The Airstream Renaissance

Ah, yes. As soon as you invoke the word Airstream, people get the attraction.

Santa Rosa model at Santa Barbara Auto Camp

Light reflects on the wall behind the Santa Rosa model at Santa Barbara Auto Camp. (Photo Credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

It’s a part of American culture that transcends time. Airstream, manufacturer of the iconic “silver bullet” travel trailer, is the oldest and most recognized recreational vehicle manufacturer in North America.

It’s one thing to take a 40-foot-plus diesel pusher or 36-foot fifth wheel trailer on the road.

But being an Airstream aficionado can be quite another thing.

In 1936, Wally Byam stated that he is in business “to make people’s dreams come true.”

The enthusiasm for Airstreams that has always been with us has surged in recent years with everyone from stylish millionaires to young travelers wanting to own one of these design icons. This is a distinct subset of the RV crowd.

The only way you could experience the Airstream lifestyle on the open road was if you went all-out and bought the dream.

Enter Airstream campgrounds and motels as an alternative to owning the dream. Capitalizing on the retro-romantic image, Airstream parks or traditional RV parks with permanent Airstreams available for nightly rental have popped up with regularity across the American Southwest.

Airstream Bambi at the Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Airstream Bambi at the Metro Hotel in Petaluma (Photo Credit: Sam McManis/Sacramento Bee)

Previously featured in Vogel Talks RVing, the Santa Barbara’s Auto Camp offers five custom-designed Airstreams as part of a trailer park. The Auto Camp is so popular, its owners are planning to open similar sites soon in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Ventura.

Nestled between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks on Utah Scenic Byway 12, the Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream and RV Park is the marriage of two iconic symbols of freedom and adventure on American highways. It’s a one-of-a-kind resort that combines Airstream travel trailers and vintage convertible cars with a drive-in movie theater.

Kate Pierson, the retro, beehive-coiffed singer from the B-52s invites visitors to “rocket through the wilderness” in a collection of six vintage Airstreams, the interiors of which riff off the kitsch of the band’s best-known material. Kate’s Lazy Desert Airstream Park is near Joshua Tree.

Nine lovely, fully restored vintage Airstream travel trailers await you at the Shady Dell in Bisbee, Arizona.

The Airstreams at Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton feature a porch with a barbecue and couch and lounge chairs.

The Airstreams at Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton feature a porch with a barbecue and couch and lounge chairs. (Photo Credit: Sam McManis/Sacramento Bee)

Whether it’s the 33 foot Royal Mansion built in 1951 and restored with leopard carpet, martini glasses, diner-style breakfast booth, and phonograph with a collection of 78 rpm records, or the 1947 Tiki Bus Polynesian Palace, complete with hand-carved outrigger bar and your own Tiki God, the Shady Dell’s individual trailers will surely send you back to a time when freedom was just another word for jumping in your aluminum house on wheels.

Flying Flags RV Park and Campground, in Buellton, California, a sprawling, upscale trailer park, rents nine Airstreams.

The quirky, French-themed Metro Hotel in Petaluma’s wine country has a couple of 16-footers in its parking lot.

Or experience the nostalgia and romance of an Airstream trailer at a spattering of KOA Campgrounds—Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay (California), Stockton/Delta (California), Eureka Springs (Arkansas), Mystic (Connecticut), Sugarloaf Key (Florida), Boston/Cape Cod (Massachusetts), Bar Harbor (Maine), Cape Hatteras (North Carolina), and South Padre Island (Texas).

It would be too easy to dismiss this Airstream revival as a fad, a traveler’s version of the horned-rim glasses by trend-seeking hipsters.

After all, celebrities such as actors Johnny Depp and Matthew McConaughey and rockers such as Eddie Vedder and Sheryl Crow own tricked-out “silver bullets”. Country crooner Miranda Lambert, owner of a 1954 Flying Cloud Airstream trailer she named “Wanda the Wanderer,” even penned a song about her trailer: The Airstream Song.

Miranda Lambert's 1954 Flying Cloud Airstream trailer, affectionately named “Wanda the Wander"

Miranda Lamberts’s 1954 Flying Cloud Airstream trailer, affectionately named “Wanda the Wander” (Photo Credit: Miranda Lambert facebook)

But Airstreams endure. They are vintage and iconic, not merely a passing fancy on the roadways.

Its factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, produces 50 trailers a week and, according to Investor’s Business Daily, enjoyed a 59 percent increase in revenue in 2013 over the previous fiscal year.

Perhaps more impressive, the company boasts that 60 percent of all the trailers it has produced over the past 80 years are still in use today.

Worth Pondering…

Airstream Song

Sometimes I wish I lived in airstream homemade curtains
Lived just like a gypsy.
Break a heart, roll out of town
Cause gypsies never get tied down
—Lyrics by Miranda Lambert, Natalie Nicole Hemby, Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert; sung by Miranda Lambert

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