beach, where we parked out and worked on the computer. We met lots of different people during our time there and we even connected with a group of travelers in 2 VW buses, all with wonderful stories to tell and photographs to show.

When we went to go park at the beach the next day, it turned out there was a race/event being held there. We decided to skip the hubbub and we drove back down to Sausalito, to do laundry at the Launderland Coin Op. If you can believe it, we split another veggie pesto sandwich (best we had in Cali), this one being at Davey Jones Deli, inside the little bodega, just next door to the laundromat.

New Friends & the kindness of others

As we were finishing up laundry, we were approached by the father that we had met at the organic grocery store with his son in Sausalito. Peter introduced his wife, Elizabeth, to us and they asked if we’d like to pop by their home, to enjoy an evening with friends. We would have had a great time, but we were just too filthy to accept the invitation. We let them know that we needed to get cleaned up, after being on the road for a while, but we exchanged phone numbers, so we could stay in touch.

Launderlan Coin Op Laundry | Sausalito California | The Lills Travel

The sun was going down, so we headed up Highway 1, toward a pull-off, near Muir Beach. It was so peaceful, it overlooked the valleys, forests and ocean and it didn’t cost us a dime. In the morning, we headed back into town. Our wheel bearing issue was becoming more apparent, but we rolled on anyway.

When we went by the little marina bodega to grab a few cheap morning nibbles, we received a text from Peter and Elizabeth. They asked if we, our cat and dog would like to come over in the evening for dinner. We really wanted to spend some time with the family, so we got back in our bus and while having a bite, we discussed our pressing need: a place to grab a shower.

Sausalito Houseboats

All of a sudden, two older men popped up behind the bus and one of them stuck their head in our window to say, “whatchya eatin’?”. We all hit it off right away and the Scottish twin brothers cracked joke after joke. They had us laughing so hard and a few minutes later, they did the unthinkable. They invited us to their houseboat and they offered to let us use the marina showers! It was miraculous!

The houseboat community was its own little world and we felt so lucky to get a closer look. We just loved how each boat was totally different in color, size and shape. Tom and Melinda’s houseboat had a Buddha painted on the outside, which made it stick out from the rest. When we walked in, the bedroom and bathroom were ahead and to left, we moved into the surprisingly spacious kitchen. They had a black cat, who was most happy living seaside and there was a neighbor’s dog, who was a frequent visitor. The living room area was divine, with big glass windows, overlooking the water. The whole bunch were a hoot, so gracious and welcoming. We had a lot of fun with them that afternoon.

Sausalito Houseboats California | The Lills Travel

The brothers told us that when the Marinship shipyards were de-commissioned at the end of World War II, the abandoned boats and material was reused to create over 400 unique, floating homes. Famous writer, Shel Silversteen, lived in a boat there and supposedly, the community used to be a hippie hangout.

The harbor master eventually got word about us and came looking for us. They let us know, they were not so keen on letting us stay in the marina lot that night, despite the invitation from our new friends. We received a tip however, that a certain road along the marina was public property and that we could park there for the night, if we could find a spot.

That evening, we made it over to Peter and Elizabeth’s home for dinner. We were greeted by Leo, who was so excited to play with Squish and Sunday. He introduced us to his baby sister, he gave us a grand tour of the home, he showed us the yard and he drew pictures for us at the dinner table. We all had a bite to eat and we filled them in on more details from our adventure.

Once we got done blabbing, they explained the two of them had met when Peter was hitchhiking from abroad. They seemed as unconventional as we are and they went on to tell us about living around Hawaii for month. We all could relate to one another and getting to visit with them and their two beautiful children, made us feel even more capable of growing together, as a couple and as a family.

Sausalito Houseboats Photograph | The Lills

Late in the night, we found a public parking spot at the marina and while letting our pets out, we watched blankets of fog sprawl through the hills, overlooking San Francisco. When we woke, we were greeted by the Scottish brothers, who let us get another shower in at the marina! They were so nice to us and they told us about growing up in the area. Supposedly, the two of them were quite a young team and caused some ruckus with their antics. The two of them were something else and we were so thankful to have met them.

Soon after, we got word that the marina did not want us using the showers, even though we were technically guests. Melinda (Tom’s wife), in particular, thought this was crazy. We by no means wanted to cause any trouble, so we let her know that it was no big deal. We were so thankful for the two showers and the time we got to spend with them!

What Are The Chances!?

We decided to take some time away from the marina and head out to Muir Beach. It was an incredible drive through lush forests and although the water was frighteningly brisk, we jumped in to get cleaned off. After exploring the rocks and warm pools, we got back in the bus and drove up the swervy, 2 lane bit of Highway 1, toward town. Very soon after getting back on the road, we noticed someone behind us and we intuitively pulled over, to let them pass.

Strangely, the car that was behind us, pulled off of the road too. A woman stepped out and she came to the window of our bus with some excitement. She said something along the lines of, “I hate to bother you, but did you paint this bus yourself?” We said that it came this way when we bought it. She said, “from Jeremy, in Asheville!? This was my ex-boyfriend, Jeremy’s, bus! He sold it in Asheville, North Carolina, right before he came here!”. We were just blown away. What are the chances!?

Chance Meeting Fate Miracle | VW Bus | The Lills Travel

We remembered Jeremy, having said that he was going to take his motorcycle to Cali and that’s why he was selling the bus. In November of 2013, we went to Asheville, to go pick it up. He sold us the bus for $1,800 and he headed West. The two of us slowly began making fixes to our new house on wheels and we took a few short trips, to test-drive him and get used to being on the road. It took years of little (and big) repairs, but in 2017, everything was finally aligned for us to go long distance.

It was just bizarre, that after 5 years, we would bring the bus to the West Coast and connect back with Jeremy. He must have gotten word, because only a few days later, he emailed us through our website to say hello! It was AMAZING and we felt like everything had been meant to be!

We then headed down to Sausalito, to grab some supplies from a grocery store and grab internet at a local coffee shop. When evening came about, we headed back up to sleep in our bus. We found a little spot to park, right off the two lane, curvy road in the hills, overlooking the ocean in the distance. The only thing was, the moment we tried to take our cat out, we heard an alarming sound. When we shined the flashlight up at a tree, we saw two mountain cats that were three times the size of our Squishy Cat. Their yowl was intimidating, so we got back in the bus and drove down the mountain to find a spot with no mountain cats. It was nice to be out of town and back in nature, but we still weren’t sure what to do next.

Parking Overnight California HWY 1 | VW Bus Camping | The Lills

Time To Get Creative

We slept on Highway 1 and in the hills, near Muir Beach, for a few nights in a row, until we decided to drive back down to Sausalito for internet. Our bus was not doing well and we needed some mullah to keep us on our adventure.

We scoured job listings and craigslist, until we got something. There was a business man, named David, who was in Santa Cruz and he had a property that needed a mural painted on the floor. We thought, this is just perfect!

David gave us a call, we talked for some time and we began to get very excited about the project. Although our bus was still showing mechanical issues, the project was promising, so we took the chance and drove 2 hours to the $1,500 job waiting for us. This would carry us through, to the completion of some design jobs that were in-progress.

He said that we could park and sleep in our bus at the property, located in downtown Santa Cruz. Contractors were scheduled to come by and make some fixes, which would mean there would be hot water. David kindly mentioned that we could use the shower and get started on painting the floors, right after the repairs. We were pumped and we couldn’t wait to get creative!

Back To Santa Cruz We Go

Our bus somehow made it and we arrived with great excitement. Our bodies were so tired of eating veggie sandwiches and we were expecting to make good money, so we treated ourselves to healthy ingredients and snacks from the local Trader Joe’s.

That night, we slept in our bus and we drew out ideas for the floor murals. We sent David a bunch of ideas and he seemed to really enjoyed one of the designs, which showcased nautical flags. Unfortunately, nobody came by to make fixes the next day, which meant we had no hot shower, no work and no money. He generously gave us a hundred dollars to get by, but the days continued to pass and no fixes were made to the house.

Money was so tight, so we went back to making veggie sandwiches in the bus and a few times, we split some veggie mexican food, which was nearby. We were definitely being put to the test and even so, we stayed put, hoping something would manifest.

VW Bus Pop Top Volkwagen California | The Lills

We slept in our bus, we parked behind the little house and we went to bed each night, with the sound of the boardwalk, live music and screams from people on amusement park rides. Our experience in Santa Cruz felt very nostalgic and we felt like we were stuck in time.

After a few days without getting clean, we decided it was time to use the shower in the little house. It was cold outside and even colder in the home, but we did our best to get into the right mental state. We held our breaths and clinched our jaws, as we took the most freezing shower of our lives. We will forever appreciate and be grateful for warm water, after that.

