A Unique Family Lodging Experience: Santa Barbara Auto Camp

{Disclosure:  I received a discounted media rate to experience the Santa Barbara Auto Camp, but received no monetary compensation.  My opinions are 100% my own.}

Last week, my son, his friend Katie, and I set out on the open road for our annual road trip. Our yearly road trips are usually just the two of us (my son and I), but Katie is more like a sister than a friend to my son, and had some free time to go with us, so we were excited to have her come along.

Our final destination this year was San Francisco, but we had several stops along the way, and our first stop was Santa Barbara.  We’ve been to Santa Barbara before, but never overnight.  There are many wonderful hotels in the area, but I wanted the first night of our 2013 road trip to be very special. Our Redwoods road trip three years ago was the “trip to end all trips”, so it was my job to create a new equally incredible experience that my son and Katie would never forget. I heard about the Santa Barbara Auto Camp a few years ago, and thought the kids would enjoy staying in an Airstream rather than a typical hotel room. Little did I know how amazing our experience would be!

We arrived at the Santa Barbara Auto camp late afternoon.  Each Airstream has its own small driveway, so I was able to pull up right next to our assigned camper.  The camp manager already emailed me the code to get into our camper, as well as a code for the lock to the bike cruisers (attached to the front of the camper), so we had no problem getting inside.

In the back of the Airstream was a queen-sized mattress, with a television and DVD player; a narrow hallway led to the bathroom, kitchenette, and front of the camper, where there was a large couch and two-person dinette table.

The bathroom was tiny but had a toilet, sink, and shower.  Although the bathroom was narrow, we were still able to move around the room.

It was an unusually hot day for Santa Barbara, so the camper was stifling, but we popped open some windows to let out the hot air, and soon had a nice breeze blowing through.   A family of four had the camper next to ours, and the Dad helped my son and Katie set up the shade awning on the side of the camper.

We had reservations at a restaurant in town, so washed up and set out for the restaurant.  On our way back from the restaurant, we discovered there was an ice cream parlor down the street from the Santa Barbara Auto Camp, so took a stroll to get some ice cream after we parked the car at the camper.  After, we walked back and the kids played Scrabble while I attempted to check my email.  The auto camp has wi-fi, and our neighbors were able to connect, but I was not, so decided to explore the Air Stream a little bit more instead.

Santa Barbara Auto Camp is not your ordinary camping experience.  We stayed in the San Miguel, a 1959 Airstream Overlander.  The kitchen was equipped with a stove top, refrigerator, and counter-top for kitchen prep, as well as cookware and dishes.

The bathroom had plush towels and a tiled shower, and the back bed had a pillow top mattress with 500 thread count sheets.

The Airstream had beautiful polished hardwood floors, and although this camper was over 60 years old, everything looked brand new.  Outside, the Airstream had a wooden deck, a concrete patio area, and a small grassy area for the kids to play.  We did not have time to use them, but the bike cruisers were ready to go.

 A few things to note about a Santa Barbara Auto Camp Air Steam experience.  First, the doorways are lower than typical doorways.  My 6′ 2″ husband would have hit his head a few times before learning to duck.   Second, larger people and pregnant women may have trouble maneuvering around the bathroom,  kitchenette, and back bedroom areas.  They are narrow, and the bed is entered from the side, so the person closest to the wall is locked into the space at night.  The per person limits for each Air Stream are pretty accurate; the San Miguel is supposed to sleep four, and four would have slept snugly in the space, but no more than four.  Also, the central air is slow to cool down the camper, especially in the back bedroom area.  We wound up sleeping with the back bedroom window open, and eventually it cooled down.

The auto camp is located in a quiet, residential area, but the traffic on the road outside the auto camp (De La Vina Street) can get busy during the day.  We awoke to the Air Stream rocking and thought we were having an earthquake, but it was only the morning traffic rocking the camper slightly.  At night, there is a bar located down the street with a few rowdy patrons on the night we were there, but no one seemed to bother anyone in the camp.  There is a Laundromat down the street, a few bakeries and restaurants within walking distance, and State Street, the main restaurants and shopping hub of Santa Barbara is a ten minute drive.  As mentioned before, there is a wonderful ice cream shop about ten minutes away by foot (McConnell’s), as well as a great local coffee shop (The Daily Grind). 

Would I recommend this unique lodging experience to other families?  Absolutely!  The kids had a ball, and I finally had a chance to fulfill my Airstream camping dream.  If we had stayed longer, I would have used the kitchen, and we would have broken out a few more board games to play, or taken the cruisers for a spin down to McConnell’s (the ice cream place.)  I can’t wait to go back in the future! 

The Santa Barbara Auto Camp has several Airstream campers available in varying sizes, to accommodate families of all sizes.  Some of the larger Airsteams even have bathtubs!  Rates start at about $200 per night, based on availability.  For more information about the Santa Barbara Auto Camp visit their website.  You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook