I went on Camp Hox, a three-day luxury camper van experience organized by The Hoxton hotels.
I spent two nights on a farm in Paso Robles, CA, with stops at famous taquerias and indie wineries.
I spent my final night at The Hoxton in LA but was surprised that I already missed van life.
I should've known my very first camper trip was going to be an adventure when, within the first five minutes, I almost got impaled by the snack drawer.
Apparently, there are special locks to keep things in place in a moving van — who would've thought? Not me, clearly!
Thankfully, no limbs or appendages were lost on this trip. But I did gain a whole new perspective — on road trips, camper vans, and appreciating my home state.
But wait, let me back up a second. Our story begins with a camper van and the Hoxton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
My friend Kristen and I were set to embark on "Camp Hox," a three-night experience organized by The Hoxton hotels.
The package — which has been offered in the UK, France, and Los Angeles — combines nature with luxury. We opted for the $1,200 "California Coast" trip, which included camping on a farm near Paso Robles and a night at The Hoxton in downtown Los Angeles.
After checking in at the very chic lobby, Kristen and I said goodbye to the hotel. It was time to see our home for the next two nights.
We were introduced to our Cabana van — my full tour here — which we nicknamed "Cabana Hannah."
The Cabana website describes its vans as a "hotel that travels with you." Each van is about 20 feet long — the same as a large SUV, the site notes — and 11 feet tall.
After a quick tour of the necessities, we settled into our seats to enjoy breakfast before hitting the road.
Kristen and I couldn't believe our eyes when we saw huge, warm burritos waiting for us in the cup holders.
These bad boys — made by The Hoxton's Sibling Rival restaurant — were packed with scrambled eggs, barbacoa, avocado, tater tots, cotija cheese, and salsa roja.
It was almost time to hit the road, but not before we checked out the snack drawer.
As you've probably gathered, food is very important to me — I write about it for a living, after all. And I was definitely impressed with the Camp Hox snack haul.
There were Sun Chips and Kettle Chips, two different types of cookies, olive oil for cooking, gummy treats, protein bars, crackers, coffee, tea, and even a s'mores kit.
And Kristen and I cheered when we saw two bottles of fancy champagne chilling in the refrigerated drawer.
The drinks drawer also included beer, oat milk, and canned lattes, along with juice and eight cartons of boxed water.
As Donna Summer's "Sunset People" blasted from the car's speakers, Kristen and I screamed "Woo!" as we pulled away from The Hoxton.
As if on cue, Cabana Hannah's door suddenly came sliding open in the middle of a busy LA intersection. Turns out, I hadn't closed it properly.
My lack of experience in van life was already apparent, and we'd been on the road for less than five minutes.
With our door properly closed, it was finally time to explore Camp Hox's carefully curated itinerary.
First up was Zuma Beach, which was just a short drive away in Malibu.
I could smell the sea as we sailed down the Pacific Coast Highway on the overcast Monday morning, passing palm trees and multimillion-dollar mansions perched on cliffs.
When we pulled up to Zuma, we decided to skip the $8 parking fee. Kristen and I both went to UCLA and are no strangers to LA beaches, so we decided to keep heading north.
As the sun came out and the California sky turned its familiar shade of blue, I soaked in the scenic route.
We continued to pass by gorgeous beaches as we drove up the coast, including Thornhill Broome Beach — where the water was a stunning turquoise and the sand was dotted with tents.
As we headed toward our next stop, Kristen told me how smooth our camper van drove compared to other vans she's rented in the past. Unlike bigger vans, our Cabana didn't feel like it was wobbling every time the wind changed directions.
After about an hour and a half, we pulled up to the next stop: La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara.
This dilapidated turquoise building would be easy to miss if there wasn't always a line around the block. La Super-Rica Taqueria is actually a California legend — Julia Child was a huge fan, and Katy Perry gave it a shout-out in her song, "This Is How We Do."
Kristen and I were still pretty full from breakfast, but there was no way we'd pass up the chance to try it. We ordered tacos, guacamole, and the horchata and got our food in about 15 minutes.
