Friday, May 8, 2015

The Car-Themed Staycation

The campsite comes complete with beach cruisers, Adirondack chairs, and a grill
Staycation - PDFI’ve certainly waxed affectionate on these pages for the strong automotive culture in these parts. Santa Barbara has not only plenty of car people, but also plenty of businesses catering to this crowd.

Recently my girlfriend, Liz, and I had the pleasure of enjoying all the elements of the perfect Santa Barbara area car-themed vacation. She’s got some gas in her veins, too, so she was the perfect partner for a vehicular-inspired adventure. Because we live here, we were able to take our time about it and space it out in a leisurely manner. But if you were to string together these activities into a single weekend or mid-week respite, it would make for a nice, full staycation. 
Let’s start with accommodations, since this definitely involves a for- ward-thinking plan. We’d heard about the Santa Barbara Autocamp, a hotel consisting of five Airstreams, and were excited to try it, but it took some time for them to squeeze us in because of the property’s popularity. If you want a weekend stay that includes a Saturday, you’re probably out of luck for a while.

But since you happen to live in the Santa Barbara area, you should take advantage of your flexibility, and grab a night or two mid-week. It’s a totally unique experience that will light up your Instagram profile with likes.

We also got a chance to chat with Ryan Miller, VP of Marketing and Innovation at Mesa Lane Partners, the property owner. He gave us a little insight into Autocamp’s past, present, and future.

The camp has been around continuously for 93 years
When you first enter the property, you’ll see a sign that proclaims its establishment in 1922. While the hotel has only been around since 2012, the trailer park itself has been there continuously for 93 years. There were some vacancies when Mesa Lane bought it, so the developer’s innovative minds decided to consolidate those and create a novel tourist experience. 
The Autocamp harkens back to the early age of highway vacationing, even before the Eisenhower system lent newly prosperous Americans the ultimate sense of freedom. The Santa Barbara-Ventura route was actually the first segment of Highway 1, and there were many businesses that popped up in the Midtown area, where the Autocamp resides, to cater to the new set of automotive tourists. In recent years, the zone has experienced a bit of a revival, somewhat anchored by Trader Joe’s. 

“There’s actually this great business and community culture that’s here,” says Miller, citing the restaurants and coffee joints that make it a “walkable” area. It might have been a bit more difficult for guests there a few years ago, but the new development, plus Autocamp’s provision of beach cruiser bikes for its guests, makes explora- tion of the area a pleasure. 

We stayed in unit 3, a 26-foot Airstream Overlander from 1959. It contained a comfy full bed on one end, with a convertible bed helping to bookend the central kitchen and bath. It was a charming space that proved more comfortable than expected. 

We enjoyed the patio with some friends early in the evening, with its Adirondack chairs, though there were only two, so it was good that we brought some camping chairs. It was easy to be lazy and not use the electric grill out there, since there are good eateries nearby. We did sushi at Edomasa, and enjoyed the leisurely pace dictated by its late closing time. 

The lounge area was spacious enough for six and converts to another bed
By the time we got back, it was a bit too chilly to hang outside, but even with six people we were comfortable inside. Don’t worry about bringing your own wine glasses, since there are plenty inside, which are cool enough that you’ll be glad you can buy them. 

Some helpful tips: it’s a bit tight inside the bathroom, so the TP roll is hidden inside a cabinet. And if you’re a bit confounded about where to find the light switch in there, check under the counter. Finally, if you flip a switch and nothing happens, wait another second or two, since it might be the very cool LED light strip that makes for some great ambiance inside; there’s a bit of a delay there. 
You’ll also find a card that entitles you to free mimosas at Our Daily Bread the next morning. We crossed the street to redeem, and while our breakfast was yummy, they didn’t seem to have much interest in following through on those mimosas. After much effort, we finally received them well after our meal was gone. 

If you’re lucky enough to snag a Saturday night at Autocamp, the best place to continue the auto-themed jaunt the next morning is Santa Barbara Cars and Coffee, in Montecito. We’ll have a deeper look into the event’s history in a later issue, but suffice to say it’s been bringing together the area’s car-crazy since 2010.

You’ll see a variety of automotive sculpture, from true antiques like a Model T to highly valuable classic Ferraris with racing pedigree, to modern exotics with goose-bump-inducing exhaust notes.

After your cup overfloweth with visions of gorgeous cars, you can find a great place for brunch. Jeannine’s is always a favorite, especially its Bananas Foster French Toast, but if you’re looking to stick with the auto theme we recommend The Shop Café on Milpas, which encourages you to “Get your fix.” 

We put bananas and salmon in our faces
Hit the brakes when you see J’s Tires at De La Guerra, since The Shop still bears this outdated sign. While they’re attached to a service shop, J’s has been gone for years (he still owns the property). It’s a walk-up counter, and on the weekends there will be a line, but it’s worth the wait. 

We talked to Scott Manser, one of the owners, and he told us about the evolution of the establishment. While it was originally slated to be a coffee joint – Manser definitely gives off a hipster vibe – it morphed into a “foodie hub” with the help of chef John Pettitt.

It’s paid off, with our last brunch there focusing on dishes featuring their house-made bread, thick and toasted to a perfect crisp. The Bananas-In-Yo-Face paired it with bananas, local honey, and their own almond butter, coming together to offer a delicious combo that Manser calls a “sleeper” favorite. 

He’s a car guy as well, and we chatted a bit about the ’64 Ford Truck that he fixed up with the help of the adjoining garage. It was his daily driver, though, and it couldn’t keep up with his regular commute from Summerland. His friend later confirmed that the rig had been a “death trap.” 

Manser also talked about future plans for The Shop, which includes a dinner shift – they hope in a couple weeks – and a line of kitchen odds and ends, which could include things like that scrumptious almond butter and “tools for the kitchen,” which are pretty much what you’d think. 
When you’re done at The Shop, you can hop across the street to Milpas Motors to check out their eclectic line- up of pre-owned metal. While we were there, we spied the typical sort of classics, along with more esoteric pieces, such as ‘80s Toyota Land Cruisers – both kitted out and stock – and a Nissan Nismo Juke. 

Whether you have a car-crazy relative in town for a visit or you just want to experience all the autodom Santa Barbara has to offer, this trip should give you all the oil-soaked joy you could hope for. 

Visit to book an Airstream trailer stay. Our thanks to Santa Barbara Autocamp for the complimentary night. Go to for the Cars and Coffee schedule. Visit The Shop Café at Check out Milpas Motors at 

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at Or follow him on Instagram @rlioz.

No comments:

Post a Comment