How to Stay Cool in Your Van During the Summer


As Will Smith says, “Time to sit back and unwind, it’s Summertime.” A visit to Southern California during the summer is the perfect time to see what all the hype is all about. Sun, Surf, and Babes. The weather will be nice and pleasant most of the time, but on occasions, the thermometer will explode, and everything will start to melt.

What do you do when traveling in your van or RV, and the temperature decides to crank up to “Scorching Level III”?

The answer to surviving the heat of Southern California when you are traveling in your van or RV is to be prepared, head for the coast or mountains, make sure you and your van and RV are equipped, and avoid the desert.

If you are lucky enough to have an AC unit in your van or RV and are close to a power source, the heat will be no problem for you. If you are one of those unfortunate souls who does not have an AC unit in their van or RV and the temperature starts to climb, this blog is for you.

Most van and RV nomads can survive a heatwave for a few days. But unfortunately, heatwaves that inflict Southern California can last well over a week. So to survive a week of temperatures over 90 degrees, it’s best to be prepared and have a plan.

Hottest Time of Year

Heatwaves can strike Southern California at any time. I can remember heat waves as early as February lasting for a few days. But most heatwaves that happen in Southern California occur between June and September, with August and September being the hottest months. So, if you plan on visiting Southern California in August and September, you will most likely have to deal with multiple heatwaves.

The six topics that I will address on how to stay cool in your van are:

  • Have a Plan
  • Head for the Coast
  • Head for the Mountains
  • Where to Park
  • Prepare you van
  • Prepare yourself

Have a Plan

The most important aspect for preparing to battle the heat of the summer is to have a plan. If you do not have a plan, you will find yourself suffering a lot more and making wrong decisions to combat the heat.

Your plan does not have to be complicated, but it has to cover a few essential issues to prepare for the heat. Here are a few of the issues that you should plan for.

  • Where are you going to go?
  • Where are you going to stay?
  • How much water will you need?
  • How to cool down the van?
  • What equipment will I need?
  • Backup plan if it gets to hot?

Head for the Coast

The best way to beat the heat in Southern California is to head to the coast. Within 3 miles of the coastline, the temperatures can be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than inland. That means on a 90F degree day in the city; the beach will probably be around 75F degrees.

But now that you have an idea of where to go, you must understand that everyone else has the same idea. The beaches during a heatwave can get extremely crowded. I advise you to arrive early and grab a good parking spot.

There are too many coastal places to go to mention, but a few I recommend you visit during a heatwave are:

Head to Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear

Heading to Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino mountains is also an excellent way to escape the heat. Unfortunately, during a heatwave, the mountains can still be warm and not as cool as the coast. But it is still a better option than being inland.

Lake Arrowhead is my number one recommended place to go since it is in an alpine forest with shady trees everywhere. The only downside is there is not a lot of lakefront parking, but most parking lots have a lot of shade.

Visit: Lake Arrowhead

Big Bear is also a great location to beat the heat. It has a lot more areas to park along the lake.  One of my favorite parks to spend the day in Big Bear is Meadow Park. It is a small park but has plenty of shade.

Visit: Big Bear

If you get hot, it is fun to run into the water at Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear Lake to cool down. The water temperature for both lakes is usually very cool and will provide a refreshing reprieve from the heat.

Where to Park

Choosing a good parking spot is also key to beating the heat during the summer. If you decide to park on a black asphalt parking lot, your van will most likely heat up more and retain the heat.

I always recommend parking under a shady tree. Parking under a shady tree will reduce the heat within your van by about 10 degrees. It also keeps the sun from directly shining onto your van or RV and heating it up quicker.

Unfortunately, most of the beachfront parking does not have a lot of shade. It might be better to park somewhere close to the beach under a tree than park in the beach parking lot.

Places to park during a heatwave are:

  • Under an excellent shady tree
  • Not in a black asphalt parking lot
  • In a park by the coast
  • In a marina
  • At the beach

Prepare your Van or RV

Another critical aspect to beating the heat is to prepare your vehicle. Make sure your vehicle has the essentials to combat the heat. These inessentials include:

  • Sunshades
  • MaxAir Fan
  • Fan
  • Open Windows

Make sure you use sunshades for your windshield, driver and passenger side windows. Not having these windows shielded will make the temperature in your van unbearable.

I recommend you have a curtain that blocks off your van or RV’s driver and passenger section to reduce the heat coming from this area.

When you are building your van, make sure you create an environment where air can flow. That means air can enter from one spot and exit out another. If air does not have a path to flow, it will be trapped in your vehicle and will heat up.

Most people utilized a MaxAir fan on the roof and an open window in the rear. I usually do this by opening my side window and my sliding door. This helps to keep the air circulating and the inside cool.

Prepare Yourself

The most often overlooked step in preparing to battle the heat of Southern California is to prepare yourself. It does not matter how many precautions you take to avoid the heat; if you do not prepare yourself, none of it’s going to matter.

The best way to prepare yourself for the heat is to drink plenty of liquids and stay out of direct sunlight. These two simple tasks will help you manage the scorching temperatures of summer.

You also must remember to wear sunscreen. I have lived in Southern California most of my life, and in the summertime, I do not go outside without sunscreen. It is impressive how fast you can get a sunburn on a hot day.

Tips to prepare yourself to deal with the heat is to:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Keep out of the sun
  • Wear breathable clothing
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Wear a hat and glasses
  • Drink even when you don’t feel thirsty
  • Be active only in the morning and evening


Southern California is a fantastic place to visit during the summertime. However, you must be prepared for that occasional heatwave that hits the area. If you are prepared, have a plan, prepare your van or RV, and prepare yourself, you will have no trouble coping with the heat.

I will see you out there.

References and Other Adventures:



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