Romance, nostalgia and freedom of the road all come together in those shiny time machines called Airstream travel trailers. Great road trippin' memories of the '50s are difficult — and expensive — to re-create, but the tug of the Airstream dream is so strong and entrepreneurs so accommodating that you can now stay in one without pulling a heavy trailer.
Airstream "hotels" are popping up throughout California. You can drive your little electric Nissan Leaf to a campground where permanent Airstream setups are styled as ultra-modern, vividly wild or, of course, simply retro.
From north to south, here's your chance to experience Airstream travel without a hitch:
Russian River Autocamp, in the heart of Sonoma County and its iconic redwoods, has 23 customized Airstreams with a deck and fire pit at each site. If guests tire of wine-tasting and strolling through nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve, they can canoe, bicycle, play tennis or bocce ball, mosey down to the river or hang out in the Midcentury Modern-styled clubhouse/lobby. Info: 14120 Old Cazadero Road, Guerneville; (888) 405-7553. From $200 a night.
Thirty-five miles north of San Francisco, the colorful and quirky French-inspired Metro Hotel has two new Airstreams: a 22-foot Bambi model (with silver, wood and red interior) and a 28-foot International (silver with fuchsia carpeting). Each comes with a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, a stove, a microwave and a French press coffee maker. Info: 508 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma; (707) 773-4900. From $149 a night.
The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA campground, a mile from Manresa State Beach, rents six Airstreams with queen beds, mini kitchens and full baths with showers. The couches and dinettes can be converted into twin beds. Info: 1186 San Andreas Road, Watsonville; (831) 722-0551. From $195 a night.
Wellspring Ranch, a "private retreat and sanctuary for couples" on 160 acres northwest of San Luis Obispo, has a 28-foot luxury International-series Airstream that has never been on the road (other than getting to the ranch). Meals, served in the garden or café, are included. Guests can ramble on hiking trails, practice yoga in a studio in the woods or drive 20 minutes to Paso Robles wine country. The ranch has a Tesla charging station. Info: 9150 Santa Rita Road, Cayucos; (805) 9951644. $450 a night plus one-time cleaning fee starting at $50.
Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground rents nine Airstreams as well as two vintage "canned-ham" trailers. The Airstreams have been refurbished with themed interiors such as Mod Squad, Urban Cowboy and Bombshell (which means Marilyn Monroe). Microwaves, mini-refrigerators, coffee makers, flat-panel cable TVs, DVD players, Wi-Fi and a barbecue and/or fire pit are included. The resort has a pool, a playground, a horseshoes area, a bocce ball court and a sports field. Info: 180 Avenue of the Flags, Buellton; (877) 783-5247. From $99 a night.
Santa Barbara Autocamp, one of the first Airstream "hotels," has five of the silvery trailers, ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s, that have been refurbished with pillow-top mattresses and down comforters on the beds, free Wi-Fi and outdoor decks with electric barbecues.The 31-foot-long 1972 Sovereign even has a claw-foot tub. Guests can use free beach-cruiser bikes for rides to Stearns Wharf and East Beach. The owners plan to add five additional Airstreams in the next few months. Info: 2717 De la Vina St., Santa Barbara; (888) 405-7553. From $174 a night.
The funky but cool Caravan Outpost has 11 Airstreams, mostly from the 2000s, but one named Sam is a "1959 Land Yacht." The named trailers are 19 to 30 feet in length and are arrayed around a central area. All have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and colorfully patterned pillows and throws that brighten the sleek wood-and-metal interiors. The Outpost also offers yoga classes, beach-cruiser bikes, cooking at a community grill and short local excursions. Info: 317 Bryant St., Ojai; (805) 836-4891. From $179 a night.
Adults-only Kate's Lazy Desert, 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, reflects the wild style of its owner, Kate Pierson of the B-52s. She hired eccentric artists to decorate the six Airstreams with themes such as Tiki, Tinkerbell and Planet Air. The 30-foot-long Hairstream is Kate's "fantasy tour trailer" with bright primary colors and big-hair cartoons. Hot Lava is decorated with vivid red polka dots and blobs — it's a little like being trapped inside a lava lamp. If the lava's too hot, swing from a hammock or take a dip in the above-ground pool. Tip: If you love vivid colors, Kate's is your place. Info: 58380 Botkin Road, Landers; (845) 688-7200. From $175 per night.
Hicksville Trailer Palace & Artist Retreat is a hoot. Two of its nine trailers are Airstreams: the Sweet and the Integratrailor. The 22-foot Sweet is a throwback to the '70s with orange walls, sage-and-yellow furniture and turquoise shag carpeting. Guests can snuggle or sleep on two large curvy couches (there's no bed) while listening to tunes on a record player or watching satellite TV. The Integratrailor has a queen bed, a sink, heat and air conditioning and an "alien communication system." All guests share a bathroom. Info: (310) 584-1086. From $75 a night.