Auto Camp

Feb 9, 2015

IMG_6179The family home was full. It was Super Bowl weekend and the “inn” had no bed for us. Luckily, Pops had an offer: How about staying in an airflow?

—Excuse us, a what?

—An airflow. Next to Jimbo’s bar. There’s the trailer park, remember?

—Yes, of course.

—Well, they’ve taken a few spots and put in airflows for overnight guests.

—You mean Airstreams?

—Yes, of course.

And that is how we came to Santa Barbara Auto Camp, Suite One.




We chose to miss Super Bowl half-time (sorry, Katie) in order to “check in” because our parents are octogenarians and fondly remember The Limelighters, Petula Clark, Godspell, and Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night, while Katie Perry sounds more like a specialty cocktail to be shunned rather than suffered, ears and eyes assaulted as they grip and sip their scotch with a splash of soda and a twist. Much more interesting, and sane, to check out an Airstream…

Auto Camp Santa Barbara consists of only five sites and each Airstream has been refurbished. Our suite hugs De La Vina Street. It has a small bistro table and two chairs…




…a long bench seat opposite the kitchen, then a bedroom on one end and the bathroom on the other.







The bed is backlit by a soffit and seemed at a bit of an angle, but it was still quite comfortable, and made with the lightest and softest sheets we’ve ever felt (divine!), as well as a comforter and a plethora of pillows.



The bathroom is a good size for such a small place and holds a claw-footed bathtub. We’re not one for baths, mostly for the fact that some part, knees or shoulders, are always stuck out of the water and getting chilled, but this tub is large. Our last morning, we filled it up and settled in, stretching our legs out fully—it was an experience that could turn a gal from hater to bath-lover.



The Malin + Goetz grapefruit face cleaner, peppermint shampoo, and cilantro hair conditioner are a treat, though we fell for the rum bar soap particularly. (We’ve now ordered some of the bar soap and a sampler package online—good product placement Malin + Goetz)



The kitchen has a small fridge and two burners, sink with filtered water, coffee maker, and docking station with speakers for one’s iPhone. A wall heater in the bedroom quickly takes the edge off a cold night, though we turned it off before lights out and were perfectly cozy for the duration. A ceiling fan/AC allows cool air, which helped when we first arrived to displace the stuffiness (it was a bit loud).




When our dad popped into Jimbo’s to say hi to the man himself, he came back and said, “I hope you get some sleep tonight, that place is hopping.”

We wondered as well since the wall not four feet from the back of the Airstream is the side wall of this local dive bar, and though we do love and seek out dive bars…



…we were planning on having the bedroom window open. Surprisingly, once we cuddled under the softest sheets we’ve ever felt and turned out the light, the next noise we heard was as the cock crowed. The morning traffic on this two-lane road was noticeable, but not irritating.





The area in which Auto Camp is located is called Samarkand, which is north of the hub of downtown Santa Barbara and just off Upper State Street. It’s a quick bike ride or drive down De La Vina to get to the touristy part of State Street, then Stearns Wharf and the beach. Besides, Upper State has its appeal, too.

Though this part of De La Vina is visually unimpressive, there’s quite a lot within easy reach. As previously stated, Jimbo’s is literally right next door for a quick shot, a pint, or a lollygag at the bar. Next to this so-called lounge is a barbershop followed by a mechanic. Across the street is Our Daily Bread with fresh loaves, breakfast goodies and coffee drinks…



Continuing along the street we found Mayo’s taqueria, carniceria market and deli, Edomasa Japanese restaurant, Daniel’s Bakery and Mexican Food, and Marty’s Pizza.







A corner market is across from a Ralph’s, and a block away is a 76 gas station, a yoga studio, and good breakfast spots such as The Daily Grind and Steve’s Patio Café. The Coffee Bean, Trader Joe’s, and CVS are within walking distance.

Further on, close to State Street and Las Positas Road (not too far from the 101 Freeway) is a Spanish-style designed plaza that houses a Gelsons, the very delicious Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro, the casual Harry’s Bar, the delightful independent Chaucer’s Books, a party store, and Fed Drugs, which is a classic “old drugstore” to the core. Around the corner is a post office and Via Maestra 42 (a small café with masterful gelato and Italian salads and cold cuts), or for fine olive oil and balsamic vinegar good enough to eat with a spoon visit Il Fustino, while across the street is a charming coffee and tea house called Vices & Spices that has an extensive collection of modern mugs and old china tea cups with saucers.

Cafe Stella is just up the hill on Las Positas and a little further down the lane is the public Santa Barbara Golf Club that has decent food at Mulligans Cafe, which offers a view of the putting green, course,and hills in the distance. If the view from Mulligans is lovely, then the view from the Mackenzie Park Lawn Bowls Club is spectacular. The view from the clubhouse and lawn (and along Samarkand Drive) is of the Santa Ynez Mountains—and the club offers a free lesson!




