Road Trippin’ Coastal California With A Roof-Top Tent

Tepui roof-top tent

Southern California To The Northern Coast With A Tepui Roof-Top Tent

For years, I wondered if the van life was the answer to living a full life. As a California native, I have access to a coastline that extends over a thousand miles, offering some of the best scenic routes in North America.

I’d only experienced two or three quality road trips in my lifetime — all of which dated back to middle school. But even as a young adventurer with dad in the driver seat, there was something incredibly fulfilling about long-distance car camping and the many miles in-between home and a destination. Something that I now value as an adult who understands just how fast life passes.

San Francisco Coastline

This year, I’ve found myself often daydreaming about a past road trip to Glacier National Park and the Canada border. We drove the California coast before heading east through Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming — not a bad trip, eh? I had a bit more time on my hands back then, a distance concept for most of us nowadays.

Day dreaming on the beach

With so many life-altering memories from that trip, I‘d forgotten what the northern regions of my home state (California) looked like. This amnesia was likely induced by the stunning beauty of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

To this day, nothing I have ever seen or done compares to these wild parks — aside from my wedding… just in case my wife reads this.
I had driven so many miles within my own state, yet I couldn’t recall its coastal beauty. And thanks to Instagram account, my phone reminded me of this for years, showing image after image of the northern coast, from San Simeon to well north of San Francisco.

As much as I hate to admit it, social media influenced me to do this drive again. Too many influencers seemed to tease me with their wanderlust-inducing photos: #LandscapePhotographer #Travel, #DigitalNomad.

San Simeon Seal lookout

In search of new memories, I bribed my dad into the driver seat of his Toyota FJ Cruiser for a road trip. The trip would begin in Orange County and concluding near the Sonoma Coast. It didn’t take much to line up the perfect vehicle for this expedition, after all, we had an FJ in the family. But this time, I brought more gear and a positive outlook on the road ahead, thanks in part to a roof-top tent from Tepui Tents! The Autana Sky, to be exact. I was looking forward to sleeping above the ground, as this was my first roof-top experience.

Tepui roof-top tent

Although rooftop tents have been in use since the 1940s (discuss if you must), I hadn’t seen many of them before the last three years. I’m sure the real overland crowd has been using them for much longer, and I simply didn’t notice. Even so, there’s no denying they’re uber-trendy at the moment; they make you look like a dedicated adventure seeker. Admittedly, every time I spot a vehicle with a Tepui tent on it, I assumed that person was living a desirable life.

As irony would have it, only an hour into the drive, we experienced many hand waves, thumbs-up, and pointing fingers. Even with a Yakima wind fairing installed, the journey was regularly paused for a gas break. Each of the pitstops provided ample time for onlookers to complement the rooftop contraption, asking plenty of questions and commenting on its looks.

I thought to myself, “this tent really does have a stereotype.” NOTE: The FJ Cruiser — the “blue beast” as I call it — is undoubtedly the least fuel-efficient car I’ve used for a road trip, and a rooftop tent only worsened the blow to my wallet. The added size and weight reduced mileage by around 50 miles to the tank — not much of a surprise, but individual driving habits will vary results. In other words, yes, our rooftop tent created enough drag to see a significant reduction in gas mileage.
But back to the reason for taking this trip!

The California Coastal Landscape

Driving the Southern and Central California coastline is one of the more relaxing activities I’ve done in quite some time. After leaving Los Angeles, the coastal landscape opened up, like a book of poetry that draws you in, removing you from the confines of reality. For so many years, excuses had kept these views from me, but not this time.

Central California Coastline Central California Coastline

From Ventura and Santa Barbara to Morro Bay and San Simeon, I had to remind myself to push forward as San Francisco was many miles ahead. I wanted to explore each location, even unfold the Tepui tent and take in the sights and sounds as I sip coffee.

Elephant Seal San Simeon, CA

The California coast is a place where dreams coincide with reality. However, the rise of social media has inflated the appeal of many travel destinations. The truth of famous locations is skewed forever, portrayed through Lightroom presets and app filters that add an “artistic touch” to these already stunning destinations. On a perfect day, with the ideal lighting, it would be unjust to alter any photos taken along the California coastline.

Even with the prior visions, every living and breathing moment on this trip setting was more than my eyes could process. For Hours, the only word I could speak was, WOW! And I repeated it, over and over again.

Using the Tepui Roof-Top Tent

Having a roof-top tent at my fingertips during all of this excitement was a strong feeling. The Tepui Autana Sky has more room than my studio apartment. It is readily accessible with less setup than a modern tent. The 3-person canvas, window-support poles, and 2 1/2 inch foam mattress opens and folds closed by way of smooth hinges — to a perfect camping shelter, every time. 

