Glamping isn’t just for grown-ups! Try this Airstream family adventure.
Centrally-located on the beautiful California coast with 300 days of sunshine a year, Santa Barbara is an idyllic vacation destination with its waterfront district, vibrant downtown, and endless outdoor adventures.
If your family loves camping but not all the effort involved with packing gear, pulling a trailer, and setting up a campsite, AutoCamp Santa Barbara is the ideal hassle-free alternative. They call it, “adventure simplified.”
KidTripster Tip: If you're looking for a more remote location, AutoCamp has another site at Russian River, just a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, California in the heart of Sonoma Wine County.
Where to stay?
AutoCamp is a more affordable way to stay in the heart of “The American Riviera” without giving up luxury. Think of it as your own tiny boutique hotel.
AutoCamp consists of five campsites in a sort of urban campground on De La Vina Street, tucked away from the busy tourist district. Each campsite has its own fully appointed, vintage Airstream trailer, featuring attractive mid-century modern design; some suites even have deep soaking bathtubs. Great care was taken to sustainably renovate each one.
We stayed in Suite #4, a handsome 26-foot, 1962 Airstream Overlander with bamboo floors, a full bed, and a built-in sofa that converts into a second full-size bed. It also boasts a kitchen with cookware and dishes, flat screen TV, high-quality linens, comforters and bathrobes, and a lovely tiled shower in the modern bathroom. Take a look inside by clicking here.
Our children loved unpacking and organizing their stuffed animals, blankets, and trip souvenirs on their shared bed. They had such fun staying in our own tiny house for the first time!
Each campsite has a private, spacious lawn, Adirondack chairs, an electric grill, loaner bicycles, and attractive drought-resistant landscaping. I challenge you to find a hotel room in Santa Barbara with a larger outdoor area! There was enough space for our kids to play hide-and-seek! After dinner at a nearby brewpub, we returned to our campsite and sat under the giant oak tree strung with lights and played board games that we found in a drawer under our bed. Note to self, next time bring along supplies to make s’mores!
AutoCamp requires a two-night minimum stay on most weekends. Rates range from $164 to $227/night. Dogs are welcome at a small additional cost.
What to do?
Founded in 1786, “The Queen of Missions” is just a 15-minute walk from AutoCamp. Old Mission Santa Barbara (2201 Laguna St.) was the tenth of 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans. Self-guided or docent-led tours are available showcasing Chumash Indian artifacts and Colonial-era art in the nine-room museum. Admission: Youth (0-4) Free; Youth (5-17) $4; Adult $9; docent-led tours cost extra.
Santa Barbara can be described in so many ways, but now it has moxie. The MOXI museum, that is. The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation (125 State St.) opened in 2017. The 3-story, 17,000-square-foot, hands-on museum was a hit with our family. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the Sky Garden. Cost: Youth (2 & under) Free; Youth (3-12) $10; Adult $14.
Not far from AutoCamp is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol). Your family will learn about Santa Barbara County’s geology, California wildlife, and Native American history in a lovely creekside setting. Cost: Youth (under 2) Free; Youth (2-12) $7; Youth (13-17) $8; Adult $12.
If you want to get in touch with nature, head to the nearby Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (1212 Mission Canyon Rd.) with more than five miles of trails. Walk through a grove of Redwood trees and Japanese tea garden or visit the historic Mission Dam and aqueduct, built in 1807 to supply water to the Santa Barbara Mission. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Channel Islands. Cost: Youth (under 2) Free; Youth (2-12); $6, Youth (13-17) $8; Adult $12.
KidTripster Tip: The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers Saturday morning family fun walks on select summer weekends. Check the online schedule.
Santa Barbara is situated along the California Coastal Trail. Within Santa Barbara, the trail includes six miles of paved multi-use paths and 11 points of interest. To download a printable, pocket-sized Santa Barbara Coastal Trail map and materials for a self-guided, audio-visual tour click here.
Stearns Wharf, a Santa Barbara landmark, is the oldest operating wharf on the West Coast. There are numerous shops, restaurants, and the small Sea Center (211 Stearns Wharf), where the kids can touch docile sharks and rays. A cute and affordable water taxi, Lil’ Toot, sails between the wharf and the harbor multiple times a day during summer. One-way cost: Youth $1; Adult $5.
For the most unique tour of Santa Barbara, hop onboard the Land Shark, a state-of-the-art, Hydra Terra amphibious vehicle operated by Land and Sea Tours (99 W. Cabrillo Blvd.). Your 90-minute adventure starts at Stearns Wharf, taking you through the streets of Santa Barbara and then onto the water! Cost: Youth (0-10) $15; Adult $30.
KidTripster Tip: Everyone has a favorite beach in Santa Barbara. East Beach is home to dozens of sand volleyball courts. Walk the dog off-leash at Arroyo Burro Beach (aka Hendry’s). Beginning surfers catch waves at Leadbetter Beach, and watch the sunset from Butterfly Beach.
Use the bikes provided by AutoCamp and ride the Cabrillo Bike Path, stretching along Cabrillo Boulevard from the Harbor to Butterfly Beach in Montecito.
For more suggested activities in Santa Barbara, click here.
Where to eat?
Just a one-block stroll from AutoCamp, in either direction on De La Vina, you’ll find several great food options. Our favorite discovery was Yellow Belly Tap (2611 De La Vina St.) with outdoor dining patios in the front and back of the pub. The place was full of locals enjoying a great meal and craft brews. The Yellow Belly Burger, while messy with grilled onions, was one of the most delicious burgers that we’ve ever tasted! We also ordered off the "For Little Bellies" menu ($6) and shared a homemade pizza. For dessert, try the Cast Iron Cookie topped with a scoop of McConnell’s ice cream.
Our Daily Bread (2700 De La Vina St.), a retail bakery and cafe, is located across the street from AutoCamp. The healthful menu changes with the seasons; more salads during summer and hearty soups during the cooler, rainy season. The bakery even has a line of gluten-free products, and all pastries are vegan. We enjoyed vegetarian Benedict, lemon-blueberry hotcakes, and a big apple strudel. There’s even a small “Bites for Kids” menu for breakfast or lunch.
Craving really good Mexican food? Look no further than Los Agaves (2911 De La Vina St.) with a location just a couple blocks from AutoCamp. The Agaves Enchiladas are terrific - halibut and shrimp, red pepper and onions, topped with chipotle sauce and served with rice and a fresh salad with mango dressing. Our children enjoyed drinking Mexican sodas, sampling the array of salsas with homemade corn tortilla chips, and devouring kid-sized burritos.
For more suggested restaurants in Santa Barbara, click here.
Photo courtesy: Yellow Belly Tap
Highway 101 runs through Santa Barbara, connecting Los Angeles, an hour and a half drive to the south, and San Francisco, five hours to the north.
Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) is about nine miles from AutoCamp.
AutoCamp (2717 De La Vina St.) is located in a residential neighborhood about four miles from the Santa Barbara Harbor and just a couple of minutes from downtown.
Wendy Thies Sell, a native of Wisconsin, headed west two decades ago and landed on California’s beautiful Central Coast. She and her husband raise their family in Santa Barbara County.