Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

A New Thanksgiving Tradition: Vansgiving

Since moving to California nearly five years ago, I’ve found it difficult to stay inside. I’ve also found it difficult to facilitate my second favorite Thanksgiving activity (food is number one), going for a pre- or post-meal adventure. Combine the two aforementioned challenges with a few friends with vans, add easy access to camping (hello, land sharing!), and the recipe for a new Thanksgiving tradition is born: Vansgiving.

Sunshine and fog are pretty much the two seasons out here in San Francisco, and because of our mild weather, the thought of hosting Thanksgiving outside is a no-brainer.

I spent the past few years working up to this idea… Two years ago Thanksgiving was an outdoor friendsgiving potluck to over 20 people, gathered around three banquet-length tables in one backyard. Last year was an outdoor crab boil with a close group of friends. This year, I put a call out, and five committed friends decided to spend the whole shebang outside. I booked multiple of the Olamentko sites at Chanslor Ranch, and didn’t plan much other than the dishes we were going to make.

Check out my recap of the weekend below, and if you can, give thanks to Mother Nature, and get outside this Thanksgiving!

Vansgiving at Chanslor Ranch

I hadn’t been to Chanslor Ranch before, but it met my requirements for a proper campsite: pet-friendly, has a designated campfire pit, picnic tables, multiple nearby campsites to turn into one big campsite, and access to outdoor activities. Chanslor has a decent amount of trails that weave around the property, in addition to access to Salmon Creek, which I can see being amazing come warmer weather in summer months.

We arrived Friday afternoon, right at sundown, and really didn’t even know what our campsite looked like beyond the campfire that we quickly started to provide warmth and dim light. Waking up Saturday morning, knowing that today was our Thanksgiving, and that we were on our time and no one else’s felt pretty damn good. I woke up with the sun, took some photos of our campsite, and went for a little solo adventure to explore the property.

Having access to a mobile camping machine (whaddup vanlife) made hosting outside a no-brainer. Pictured above: @vanofmydreams, and #tofutravels

I wandered to check out the other sites, but photos don’t do this place justice. That being said, hopefully my snapshots inspire you to come check out this amazing spot!

Turkey Point Camp

Tree Frog Camp

Meet-up Group Campsite

Friday night, we suspected that there was another Vanagon that had arrived that night (from the sound of the engine, solidified by the sound of the sliding door… nerdy things that Vanagon owners geek out about) just across the creek from us.

My morning adventure confirmed our suspicions. When I arrived back at the campsite, Fiona was chatting with our neighbors, and found out that they had met @vanofmydreams years ago, which was their inspiration for investing in a van. After a trip to Kauai renting a Vanagon for a family trip, they decided to buy their own. This was the eighth day owning their van, and their first camping trip, booked on Hipcamp!

Arriving back at the campsite, the fire was going and it was time to cook up pre-Thanksgiving breakfast.

If you’ve never used one, a waffle jaffle iron opens up a world of campfire breakfast possibilities. Waffles, waffle sandwiches (where you use the waffles AS the bread)… I suggest Pamela’s gluten-free waffle and pancake mix. I don’t have a dietary restriction, but have found that gluten-free or not, this is the best damn mix. When no one is left out of the waffle jaffle party, everyone is a happy camper.

After cooking breakfast, we played Kubb, busted out the hula hoops, enjoyed a beer or two, setup our solar devices to charge, and went for a hike. There are multiple marked trails on the property which lead to different points of interest including Salmon Creek, beach dunes, and nearby wildlife viewing areas.

Solar power! The solar light by Nokero is a pretty nifty gadget to have on hand.

It was a pretty perfect November day in California. We found Salmon Creek which allegedly has a warm springs spot, saw a number of hawks, deer, and got a hearty hike in before heading back to camp to start cooking dinner.

When we arrived back at camp, Ralph and his Vanagon, Wolfie, made the trek up from Santa Cruz to join our celebration. By the time we decided to start prepping food, the day was more than half gone when we realized we probably should have started cooking sooner than 4pm considering the sun goes down at 5pm with the time change.


Cooking commenced, as the sky decided to gift us with a treat of candy-colored hues.

I know you’re thinking, “What about the turkey?” Well, the turkey isn’t the main attraction. I’m not strictly vegetarian, however, I don’t typically cook meat. When I moved to California, 3000 miles away from my family, my friends became my family away from home, and Thanksgiving became a reason to celebrate both old and new meaningful connections. I found myself hosting a friendsgiving each year for those who, like myself, weren’t able to be with their immediate family on Thanksgiving.

On a less serious note, can you imagine cooking a turkey while camping? Our menu consisted of Vegetable Tian (pictured above), carrots roasted with rosemary, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and of course, s’mores for dessert. Semi-pro tip: cast iron cookware, and aluminum foil anything make for great cooking vessels over a campfire without a grate.

Hawk puts the final touches on the mashed potatoes. Luminoodle for lighting in full effect.

After dinner, neighboring campers came along to say hi (who had also booked on Hipcamp!), shared a bottle of their craft distilled Mezcal with us, and joined in our ridiculous game of night bocce. The next morning we were told that our glowing set of night bocce looked like UFOs from the campsites overlooking the valley, which must have been an interesting experience for those campers.

With one Vansgiving under the belt, I’m already thinking of how I can open next year’s event to a larger group of vans, friends and campers, both familiar and new.

Have a great holiday, and maybe I’ll see you at next year’s Vansgiving!

*Not pictured in this story: Two games of night bocce. Witnessing some serious National Geographic action as two coyotes chased down a deer in the wild. 36 oysters from Bodega Bay Oyster Company. My Swedish roommate’s first encounter with Salt Water Taffy. Surfing North Salmon Creek beach on Sunday.

Julie's first camping memory was driving across the country with her family on a 3-week road trip in their cerulean blue Chevy van at age 4. She lived #vanlife for 7 years, & strives to make the outdoors accessible, and inclusive to all. Her top three unessential camping items are: a speaker, LED poi, and LED twinkle lights for ambiance.

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