Initially, when inspecting the tent before installation, I thought to myself, “This is going to be a lot of work.” To my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The design is simple, and the user experience is intuitive. It was convenient having two people for the installation and teardown, but a person could do it on their own.

Tepui roof-top tent camping Tepui roof-top tent camping

With so many campsites on my bucket list, I began to picture what the Tepui Autana would look like at each one — a beautiful image indeed. If it weren’t for the California crowds and a less than stellar reservation service — cough, Reserve America — I could have extended my road trip another week. There’s something to be said for sleeping on the roof instead of the ground. I enjoyed using our vehicle as basecamp. 

Planning ahead is the key to camping along the California coast. Without reservations or early arrival to self-service sites, the odds will forever be against you. This was the only factor that stood in my way of extending my road trip with the Tepui Autana Sky.

Hundreds of miles later, and a lunch break in Santa Cruz, I finally arrived at my intended destination: Samuel P. Taylor State Park — Lagunitas, CA. Just 15 miles west of San Rafael, Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a majestic slice of the wilderness, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Whether you have a day or a week, this spot offers so much relaxation and peace. Just the place I envisioned for the Tepui roof-top tent.

The narrow road into the park meandered alongside Lagunitas Creek. It was lined with coastal Redwoods, rich in their organic red coloration. The entire distance, the sun seemed to spear through the canopy of leafy branches, illuminating particulate in the air like a variety of fairy dust. I couldn’t help but smile the entire route while thinking, “Could I be dreaming?”

Tepui roof-top tent camping

Tepui roof-top tent camping

After crossing over Lagunitas creek, where Coho Salmon make their journey upstream, I pulled into a small but cozy campsite with nothing more than a table and fire pit. Surrounded by a healthy grove of Redwoods, I didn’t need much to feel completely at ease.

Depending on the location of a campsite, I learned the importance of reading reviews and speaking to the park’s staff before booking, especially for rooftop camping.

Parking on the level ground makes a significant difference when using the tent. The tent’s latter system relies on flat, stable ground. Fortunately, the site I reserved offered plenty of space, both horizontally and vertically for the Tepui. While I set up camp, I noticed that the soft dirt began to move before my eyes, revealing an extensive network of gophers, all looking to seal a quick snack. Watching this take place reaffirmed my belief that rooftop tents are worth every penny, especially if you aren’t in love with traditional tents.

While road-tripping to a location as beautiful as Marin, I never planned to remain put for more than a few hours per day. With multiple bikes, camera gear, packs, and shoes, I normally have to rearrange the truck to secure my gear. Not the cast with the Tepui Autana! This rooftop design comes with an integrated (use is optional) 90×90 enclosed annex, or better known as my gear garage.

The annex zipped onto the main tent without much hassle; the trick was to accurately locate the two doors and align them with the rear of the vehicle. With my setup, I was able to position the rear zipper doors in alignment with the back of my FJ Cruiser, allowing me to open the vehicle when needed. The large size of the annex doors makes this possible; they were more than adequate for r

Tepui roof-top tent on Fj Cruiser

Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a gem of a location offering scenery that you would expect to be hundreds of miles from the nearest civilization. Undoubtedly a cyclist paradise, I met a handful of friendly riders and shared stories with a few locals. Although I could have remained here for weeks, there was chatter of a not-to-distant coastline that I needed to see before heading home. So once again, we folded up the annex and closed up the tent before getting back on the road.

After nearly an hour of packing up my gear (20 minutes for the tent), I was on my way north to the Sonoma Coast before making a quick 180 back to Point Reyes National Seashore.

Sonoma Coast, CA

Only a 10-minute drive from Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Olema proved to be a quaint town with plenty of character and beautiful scenery. With its coffee and bakery, cyclists seemed to flock here, and for a good reason. I pushed on to the Point Reyes National Seashore visitor center, where I spoke with the rangers on the likelihood of hiking to the lighthouse. As predicted, a combination of fog and movie filming stood in my way. Although I simply wanted to lay eyes on it once more, fog city wouldn’t have been any sympathy for me. But that didn’t stop me from hiking the coastline; spotting the abundance of seabirds and marine mammals reminded me of just how unique this national seashore is to the state of California.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Elephant Seal Point Reyes

With a few good memories, I hit the coastal roads for the drive down to Santa Cruz. It had been many moons since I laid eyes on the dreamy communities surrounding San Francisco. What began with Stinson Beach quickly escalated to a euphoric state of wanderlust as I climbed up Mt. Tam and finally meandered my way down to Mill Valley. From the scenic views to the perfect hiking trails and cycling routes, this place truly is God’s country. And no, I’m not referring to Silicon Valley’s elite. Even with all-natural distractions surrounding us, people still took the time to ask about the roof-top tent and the adventures we carried with it. This trip I will take with me forever into the future. What a trip it was, and I much of it all to a roof-top tent. It was an incredible California adventure.


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