by Wally Hofmann
A unique and luxuriously-nostalgic, lodging experience awaits travelers to California’s Central Coast. Ninety years of history have been resurrected with the restoration and reopening of the historic Santa Barbara Auto Camp located in the heart of Santa Barbara, just a 15-minute walk from the old Santa Barbara Mission.
For the past month, neighbors have been admiring the re-landscaped park entrance that features four smartly-renovated Airstream trailers. The SB Auto Camp is part of an existing RV park that houses 30 other trailers from varying manufacturers. Several dozen local residents live fulltime at the park – some have called it home for more than four decades. The Airstreams are now available for nightly rentals online at www.SBAutoCamp.com.
The SB Auto Camp is located a short bike ride southeast of Santa Barbara’s bustling Downtown shopping district. Major shopping centers are within a half mile, and quaint local shops, services, and eateries are next door and across the street on De La Vina.
These vintage Airstreams have been hand-renovated exclusively for the SB Auto Camp by local Architect Matthew Hofmann’s custom renovation firm, HofArc. “Each Airstream has been uniquely designed to connect yesterday with today, without giving up modern comforts,” says Hofmann. “Our spaces also help connect people with their inner souls and outer environment… and one way we did this was to maintain simple lines and remove the clutter.”
A Century of History
In 1915, visionary Santa Barbara City Councilman A.W. Dozier embraced the notion that motorists would stop for the night on their tour of the Golden State’s central coast. He believed that motorists would “lay in a supply of groceries, take in our theaters, spend a little money, and get an idea of what Santa Barbara really is.” Within four years, the City of Santa Barbara opened a campground for visiting motorists. In 1922, the Santa Barbara Auto Camp was opened at its current location.
Today, as in the past, Central Coast travelers are attracted to a road-less-traveled mindset. By the mid 1920s, the travel trailer had yet to be invented, so motorists adapted their cars into custom-made “caravans” in search of solitude and adventure.
This same vision prompted Santa Barbara businessman Neil Dipaola to reinvent the wanderlust experience by re-inviting today’s traveler to the SB Auto Camp. “The SB Auto Camp’s mission is to be true to a time when travelers were drawn by the simplicity of life,” says Dipaola. “From the vintage Airstreams, to the décor, to friendly local color, our goal is to honor the authenticity of the past. This quiet cluster of oaks, located within the heart of local shopping and eateries, allows guests to rediscover the magic.”
Restoring the Past
Longtime residents know the rich history of this secret pocket of Santa Barbara, but not many know how thousands of travelers camped in farmer’s fields and along hidden creeks, to spend the night during their trips up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. The blended goal of drawing travelers back into town, while protecting the fragile ecosystem surrounding Santa Barbara, is what created this rural oasis along Mission Creek in 1922 and is the reason for maintaining this oasis today.
For millennia, fresh water springs from Cathedral Peak have fed Santa Barbara’s Mission Creek. The sleepy creek, seasonally wet or dry, meanders through Mission Canyon, past the historic Santa Barbara Mission, continuing to the SB Auto Camp where it lingers demurely in still ponds along this tree-covered setting.
Respecting the Present
Each Airstream comfortably sleeps four people and has been locally renovated in Santa Barbara with sustainable construction methods and materials. The units feature all new, all electric appliances, home-style fixtures, and creature comforts found in luxury lodging. Each Airstream also comes with its own outdoor barbecue grill and complimentary use of two retro-styled Huffy beach cruisers and riding helmets.
The SB Auto Camp is working in harmony with the existing parkresidents. “We want to cultivate a truly-local experience for our nightly guests, so we’ve welcomed all long term residents to stay,” says park manager Ryan Miller. Four vacant spaces at the park were filled with four renovated vintage Airstreams. A fifth space will be available in early 2013 with the departure of another resident.
For reservations and information, go to www.SBAutoCamp.com. Special Grand Opening Rates starting at just $118/night midweek — weekends are just $150/night.
For more on Santa Barbara’s auto transformation, see The Way It Was, by Hattie Beresford, published in the Montecito Journal on August 31, 2006.