A tent-topped Land Rover offers the key to a comfortable California camping trip
The idea of camping may be romantic, but sleeping under the stars takes work. In search of a slightly cushier outdoors experience, I decide to make for the Sonoma Coast in a rented tent-topped Land Rover from Bohemian Highway Travel Co.
When I pick up the black 1987 Land Rover Defender 110 at Bohemian Highway’s HQ in downtown Sonoma, I feel both strangely cool and undeniably intimidated. The Defender’s sharp lines have earned it cult status, and the rooftop tent makes the indestructible rig even more prominent. Yet, when I step up into the cab, I find I’m unprepared for the sheer size of the vehicle; the steering wheel is enormous! As I find my grip, a passing driver offers a reassuring honk and a thumbs-up.
In less than an hour, I’m rolling through the town of Bodega, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, on the way to Bodega Head. When I arrive at the small, rocky peninsula, it’s buzzing with shutterbugs and sightseers watching the spouts of migrating gray whales pop from the Pacific.
Speed Racer I am not, as I continue north on Highway 1. The striking sea on my left is swallowed by fog by the time I make it to Shell Beach, just south of the Russian River and Jenner. Strong swells prevent tide-pooling, but I have the sand to myself, and after a few minutes the skies miraculously clear.
I could stay here all day, but I’ve got a good reason to get back behind the wheel: an appointment at the scenic Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery. Seated on the deck overlooking the coastline, I sip a rare California-grown pinotage (a fruit forward nod to the South African roots of owners Lester and Linda Schwartz) while watching a charm of hummingbirds zoom around climbing vines of morning glories and clematis. Just one glass, though, as I’ve to to get on the road again.
Daylight is fading as I arrive at the campground at Stillwater Cove Regional Park, but the rooftop tent pops up with ease—no flashlight necessary. I packed a sleeping bag and pillow, but it turns out the Defender is a supply closet on wheels. The fire-engine-red camping lantern I find inside helps set a glowing evening mood as I simmer pozole on the camping stove. I dig a chocolate bar out of the cooler, anticipating the perfect s’more, and then stretch out in the comfortably padded California King–size tent space.
The next morning, after a simple picnic breakfast of fruit and yogurt, I drop the tent and hit the road again. Stump Beach is littered with clever driftwood forts, but I keep to the blufftop trail to soak in the ocean views from up high.
I’ve worked up an appetite by the time I get back to the car, but the lunch I packed is buried in the back of the Rover. That gives me an excuse, however, to keep on up the road and pick up a Two fish Baking calzone from Stewarts Point Store. I take my treat up to Black Point Beach, where I’m immediately thankful for extra napkins, as warm ricotta drips from the dough with each bite.
There’s one more stop I want to make. I take the curves along Highway 1 slowly, so as not to miss the turn for Sea Ranch Chapel. Located on the east side of the road, the pint-size, non-denominational worship space, which opened in 1985, looks like an elvish hideaway, its whimsical curved structure blending gracefully into the surroundings.
A chill has taken hold by the time I reach the campground at Gualala Point Regional Park, so I decide to turn in early. The brilliant stars in the night sky make it hard to close my eyes, but the thing about a camping trip—even one so well appointed—is that you always earn your night’s rest. $325 per night, including camping equipment, bohohwy.com
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