#Vanlife doesn’t have to be crunchy. But luxury experiences may cost you

Photo of a deluxe camper van at a rocky oceanfront.
Enjoy the seaside views from your deluxe camper van at Rincon Parkway Campground in Ventura.
(Daniel A. Anderson)

By Rachel Schnalzer
design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists! Are you startled by the recent cost of travel? Rental car and Airbnb rates are sky high, which means I’m scouring the internet for deals and getting creative while mapping my summer plans.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about experiences like this. That’s part of the fun, right?

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find a few luxe travel and destination ideas (posh camper vans, a $225 stargazing session) as well as other activities that cost less than $20 and a tank of gas to enjoy. As always, if you have tips for traveling on a budget, let me know.

🚐 Explore the not-so-crunchy side of #vanlife

Intrigued by #vanlife but not sure you can live without your creature comforts?

Today’s tricked-out camper vans mean you don’t need to make many sacrifices for a life on the road. Times contributor Rosemary McClure recently wrote about innovators “continuously upping the #vanlife game,” transforming some rides into a “five-star hotel on wheels” experience.

Ultra-luxury $200,000 customizations include flat-screen TVs, queen-size mattresses, showers, toilets and solar power. Benchmark, a Portland, Ore.-based company, retrofits vans for $120,000 to $350,000, according to Erin Gilmore, the company’s director of operations. That doesn’t include the $55,000 to $70,000 needed to purchase the van itself. “The people who buy our vans aren’t living in them; they’re using them like second homes,” Gilmore told McClure.

Of course, if you’re interested in getting a taste of #vanlife, you have a variety of marketplaces to choose from. Here are a few mentioned by McClure:

Van life scenes from Rincon Parkway Campground in Ventura.
A dog suns itself in a camper van at Rincon Parkway Campground in Ventura. A camper sets up for the night in a Cabana van at Rincon while dinner awaits on the stove
(Photographs by Daniel A. Anderson)

⛰️What are the best Inspiration Points in Southern California?

Hiking destinations named Inspiration Point are a dime a dozen across the Western U.S., writes Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione. She brings up a great point about these ubiquitous spots: “What bugs me is the expectation that hikers will be awed, but what if they’re not?”

Forgione profiled five local Inspiration Points to discover just how “inspiring” they are. A few of her takeaways:

  • Inspiration Point, Anacapa Island: This spot, part of Channel Islands National Park, can’t be beat for stunning ocean views. The downside? It costs $63 round trip to get there by boat — and beware the seagulls.
  • Inspiration Point, King Gillette Ranch, Calabasas: A pleasant, woodsy hike through oaks, sage and shrubs, but “try to ignore the parts dotted with radio towers and houses.”
  • Inspiration Point, above Altadena in the San Gabriel Mountains: “The best Inspiration Point in the L.A. area,” Forgione writes.

Read the rest of her “Inspiration Point” takes here.

A photo of Inspiration Point at Echo Mountain.
Inspiration Point in the San Gabriel Mountains offers awesome views.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

🌟 Stargaze at Mt. Wilson Observatory

You don’t need to head to Death Valley or Joshua Tree to gaze at the stars — just cruise up to recently reopened Mt. Wilson Observatory.

In last week’s edition of The Wild newsletter, Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione noted that visitors can make reservations for guided tours and stargazing at the observatory’s 60- and 100-inch telescopes. According to its website, the observatory is home to the largest public-use telescopes in the world.

Tickets for stargazing with the 60-inch telescope cost $95 per person, the 100-inch telescope costs $225. If you’re interested in learning more about the observatory, docent-led walking tours have less sticker shock: Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for those 12 and younger and 62 and older.

Visitors to Mt. Wilson Observatory look at dusk's glow.
Visitors enjoy the view as they wait for darkness at the Mt. Wilson Observatory.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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🍷 “Roll Out the Barrels” in SLO this weekend

Wine tastings, food pairings, live music and more await in San Luis Obispo as part of its “Roll Out the Barrels” weekend, June 24-28.

Visitors to Wolff Vineyards on June 25, from 5 p.m. to sunset, will be treated to tunes by the Five Parts Devil band and have the chance to purchase bites from Bedas Food Truck. Those who make a reservation at Baileyana (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) will get a sneak peak of the vineyard’s yet-to-be-released wines.

Take a spin through SLO Coast Wine’s site for information on pricing and how to book each experience.

Illustration of wine glasses cheers-ing.
“Roll Out The Barrels” is this weekend (June 24-28) in San Luis Obispo.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Most of California is open — with a few key exceptions. Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds and assistant travel editor Mary Forgione report on the state’s attractions that remain closed.
  • Been vaccinated? California wants to give you a dream vacation, explains Times reporter Priscella Vega.
  • Here’s everything you should know about COVID-19 vaccine passports in the U.S., from Times business reporter Hugo Martín.
  • “I Had to Travel 6,000 Niles to Learn This Lesson About Being Asian American”: Times contributor Jean Trinh writes about her family’s trip to Puning, China.
  • Going on a road trip this summer? Rachel Ng offers the perfect meal to take along in Outside Online.
  • The “secret garden” of the Sierra has been off-limits for a century — until now, reports Julie Brown in SFGATE.
  • Confused? Overwhelmed? You may have travel whiplash, says Ceylan Yeginsu in the New York Times.
The exterior of Hearst Castle, one of California's most popular tourist attractions
Hearst Castle, one of California’s most popular tourist attractions, has been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

No plans this weekend? The site Directions to Nowhere is full of ideas for activities in a public space near you.

Some examples of prompts you might find on the site:

  • “Listen to a public place. Take pictures of the sounds you hear, without identifying them. Assemble a photo-collage.”
  • “Imagine the ideal community center for your neighbourhood. Consider using SketchUp or Minecraft”
  • “Post a eulogy, make a digital gravestone, or host a virtual funeral for something gone or expired. Perhaps: a demolished building, out-of-business storefront, or past event. How would it want to be remembered?”

Hat-tip to Jade Cuevas for this ultra-creative suggestion!

📸 Photo of the week

Photograph of a thin, graceful rock arch.
The Mobius Arch frames the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area west of Lone Pine, Calif.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

“We got this 4Runner, and we been good together.”

Let “4Runner” by Rostam Batmanglij carry you across California and beyond this weekend. Safe and happy travels ✌️

Illustration of a highway
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)