Back in 2013, developer Neil Dipaola breathed new, roadtripper-friendly life into Autocamp Santa Barbara, a 1920s-era trailer park geared toward vacationing motorists tootling up and down California’s Central Coast.
The genius of Santa Barbara Autocamp is that the existing RV park remains operational and its many longtime residents have stayed put — they’ve just been joined by five vintage Airstreams, each lovingly refurbished by aluminum travel trailer rehabber extraordinaire, Matthew Hofmann. Essentially, the new Santa Barbara Autocamp is an Airstream-based boutique hotel existing within an old-school RV park.
While souped-up, tricked-out Airstream accommodations are nothing new (just take a look around Airbnb), Santa Barbara Autocamp wins big in the authenticity department as it doesn't attempt to erase the past — it both celebrates and coexists with it. That is, the renovated Airstreams, the oldest dating back to the late 1950s, are pretty swank … but they’re also located within a 90-plus year-old trailer park outside of — but not too far from – trendy and historic downtown Santa Barbara in the “real” part of town.
Now Dipaola and his firm Mesa Lane Partners are taking the Airstream boutique hotel concept further up the coast to Sonoma County. For better or worse, the new Autocamp property — it’s located 90 minutes north of San Francisco along the Russian River near the town of Guerneville, a former rural logging outpost-turned-hip Bay Area weekend destination — largely abandons the authenticity and funky, midcentury retro appeal of its Santa Barbara sibling to offer more of a high-end glamping experience.
Aside from not being located within an active RV park (more on that in a bit), the most significant change from Autocamp Santa Barbara is that the iconic “silver bullet” trailers themselves — all 24 (!) of them — that comprise the new property are new models custom-designed with unfussy yet comfortable rustic-modern polish by Santa Barbara-based Dan Weber Architecture, not exquisitely restored vintage acquisitions. That being said, it’s unclear if Hofmann, who himself lives in a rehabbed Airstream, is involved with this latest venture. I’m guessing not.
In addition to the “Airstream suites with hotel-style interiors,” the redwoods-studded property will include 10 “luxury tents,” a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired clubhouse pavilion and various amenities including a bocce court, bike and canoe rentals and outdoor art installations. “Curated artisanal food and drink offerings” will also be available to overnight guests.
While Autocamp Santa Barbara, with it strong link to the past and unpretentious urban beach town vibe, decidedly caters more to adventurous types, Autocamp Russian River is altogether a more fancy affair targeting “romantic couples,” “active families” and, gulp, Bay Area tech companies looking to hold retreats.
The bathrooms at Autocamp Russian River are “spa-inspired,” the toiletries are by Malin + Goetz and the throw blankets are by Coyuchi. There’s free WiFi and coffee. There’s bistros and wine tasting rooms and galleries right down the road. Make no mistake, this isn’t camping and this certainly isn’t roughing it. This is spending $225 to spend the night in a detached luxury hotel suite located in an “up-and-coming epicurean destination" that just happens to be surrounded by spectacular natural scenery.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. No matter how or where you decide to hunker down for the night, this is a beautiful part of the country with a lot to do when it comes time to frolic in the great outdoors.
It's worth noting that while not integrated into an active RV park like Autocamp Santa Barbara, the 2-acre property where Autocamp Russian River is located was indeed previously a real-deal RV park named Spooner's Resort. According to Sonoma West News, the unsavory "RV slum" had fallen into "squalid conditions" and was closed over two years ago. Locals in the unincorporated community of Guernewood Park are mostly enthusiastic, some cautiously, about the arrival of Mesa Lane Partners' "fashionable trailer park and campground."
In an interesting twist, the property, which is slated to open as soon as June of this year, is accepting pre-reservations via Kickstarter.
While allowing folks to get deeply discounted first dibs before Autocamp Russian River officially opens, the just-launched crowdfunding campaign also helps Mesa Lane Partners raise the necessarily cash to complete the project. And with 26 days left to go until the campaign expires, this Airstream-based boutique hotel is already a runaway hit — it’s easily blown past the $55,000 fundraising goal in just a couple of days. And even if you have no immediate plans to visit Guerneville but love the Autocamp concept, you needn’t show your support by necessarily pre-booking a suite — a small donation will get you a sticker or another small perk in return.