Our First RV Christmas in Los Angeles, California

Brendan and I began our journey of fulltime RVing on December 15, 2016. Our “maiden voyage” was essentially a cross-country sprint, as we traveled from our hometown in New Jersey to California in under 10 days. So you could basically say that our trip didn’t formally begin until we arrived in California. However, since the entire purpose of racing to California was to see my grandpa, uncle, aunt, and cousins for the holidays, we spent our first week in California hanging out with them. It was such an enjoyable visit. ❤️️

We arrived in California the afternoon of Christmas Eve, where we headed straight to the RV park closest to my uncle’s home in Corona, CA. After arriving, unpacking, attempting to clean a bit after a full 10 days of driving (our attempts were rather futile), showering, and doing some laundry so that we had clean clothes to wear, we headed over to my uncle’s house in the early evening. There, I saw my grandpa for the first time since spring of 2014, when he moved out to California to live with my uncle. They gave us a quick tour of their house (we had never been out to visit before), and then we headed out to my aunt’s brother’s house to celebrate Christmas Eve.

So as not to confuse anyone, I will explain all the family relationships. My uncle (Uncle Greg) is my mom’s brother, and my grandpa (Pop-Pop Bob) is my mom’s dad. My Uncle Greg’s wife is my Aunt Veronica, and she is my mom’s sister-in-law. Together, they have three children: Yasmin (12), Brandon (10), and Evelyn (8). So my Aunt Veronica’s family is not directly related to me, and this was my first time meeting them. Her family immigrated to the US from Mexico many years ago and consists of her mother, eight brothers, one sister, and each of their spouses and children. Each of her siblings has at least two children, and most have three or four, so, altogether, they make up a very large, happy family.

That being said, Brendan and I met much of my aunt’s family on Christmas Eve, and they were very quick to welcome us into their family and treat us like they had known us for years. We had such a great Christmas Eve with them, eating delicious food and singing and dancing around the bonfire in the back yard. There was plenty of tequila and tamales to go around, and we also sampled ponche, a delicious Mexican Christmas punch, and pozole, a pork-hominy stew, topped with lettuce, lime, and hot sauce. Everything was delicious. It was also here that I was turned on to “tapatío” sauce, which is like a better version of tabasco sauce. (Note: we now eat tapatío sauce on literally everything…)

Then, at the stroke of midnight, we were made privy to the Mexican tradition of wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad” at the stroke of midnight, similarly to how we traditionally wish family and friends a “Happy New Year” at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. I was hugged by every single family member as we wished each other a merry day at the exact start of Christmas. Brendan and I loved this, and plan to continue it on our own in the years to come. The evening continued on into the wee hours of the morning, where we finally began the drive back to my uncle’s house around 3am.

The next day, Brendan and I got up and had breakfast and coffee together and exchanged gifts before heading back to my uncle’s house for Christmas day festivities. Since my aunt’s family lives about an hour away, they opted to just spend Christmas at their home with us and their immediate family, mostly for the convenience of my grandfather, who is handicapped and, for the most part, unable to travel. We spent the day watching my cousins play with their new gifts from Santa and just generally hanging out with the whole family. I helped my aunt cook Christmas dinner, and we watched Christmas movies in the evening. Although we missed our immediate families at home, we each called and/or facetimed with our parents and siblings. It was a great Christmas, and it was definitely the most different Christmas I’ve ever had.

The entire following week is a bit of a blur, as we spent a majority of the time with my family, managing to squeeze in a bit of work for our businesses here and there. We went to their house almost every day while we were in the area, always enjoying our time there. I got to spend a lot of time with my grandpa, which was nice because I hadn’t seen him in so long. We also spent a considerable amount of time with my cousins, which was also great because, due to the distance, I had only seen them a handful of times throughout their lives. My aunt made us delicious tacos and ceviche on several different occasions, and ceviche has since become a dietary staple in our little home.

 
One highlight from the week included a trip to the local theater to see the new Star Wars movie (Rogue One), followed by a trip to Applebee’s. Another day, Brendan and I drove down to Irvine, by the sea, where we had breakfast at an awesome location called The Avocado Cafe (right up our alley), visited a beautiful succulent farm and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time at Newport Beach. (Note: I had technically seen the Pacific Ocean previously, since I was born in Los Angeles, but I had never seen it at an age where I would have remembered it, and Brendan had never seen it at all.)

