Millions of tourists drive through California every year, and thousands of Californians own RVs. Residents and visitors should learn state and local RV laws. Here we’ll look at a few of the towing and parking laws in California.
The California DMV names lots of RV laws in its RV & Trailer Handbook. This article will cover rules for length, driving, towing, and parking. Follow these laws in California to avoid problems while traveling.
RV and Motorhome Length Rules
For first-time RV owners, it’s important to choose an RV that fits the state size requirements. Seasoned RVers traveling to California should also make sure their vehicle follows the rules. The California DMV’s RV guidelines list these length guidelines:
- Motorhomes in any class must be 40 feet long or shorter. Generally, the 40-foot rule applies to Class A RVs. These run the longest of all RVs and they are shaped like busses.
- 65-75-foot vehicles are allowed in special cases. Refer to the California DMV for more information.
- Towing length for trailer-style RVs is limited to 65 feet, including the hitch.
Drivers have to get a special license for vehicles that exceed the 40-foot limit. The state government travel site, CalTrans, gives more detailed length requirements here.
The California vehicle code outlines the state towing guidelines. The full vehicle code, including towing laws, can be found here. Anyone who plans to tow in California should learn these guidelines. Below, we’ll list a few of the key rules:
- Towing speed is limited to 55 mph.
- You can’t tow more than one vehicle at once – i.e., no cars or other recreational vehicles can tow with the trailer.
No passenger vehicle regardless of weight, or any other motor vehicle under 4,000 pounds unladen, shall draw or tow more than one vehicle in combination, except that an auxiliary dolly or tow dolly may be used with the towed vehicle. [Source]
- People can ride in towed vehicles as long as they are wearing seatbelts. There must also be an easy exit.
- 23129. No person shall drive a motor vehicle upon which is mounted a camper containing any passengers unless there is at least one unobstructed exit capable of being opened from both the interior and exterior of such camper.
- Towed vehicles need certain gear. This includes a breakaway switch and/or a safety chain, a fire extinguisher, reflective signs or flares, and mudflaps or other covers.
No person shall operate any motor vehicle having three or more wheels, any trailer, or semitrailer unless equipped with fenders, covers, or devices, including flaps or splash aprons, or unless the body of the vehicle or attachments thereto afford adequate protection to effectively minimize the spray or splash of water or mud to the rear of the vehicle and all such equipment or such body or attachments thereto shall be at least as wide as the tire tread. This section does not apply to those vehicles exempt from registration, trailers and semitrailers having an unladen weight of under 1,500 pounds, or any vehicles manufactured and first registered prior to January 1, 1971, having an unladen weight of under 1,500 pounds. [Source]
Driving an RV in California
Driving might seem like the easiest aspect of an RV trip, but there are still special rules to follow in this state. California has specific requirements for RV drivers:
- You don’t need to get a special license to drive an RV in California unless it exceeds these length and size requirements.
- The California DMV provides instructions for first-time RV drivers in their handbook. Though a special license isn’t necessary, beginner courses are recommended.
- Minors are allowed to drive RVs. They don’t need a special license to drive, but there are special instructions for them in the handbook.
- You must use the right lane (or second-to-right lane on a large highway) except to pass.
- Oversized motorhomes (between 40-45 feet) are not permitted on certain routes. Restricted routes can be found on this map.
Different Californian communities have their own parking laws. Usually, cities or smaller areas develop their own parking regulations. In general, parking an RV during the day is easier than at night. Follow local guidelines and signs for any daytime parking. Parking overnight is often more restricted.
Here, we’ve outlined some guidelines for central Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. These laws may not carry over to other parts of California, so be sure to check parking rules for specific destinations.
Parking laws in Los Angeles are strict despite the thousands of residents that live in RVs. During the day, RVs can’t be parked within 500 feet of schools or daycares. As of 2019, the city banned sleeping overnight in cars and RVs in residential areas. Many parts of the city don’t allow ANY RV parking between the hours of 2-6am.
San Diego’s local government recently declined to pass a law that would’ve made it illegal to live in an RV. So, San Diego’s RV laws look somewhat relaxed compared to those in Los Angeles. You can’t get a ticket for living in an RV in San Diego. Also, your RV can’t be taken away. But like in Los Angeles, parking vehicles longer than 22 feet is not allowed between the hours of 2 and 6am. The laws during these hours are somewhat murky. Be sure to follow signs in the city to avoid ticketing.
San Francisco offers many places for travelers to park during the day and night. Some public lots offer daytime RV parking. Nearby rest areas allow overnight parking, and there is some street parking in the city. Make sure your RV fits size requirements for street parking. No retail stores in San Francisco allow overnight parking, so plan other options.
Where to Park
Some general parking guidelines may help with staying overnight in California. RV travelers should never park on the shoulder of a road or camp in a tent outside of their vehicle. All belongings should always remain inside the RV. Don’t dump anything, including water, out of your RV unless it’s specifically allowed. Street parking is often available in many Golden State cities for smaller Class B RVs. But some travelers shy away from street parking for safety reasons or because they have larger vehicles. If you want to avoid parking on the street, there are a few options for overnight stays.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation website lists all state parks. RV parking in state parks is often available but may depend on vehicle size. Several parks will charge fees for RV parking. They may also provide electrical hookups and other accommodations. To check a park’s rules, visit the Parks and Recreation site and search “by feature.” You can find out which parks allow RVs as well as their parking rules.
Free campgrounds often provide space for parking with few amenities. They are also rarely close to large cities and tourist hubs. Travelers often can pitch tents outside their RV. This option may work for some local travelers, but sightseers may want to look in other places.
Truck stops often allow travelers to park RVs for free overnight. Large chain truck stops like Love’s often have food, toilets, gas, and paid showers. Stay away from the trucking area of the rest stop. Check in with the office or clerk before visiting and ask where you should park.
Many rest stops lie outside of large cities and sometimes allow overnight RV parking. They may have vending machine snacks and bathrooms, there aren’t many other perks and security isn’t great. Most rest stops have signs that say if overnight parking is permitted. Some have 8-hour overnight policies, and some only allow daytime parking.
Many casinos allow overnight RV parking. These lots won’t have many extra amenities, but some have restaurants. They may appreciate RVers who double as paying customers. Ask the casino before parking and always try to receive written permission to park.
Retail: Walmart and Bass Pro Shops
Walmart has many stores in California. The national store policy allows for overnight RV parking, but this depends on state laws. Some stores allow overnight RV parking within state law and with the permission of a store manager. Reach out to the store before arrival to make sure there is space for your vehicle. (Retail locations won’t provide electrical hookups or other accommodations.)
Some Bass Pro Shops allow overnight RV parking. Manteca, Rancho Cucamonga, San Jose, and Rocklin are the only cities in California with Bass Pro Shops locations. Contact a store manager to check the store’s rules before travel.
Make sure to do your research before buying an RV or driving one in California. Get informed ahead of time to ensure you have a smooth trip through the state. Learn California’s RV operation and parking rules for a smart and easy journey!
Disclaimer: The information in this article doesn’t substitute for legal counsel.