A few more days passed and David asked if we would want to drive back up to San Francisco, to work for his ferry ride company, where we would sell tickets at the dock. At first, it sounded like a quick fix for everyone, but our bus was barely hanging on. We were so low on funds and we knew, there was no way we could make it all of the way back to San Francisco in our broken bus. We would have nowhere to stay or get clean each day, plus, the two of us weren’t keen on taking a sales job that would force us to dress up in sailor outfits and put on a show. Everything in us said, don’t do it.

We let David know, we couldn’t risk our lives or do more (expensive) damage to our bus and we thanked him for the opportunity. That’s when he offered to either purchase a super cheap car, to get us to the city or, fix our bus. He knew we were strapped and stuck, so it was beyond nice of him to keep trying.

Life Is Short | VW Bus Volkswagen Short Bus | The Lills

A few days later, we hobbled over to Old Volks Home, who lifted our bus into the air and got to fixing our rumbly wheel bearings. We kept our cat, Squish, inside, as he had become used to being in there, while it was being fixed. In the meantime, we took a walk with our pup, Sunday, we grabbed yet another veggie sandwich and we visited a local marijuana dispensary, just down the road.

Although the wheel bearings in our bus were technically fixed, we still heard a noise when we drove away. The rear brakes were binding, so we brought the bus back, so the mechanics could loosen them up. The mechanics explained that the break drums were thin and worn from all of our travels, so we now needed new break drums. We made an appointment for next week, even though we didn’t know how we’d pay for it.

We weren’t sure where any of this was going and in the past, usually something would happen, to push us in a different direction or carry us onward. David let us know that the job in San Francisco had been taken, but that he had another idea. He asked us if we would design him a website for his ferry company and we were thrilled! We suggested trading the design work for the bus fixes and he agreed. What a win/win situation!

We were so excited to get the bus fixed and to get creative, so we drove straight to the local library, to get started. We sat at the computer all day long, working in our bus and we presented a rough draft at the end of the night.

Sharing The Love

We were down to $20 to our name that evening, but instead of panicking, we decided to stay positive and get something rewarding to eat. We took a little drive and we grabbed a plain cheese pizza to-go, from Woodstock Pizza in downtown Santa Cruz. We were so hungry, that when the pie was ready, we ate from inside the bus, where we were parked. When we were almost done, we became aware of a young man, curled up in the cold. He was laying on concrete and downwind of the glorious aromas and laughter, coming from the pizzeria next door.

What To Do With Your Last $20 Dollars | The Lills

Although we didn’t have much, we had more than this fellow and we had something to give. We got out of the bus, walked over and asked if he was hungry. We said that we knew the feeling all too well and we would love it, if he accepted our last slice. He was gleaming and so were we.

Right after, we piled together our change, went to a pharmacy and grabbed some tiny snacks for the night. There was a woman, clearly in need and standing at the entrance. We gave her a pack of mixed nuts and we gave her some words of encouragement, before moving on. Little moments like this reinforced in us, why we left South Carolina with $3,000 and a few belongings, to begin with.

We weren’t looking for money or fame on this trip, we were looking for experience, a deeper understanding, a greater purpose and self-experienced truth. We went to bed in our bus that night, parked outside of the little house, with a feeling of thankfulness for the little that we had and for the amount we had learned on our journey, thus far.

Blind Faith

Even though the mural job became more and more delayed and David wasn’t ready to move forward on the website, we did use some time to do work for a few design clients, who had ongoing projects. We got in touch with someone in Santa Cruz, who needed a graphic design team and we worked on our Las Vegas travel video, in the evenings. Everything was neither looking up or down, but what happened next, changed everything.

One of us accidentally fell asleep that night, with contact lenses still in and woke up to unfathomable pain and literally, complete blindness. Was this temporary or a forever thing? It was very hard to tell and it was very hard to swallow. As calmly as we could, we rushed to the local emergency room and waited.

Temporary Blindness | The Lills

The nurses put drops in, prescribed a painkiller and referred us to an eye specialist. Because we were technically homeless, they were able to take care of the $1,000 visit. This was a huge weight lifted off of our shoulders and we thanked them for their help. Still in pain, they recommended we go straight to the eye doctor, just down the road.

David came by the hospital, while we were waiting to be taken care of. He let us know that we could keep staying at the house, which was awfully nice, but we knew we had to be in a more sterile environment. He offered us money and he became a bit upset, when we declined. We thought we were being polite, but we had struck a cord. We weren’t sure why we kept experiencing up and downs with him, but we had good intentions and we think he did too. On his way out, the one of us who wasn’t blind, followed him outside to have a word.

