Why we chose the California Beach over the California Ocean and the Grand California 600.

Our thoughts on why the California Beach is our ideal year-round camper van in Sweden.

Why we chose the California Beach over the California Ocean and the Grand California 600.
Two great options at a similar price.

A few years before we could make this camper van a reality, we saw the reveal of the Grand California 600, at the time of reveal is was said to have four-wheel drive  - plus full standing height, sleeping for two adults plus at least 1-2 kids 'upstairs', a shower and generally a very attractive package built on the great chassis of the new VW Crafter - at a cost nearly identical to the smaller VW California Ocean. Was this the perfect adventure van we had been waiting for?

Whilst it absolutely has its appeals and is probably an awesome option for many, we saw a few issues. Most critical for us, the four-wheel drive would only be available on the larger 680 model, which in turn doesn't allow for more than two adults sleeping (comfortably). It would also be much longer than we'd like, because we love exploring small forest roads and it should also still work as a useful vehicle for many things besides camping holidays.

So back to dreaming about the T6.1 California Ocean. We loved the idea of all the small drawers and cupboards to organise gear. Friends of us in Munich have driven  T5/T6 California Ocean (or equivalent) models over probably decades and it was just a super cool vehicle. While living in Munich for a few years, we drove a 1996 T4 Multivan which we jokingly called out sports car - because it was awesome for dive trips in the Alps, going rodeling down the track beneath Eiger Northface, and of course for snowboarding and skiing.

We got a few quotes for an Ocean, but the more we studied the brochures and watched YouTube videos, a few points became clear:

  • Winter use for us is a must, and as we live in Dalarna in Sweden, we have about five months of snow. This leads to a few extra things to consider: I have driven Transporter busses with front wheel and with four wheel drive in winter. The front-wheel does track along decently, but once you get stuck - and you will on small winter roads - you are in for some snow digging. It gets tedious. For us, there is no compromise on this, four-wheel drive is a must. Whilst the Ocean comes with an interior water supply/kitchen sink, it only works if the car is heated, i.e. it is not insulated for even a day or standing without heating in minus 10-20 degrees Celsius. Obviously the system is drainable, but it seemed like a bit of a hassle to us, perhaps most for our intended use would not include that much water use or cooking inside the vehicle. Other people use it and love it, so different California owners obviously have different routines and priorities. For us, we didn't feel we needed it. If one was so inclined, it isnot that difficult to build a small contraction with a 12V water pump and even have heated water, plenty of people have built just that for the T6/T6.1 vehicles.
  • A manual roof suits us better. The Ocean features an electric roof which can hold about 50 kg or roof rack/storage/ski box. But if it were to fail it is a smaller nightmare to manually "emergency-close" it (seriously, look it up in the instruction manual online or check this thread: https://www.caliboard.de/topic/22162-notentrieglung-beim-ocean-61-anleitung/ ). Now it doesn't happen often or to a lot of people, but it surely does have its issues for enough people according to the Caliboard.de forums (sometimes a forgotten soft-toy or pillow can cause issues). For us, wanting to use it all year-round and where we can't simply call Motormännen/ADAC up in the fjälls and expect help within the day, or if we have a medical emergency and the roof doesn't close... meh. A mechanical roof is arguably simpler in construction, and it takes about 1-2 minutes to open and perhaps 2-3 to close, seriously, no big deal! Also, the roof load capacity is easily fixed - see our article on the 580N Hinscha gas spring replacement!  
  • The cupboards in the Ocean are great, and by adding cool extra shelves from Calicap.de, it could be an ideal organisation system for many. But with bulky winter sleeping bags and general flexibility for storing bulky items like life-vests, or bringing three SUP boards in summer, we found the Beach was simply more flexible. Instead we bought window bags from Qubiq and Felleisen Roofer to vastly extend the storage options, and behind the driver seat which we only rarely turn around, we ut a Tasmanian Tiger Molle back with useful bags and gear holders.
  • The lower bed in the Ocean (or two-seat bench Beach model) is only about 115cm wide (the upper bed is 120cm on both models) but the lower bed in the California Beach is ... a full 150cm wide :-)
    This makes it more comfortable for us two adults sleeping below (junior claimed the top bed right away for him and his soft-toys) - but also we can squeeze in all three in case there's a big storm or if we wanted to stay a bit low-key for a few hours somewhere if we don't feel like raising the roof.

The thought of having a California Beach with a two-seat bench in the back and an extra chair (for the rare occasion when friends or grandparents want to join a trip) crossed out minds, but an extra seat would not work with a four-wheel drive combination (weight issues), and it would in all earnest have been crammed with an extra seat in there which then also would have to be removed for sleeping on the main bed... nah.

For us the 'logical' solution was to chose a California Beach with a three-seat bench, in a 110kW (150 hp) 4motion (four-wheel drive) version. While a 204 hp motor would have been "fun" as well, we'd never really need it (the max. allowed top-speed is 120km/h in Sweden, most are 90 km/h roads, we often trailer something (= 80 km/h max. in Sweden), and the 150 hp 4motion drive-train trailers anything we need with ease. The 5.000 Euros in between also goes a loong way to pay for a LOT of useful camping gear and other wanted modifications.

The draw-back of the three-seater is it requires a better mattress than VW:s "comfort mattress", something we had read before so that money went towards a better solution. See the article on "Sleeping very well 'downstairs'".

For extra storage with great flexibility and easy access, we have a combination of two window bags in the back (from Austrian company Qubic) as well as the Felleisen Roofer bags (3 separate bags) in the center back. See our blog posts for the reviews on those. The CaliDrawer (again, from Calicap.de) under the multi-flex board adds super easy access to our fridge, outside cooking and camping gear as well as spare fuel canister (10l) plus self-rescue gear.

The three-seater bench is also significantly more comfortable for sitting in, i.e. the majority of time it is used for us. Taking four colleagues along to Sea Rescue events including gear is also easy, and everyone has plenty of space thanks to the three-seater bench in the back.

So far, we've had the Beach since august 2021, and we're super happy with it!

On this blog, you can read up on a lot of modifications and gear to get some inspiration, save a ton of research time and money and copy what you like or use it as a springboard for your own modifications to make a California camper-van even more awesome.