We followed our itinerary's advice and enjoyed our light lunch at East Beach.
As we ate our famously fresh tacos on the sand with beers in hand, I couldn't help but smile while watching sailboats gently bob in the periwinkle water.
Maybe there was something to van life after all.
Then we headed inland for our next stop in Santa Ynez.
Our itinerary said the Santa Ynez General Store was not to be missed, and when I stepped inside I could see why. The warm and charming space had a wall of candles inspired by different national parks, while clothes, jewelry, cheese sets, and woven rugs were strewn about the store.
And Nina, the owner, was excited to see us. The Cabana van had become a familiar sight at her store's parking lot, and she told us all about the various people — best friends, couples, sisters — who had come before us.
Our itinerary then guided us to Finley Farms Honor Stand, a small market on the side of the road filled with fresh produce.
I loved that the Camp Hox itinerary led us to such a cute local find. Finley uses an honor system, so we dutifully weighed our tomatoes and peppers and counted our cucumbers and corn before throwing some cash into the designated barrel.
As I perused the produce, I overheard Kristen — who used to run a bakery — discuss the different pepper flavors with an elderly lady.
"A Jimmy Nardello is like the guy you think is super hot," she explained. "But he ends up being a sweetheart."
After the food stand, we headed to a supermarket to stock up on more supplies. We noticed our van didn't have salt and pepper, and we also grabbed some hot sauce, bread, feta cheese, and wine to go with our dinner.
Our final stop for the night was Windrose Farm.
Camp Hox has its "California Coast" guests spend two nights at Windrose, a 70-acre family-owned organic farm located in Paso Robles.
We followed instructions texted to us by Catherine Welch, the owner, and found our way to the campsite. Two chairs overlooking the sunset, along with two cruisers and a metallic tub, were already waiting for us.
Catherine and her husband Justin Welch drove over a few minutes later to greet us, dropping off some fresh eggs for our breakfast the next day. Farm life already seemed pretty great.
As day slowly changed into night, we got to work on dinner.
Kristen worked her magic on the peppers with our burner stove, while I made a huge Greek salad to eat with our toasted bread.
While our camper van was small, I was surprised that there was still plenty of room to prep veggies thanks to the sink and an extra table that pulled out from behind the passenger seat.
We set the table and dug in, toasting to our first night in the great outdoors.
Since the farm was completely dark at night, the sky was sparkling with stars I never see through the lights and smog of LA.
As someone who hasn't been camping since she was 13, and who spent most of her 20s in New York City, it was a stunning sight to see.
After a good night's sleep, I could confirm that the camper van's bed was surprisingly comfortable.
I didn't have high expectations for the sleeping arrangements, but I slept like a dream on Cabana Hannah's 8-inch memory-foam mattress. And since it was a "camper queen" — meaning it has the width of a regular queen-size mattress and the length of a full — there was tons of room.
With a plush comforter and knit blanket on top provided by Camp Hox, along with four big pillows, it didn't feel all that different from my bed back home.
Kristen and I kicked off the morning by making a big scramble, complete with a few mimosas.
The only bad thing about having fresh eggs from the farm is that I now know eggs from the supermarket will never compare in taste and flavor.
And since we are responsible adults, we added chips to the eggs to help line our stomachs before a long day of wine tasting.
Safety first kids.
It was time to explore Paso Robles, and we kicked things off by heading into Tin City.
Housed in an industrial park not far from downtown, Tin City is one of the coolest wining and dining locations I've been to in a while.
You'll find more than 20 wineries within walking distance from each other, along with restaurants, a brewery, and delicious ice cream. These winemakers are mainly small, independent labels, and the tastings cost around just $20 per person.
"It's like sorority row, but with wineries," Kristen marveled as we walked around before our first tasting appointment.
First up was Field Recordings, which was my favorite winery of the day.
We picked up a baguette and some cheese and meats from the market downstairs and then headed to the patio for our tasting.
I've been to a handful of tastings in the last few years, and none have felt more accessible than the one at Field Recordings. Hugo, our host, made all the information fun and easy to digest. I don't know a lot about wine, but I never felt out of my depth.