Things became a bit uneasy, but then David revealed something that made everything make sense. He said that he had an illness and that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He said that he was trying help those around him more and it all of sudden became clear to us, why we were supposed to cross paths. We all had some very important things to learn from each other and we were helping each other, in more ways than we understood at the time.

The two of us thought that by going to Santa Cruz, we would get to be creative and possibly be mentored, which would lift our spirits and also provide the means to carry on. Instead, our creative attempts fell short and we continuously felt pressure to integrate ourselves back into the conventional system that we were trying to escape. David and the two of us knew how different we all were, but we appreciated each other’s perspectives and we did connect on a creative level. We admired and respected David, we just wish we could have worked together artistically.


When we got to the eye doctor’s, they let us know that it would take days for the cornea-scratched eyes to heal. They provided us with medicinal eye drops and a schedule to stick by, for the coming week.

Sleeping in a dirty bus, with no shower and two pets, was no longer an option. The eye doctor waived the fees and the cost of medicine, which was an incredible surprise. Family members incredibly came forward to keep us at a cheap motel, which was another amazing gift. We thanked all who came forward to help us and we did the best we could, living out of a 3rd story motel, with a cat and a dog and one of us painfully blind.

Temporary Blindness | Medicinal Schedule | The Lills

Being completely blind and unable to see the world around oneself, is a very uneasy feeling. Moving around was very difficult and the pain was tremendous, for days. We were given a pair of solar shield sunglasses, which were hilarious, but helped with light sensitivity.

Although we were thankful for all of the assistance, things had pretty much hit rock bottom and we were yet again, unsure of what to do next. One family member said come home, while another suggested that we try and get a job. We again, scoured the internet for possibilities, but nothing materialized and the mural and web design opportunities were still not happening.

David suggested that we read the book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad and later down the road, we covered the first two chapters, online. What became clear to us, was that it was a guidebook to making money, which would lead us back into a conventional lifestyle and workstyle. We put the book down and decided to not read on, any further. We realized that we were being asked once again, if we’d be willing to surrender to the norm.

Volkswagen Comic Strip Joke | The Lills VW Bus

Incredibly, David got in touch with us a few days later. He offered to help us with the final bus repairs, even though the website was still in the air. We went by Old Volks Home, who installed the new break drums. When they were finished, we couldn’t get hold of David, who was going to pay for the fixes over the phone. Luckily, we had $200 that he had first offered us at the hospital and then left at the little house, for us to grab. We handed it over, plus another $30 and got back in our fixed up bus!

Thank You!

We contemplated our possibilities and in the midst of questioning our next move, we were contacted by a dear friend that we had made on our trip. He checked in on us, from time to time, and when he heard about our circumstance, he offered us an opportunity that we couldn’t say no to.

He said he’d pay to get us to him, where we could work together at his home and business, as well as help him out for the winter season. This would allow us to get resituated, save our pennies and get geared for the next phase of our life path.

We couldn’t believe how everything worked out and we couldn’t have been more grateful. It was overwhelming to know we could get back on the road and after 7 days, the injury had healed and vision had finally been restored. We cried and laughed and we said goodbye to the Santa Cruz Motel. Things were looking up!

We let David know that everything was handled, regarding the bus fixes. We explained that we were heading out of Cali and we wished him great things for the future. We drove to a local auto parts store to get oil and we headed North, to spend a half day in San Francisco.

Going Back To San Francisco

With maybe too much excitement, we drove back into the congestion of traffic and ended up going in circles, for some time. Family members had painted a really groovy picture of the San Francisco, but in our opinion, it felt like it had lost its supposed luster, it felt too corporate and so much of the area was in need of a serious makeover.

San Francisco Cityscape | The Lills Travel

A family member had mentioned Haight and Ashbury, which are two historic streets that intersect in San Francisco. This community was home to the hippie counterculture in the sixties and it attracted like-minded youths from all over America. Locals and visitors spread messages of peace, love, oneness, meditation and energy. The district also became known for The Summer of Love, which was an event held in the summer of 1967. It was said to have drawn over 100,000 people and it was first announced by Haight-Ashbury’s newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle.

“A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind”. – San Francisco Oracle

We didn’t know how hard it would be to find some hippie vibes in San Fran, so it was relieving to make it to Haight/Ashbury, which was still quite groovy. We parked our 1978 VW bus by some funky shops and began our exploration.