Another noteworthy moment from our L.A. stay was a visit to a well-stocked produce market. They had many types of citrus fruits and inexpensive avocados, which is always a bonus in our book. We bought a bunch of fruits and veggies, as well as two old-fashioned sodas (we’re suckers for those!), all for about $8. We will definitely be hitting up more produce markets as we continue to travel.

During our visit, we also took a drive up Bear Mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest. My uncle drove us up the mountain, where we eventually stopped in the town of Big Bear Lake and ate a nice meal before walking around to check out all the little shops. Since LA is usually warm, and there is always snow at the top of this mountain, we realized that many people refer to going to Big Bear Lake as going “to the snow.” We found this especially humorous because, in New Jersey, we see snow from our homes many times throughout the winter, but, in LA, they can drive an hour almost any time from fall to spring and see a snow-covered mountain. My uncle and aunt told us that a popular winter pastime consists of driving the kids up the mountain just to play in the snow.

During our final weekend in the area (December 30th-January 2nd), we actually parked the RV across town and stayed at my uncle’s house with him and his family. We brought our dogs with us, which the kids especially enjoyed, as they love animals but do not have any of their own. The girls spent their fair share of time obsessing over Archie, while Max found himself a permanent ball-thrower in the form of my cousin Brandon. Luna also had a great time, especially enjoying their fenced-in backyard, as the dogs had not had much time to run off-leash since our departure from New Jersey in mid-December.

Our visit was topped off with an exceptional New Year’s Eve and New Year’s’ Day. If you have never spent New Year’s Eve with a large Mexican family, I assure you that it cannot and will not disappoint. On New Year’s Eve, we shared the biggest spread of delicious food, the best of which was barbecue pork tacos. We spent the night singing and dancing. Brendan was not originally planning to dance at all, but my drunk uncle was very convincing and absolutely refused to take no for an answer. We were taught a variety of traditional Mexican dances, and everyone sang many of the songs together.

 

Then, at midnight, we were introduced to another awesome Mexican tradition, where each person gets 12 grapes and has to make twelve wishes at midnight, eating a grape after every wish, Everyone participated in this tradition at the stroke of midnight, briefly interrupting the dance party.

After midnight, we continued to dance and sing late into the night, while the kids and their many cousins headed upstairs to go to sleep. We ended up going to bed around 4am, and everyone slept in together on New Year’s Day. However, being the early risers that we are, Brendan and I woke up around 9am the next day and went to a local Starbucks to catch up on some work before the rest of the family woke up. (I know, we’re so lame…) The rest of New Year’s Day was fairly relaxed, as everyone was tired from partying hard the previous night.

Then, on January 2nd, we spent our final day with my family, as the kids made rather tearful goodbyes with our dogs. (They were much sadder saying goodbye to the dogs than they were saying goodbye to me and Brendan LOL).

In all, we had a fantastic time with my uncle and his incredible family. We felt ourselves growing a bit envious of the size and overall closeness of my aunt’s family and really can’t wait to go back and visit several more times before we leave Southern California. It was also especially nice to see so much of my Pop-Pop, who was, for me, the hardest to say goodbye to. We would have liked to stay longer, but because they live in a very metropolitan area, RV parks are few and far between, and of the few nearby, most are very pricey.

On the day we left, we ended up pushing the time of our departure back several times because we were so sad to leave. We ended up leaving around 6pm, as the sun was setting, as we headed towards our first “official” camping site: the Alabama Hills.

Have you spent the holidays in an unfamiliar place before? How was it? Feel free to share in the comments below!

About Samantha Binger

Samantha BingerSam is one-half of the Life Among Pines crew. She is an animal-loving bookworm, an avid photographer and an amateur chef/wanna-be foodie. Travel and adventure are two of her biggest passions in life, and she loves living life on the road, where she can explore new places on the daily. When not writing a new blog post, you can find her sipping tea, hiking with her dogs, sampling a local brewery, or fulfilling orders for her Etsy shop, MugsySupplyHouse. Feel free to reach out and say hi!