Plus, he gave me my very first glass of orange wine — Field Recordings' Skins — and I loved it so much that I bought two bottles to bring back to LA.
Hugo also told us more about Tin City, revealing that the place is always packed on weekends with people who jump from one winery to another — like a classy pub crawl.
"If you like alcohol, the central coast is amazing," he added.
After some more wine and ice cream, we headed downtown for our last tasting.
I was able to book us a last-minute appointment at LXV Wine, which was named in every travel blog I read about Paso Robles before the trip.
LXV is the only wine and spice pairing in North America, and Neeta Mittal — who founded it with her husband Kunal — is one of the first Indian women to own a winery in the US.
We were served cheeses covered in different spices to try with each wine, tasting how the flavors of a Cab were accentuated by the umami of ginger and black truffle salt, or how a Nebbiolo got a kick from Szechuan peppers.
It was unlike anything I've done before — my usual wine pairing is just some Brie from Trader Joe's — and was such a cool experience.
Then we headed to The Alchemists' Garden for dinner.
From the tiger shrimp covered in mint serrano relish to some of the best french fries I've ever had, everything we had at The Alchemists' Garden was a total knockout.
But the best part — along with our zodiac-inspired cocktails — was our server Eric, a "Gemini from Atlanta" who told us that he still couldn't believe how nice everyone was in Paso Robles.
After a long day of wine tasting, we passed out before 9 p.m., so Kristen and I got up early the next day for our last farm breakfast.
When we had returned to Cabana Hannah the night before, we found fresh eggs — once again delivered by Catherine and Justin — waiting for us.
We made our own version of a shakshuka with the help of leftovers from Alchemists' Garden, and began packing our stuff.
But we couldn't leave without trying the tub ...
Was the water freezing? Absolutely. But having a toast in the tub was the perfect way to say goodbye.
... and a tour of Windrose Farm.
Our itinerary noted that tours of Windrose Farm were available, and Justin was happy to take us around before we headed back to LA.
He picked rustic arugula and fresh grapes for us to taste and showed us the agave that he and Catherine were growing for spirits.
The air was thick with the smell of lemon verbena as the family's Jack Russell adorably followed us around while we checked out the pigs, sheep, and chickens as well.
Then we drove back to LA to spend the last night of our trip at The Hoxton.
Another bottle of Veuve Clicquot was waiting for us, chilling in a bucket — a very nice touch.
Throughout the trip, Camp Hox did a great job of staying true to its promise of bringing lots of luxury.
While I had found life in the camper van far more comfortable than I expected, I was still extremely excited to see the huge shower.
Sharing the shower with a toilet in a van is definitely efficient, but it was nice to have a long shower in the Hoxton's huge spa-like space — which came complete with its own door.
It was a gorgeous California day, so we headed straight for the pool to sip on cocktails and catch some rays.
After two days of driving and sightseeing, it was nice to just kick back at the Hoxton's rooftop pool — which we had to ourselves on that Wednesday afternoon.
Kristen and I ordered some calamari and red pepper hummus (both delicious) to tide us over until our 9 p.m. dinner reservation at Pilot — the Hoxton's rooftop restaurant right next to the pool — while sipping on our Negroni and banana daiquiri.
Our Camp Hox trip was coming to an end, and I was surprised to find that I actually loved the camper van more than the hotel.
When I was a kid I used to dream of just living in different hotels, and my love for them hasn't faded with age. So when I first heard about the Camp Hox concept, I was sure that The Hoxton was going to be my favorite part of the trip.
But I was shocked by how much I loved experiencing van life — albeit a luxury version — for a few days. I got to see so many new places along the coast, cook fresh breakfasts in the great outdoors, and spend hours listening to music under the sparkling stars.
After 10 years of moving all over the world for different jobs, Camp Hox helped me appreciate my native state in a way I haven't been able to in a very long time.
And while I love a California king and free fancy toiletries, that's just something you can't do in a hotel room.
So this isn't goodbye, Cabana Hannah — just see you later.
Read the original article on Insider