Right off the bat, we were asked by locals if we wanted hallucinogens. By the time we had made it two blocks further, we were asked again by another local. One guy stood right on the edge of the sidewalk, using his skateboard as a table to roll and sell doobies, out in the open. There were headshops everywhere, music stores galore, vintage clothing shops, restaurants of all sorts and some tacky souvenir stores, on almost every block. What got us the most, was the architecture, the ever-present hippie vibe and the vibrant colors that beamed from the buildings.

Haight Ashbury San Francisco California- Alex Lill Lara Lill - The Lills

Before leaving, we grabbed a quick veggie to-go dish from a funky eatery. We brought our meal to Golden Gate Park, but it was so cold, so we decided to eat in our bus. We can’t express how cold almost our entire California trip was. Only a few times, we were able to get into our bathing suits and soak up some sun. The majority of the time, we covered ourselves in layers to combat the weather, but we were so thankful to see the coast, rain or shine.

Goodbye California!

It was time to head East! We stayed at a cheap hotel in Redwood City and we met a very cool fellow, who spoke about energy. His take on spirit, was that it was best to generate energy from on our centers, rather than our pineal glands/third eye, which was fun to learn more about.

We talked for quite some time and then all of a sudden, he gifted us with a wooden music box, with a little boy and girl on it, as well as a small Indian keepsake box. Before heading in for the night, we gave him an Indian wooden incense holder, as a thank you. The next morning, he had left an avocado on our windshield, which made us giggle.

Avocado Volkswagen VW Bus | The Lills

As we continued South, down the California coast, we stopped quickly by Pescadero Beach. We enjoyed a fresh and delicious veggie sushi feast, for under $20 in Sand City and we realized that it was getting late. We got back on the road and kept moving South down Highway 1.

The two of us started getting really tired, so we pulled into a truck stop to fuel up and get a few hours of sleep. We popped the top of our bus, let our animals out, got situated and we were immediately disturbed by the amount of noise and constant activity there was. We decided to break everything back down and try to make it to King City, which we had already been to, earlier on our drive up the coast.

Back Into The Desert

We got a few hours of sleep and carried on in the morning, toward the California/Nevada border. Once again, we had some nervousness, regarding driving through the heat and just before noon rolled in, we started to notice the temperature going up and up. We pulled into a rest stop and sat under the shade of a tree, with our cat and dog. It was too hot to keep driving, so we took a cheap motel in Lebec.

Rainbow In The Desert | The Lills

The next day, we woke up early and drove on to Barstow, California, which rests on historic Route 66. It was ridiculously hot out, as expected, but we weren’t sure how locals could handle the continuous heat. We took a cheap motel, cooled off, got to bed and headed out, with lots of water and ice on board, around 2am in the morning.

There was nothing between Barstow and Kingman, which was a long haul, but somehow, we crossed under the Mojave desert and we were able to make it to Kingman, Arizona. The small desert town, also on Route 66, was nothing short of an oasis. It was so hot, our clothing stuck to our skin and our pets did their best to handle the drive to, yet another, cheap motel room. The room cost us around a whopping $50.

The next day, we asked the motel staff if it would be alright for us to stay past the check-out time, so we could leave in the evening, when it was cool enough to travel. They were so nice and had no problem letting us and our pets wait it out.

We trekked on and eventually, we made it to our final destination, where we were greeted by familiar faces and smiles. We got right to work with our dear friend and we got right to work on ourselves, as the fall season passed by and turned into winter. Getting to sleep comfortably and take hot showers, were our new favorite comforts. Who knew such simplicities would be so satisfying?

Nothing, But Everything

Although we have nothing tangible to show from our travels coast to coast (other than our little travel videos, photos and blog posts), the experiences shared between us are forever priceless. When we look back, knowing we left with $3,000 to our name, we are baffled by the craziness of it all. How did we do that? Did we do that? Thank you to the energies that be. We couldn’t help notice, when you took the reigns or showed us the way.

Alex Lill Lara Lill | Big Sur California Road Trip VW Bus | The Lills

Thank you family and thank you friends, for the love, encouragement, assistance and support. Thank you to each other, for sticking in there and thank you to our little fur-babies, for being our family on this great adventure. Thank you readers, for tuning in and thank you to all of those who wrote us along the way.

To those of you, who are thinking about setting off on your own adventure, go for it! It has been eye-opening and life-changing, to travel with the ones we love and if you have the guts to do it simply, without excess, to rely on each other and on the moment, it can fill your hearts with a gypsy joy!

– Peace & Love, The Lills

Click here to see where our cross country trip began!


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