Auto Camp is located on a small lane that loops around. Right past the Airstreams is a small, permanent trailer park. Walking the street takes us past another world where neighbors are within feet of each other, with an old beige RV—the orange strip type that look like its sided with corrugated iron—opposite an Airstream that has a tidy elevated patio built off the front door, down the way from a massive, almost two-story“Fifth Wheel.”







Some trailers seem ready to drive away at a moment’s notice for a long weekend at the Ozarks, while others appear to be rooted to the spot. It’s an alternative world and we wished we’d had an opportunity to meet some residents and hear their stories.











Knocks would be to mention that the windows, which are simple notch levers or ratcheting bar-type, have lost most of their knobs and are impossible to open from the inside. We unlocked them, then walked around outside to manually pull them open and set the lever into place. In this unit, the sink apparatus with filter and spout were a bit too loose. There were two lights outside but we couldn’t figure out how to turn them on. Luckily we had enough light from the street that we could sit outside in the evening and write, though not enough to read.

The code and mechanism in the front door is frustrating. Reservation confirmations are made via email and come with a code to unlock the door and codes to unlock the groovy retro toodling bikes and for WiFi. The door code is 10 numbers long and each touch must register a green light followed by a green light when the pound sign in pushed when, hopefully, a click means “open sesame.” We were never successful on the first try, lucky it we got it after three times, and sometimes had to exercise extreme patience for try number five. Lastly, as the lovely morning sun breaks, all it does is outline the leaves, dirt and grime on the two small skylights, so we would suggest a periodic cleaning.

Lovely ambiance created by lights in the tree above Suite One…





Santa Barbara Auto Camp is well worth the visit—if this article has wet the appetite and the rates are within budget ($161-$220 per night). If a weekend away means space and room to walk, jump up and down, and flail one’s arms, these Airstreams are not for you. We were surprised to read some of the reviews on Yelp when people spoke of being cramped and feeling claustrophobic. These are Airstreams, people. That’s a clue.

Personally, we enjoyed our visit to Auto Camp. Some of the reason may be because we were the only booking, so it was quiet and we got to do some reading and writing in peace, which is what we were hoping for. We imagine when it’s full and warm weather has people outside, chatting, laughing, barbecuing, drinking, and maybe playing music and with kids running around, then it might feel more like camping among the masses and the price may seem steep. But it’s all in the spirit of things—going with the flow helps in most situations—happy mind, happy day.

Auto Camp Santa Barbara, 2717 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara 93105. Tel.: 888.405.7553.




Extra thoughts: For more room outside, choose a site other than number one—the outside sitting area is less roomy than the others. For a true bedroom, choose sites one or three as they have a “proper” bedroom where one can walk around the bed rather than a bedroom “nook” where the bed fits the entire space wall-to-wall. Some of the trailers have a bistro table and chairs as ours did, while others seem to have the classic dinette booths and table. All have two Adirondack chairs and an electric grill outside.


Suite 1 is a 1973 Airstream Sovereign: Private bedroom with queen size bed (backlit bed soffit), a sofa that converts into full size bed, full kitchen, bistro table and chairs, and bathroom with long, claw-foot bathtub. Sleeps up to four.

Looking from Suite 1 over to Suite 2

Looking from Suite 1 over to Suite 2


Suite 2 is a 1959 Airstream Overlander: Warm maple wood color cabinets with tan, beige, light blue, blue and white striped upholstery. Full kitchen. Two twin beds and dining area that converts to a full bed. Stand-up shower. Sleeps up to four.



Suite 3 is a 1959 Airstream Overlander: Sleeping nook with full size bed and dining area that converts to full bed. Full kitchen. Modern looking with sea green cabinets, light faux wood floor, bright blue bench seat and silver metal bistro table and chairs. Stand-up shower with multi-color small tiles in the same palette. Sleeps up to four.





Suite 4 is a 1962 Airstream Overlander: Sleeping nook with full size bed and dining area that converts to full bed. Full kitchen. Sleeps up to four. Modern.



Suite 5 is a 1964 Airstream Sovereign, 31 foot: Private bedroom with queen bed plus pull-out bed in lounge. Full kitchen. Modern looking. White with white with accents of grey-blue and bright yellow. Counter with two stools. Bathtub good for deep-soaking. Sleeps up to four.

Left, Suite 4; right, Suite 5

Left, Suite 4; right, Suite 5


1 Response for “Auto Camp”

  1. great adventuring in SB! I love your explorer spirit — kind of perfect for an Airstream dweller!



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