There’s something about RVs and their camping trailer cousins that appeal to everyone’s inner child, no matter the age. For the actual kids, it’s better than the best pillow-and-blanket fort ever made, but for the grown-ups, the mix of electro-gizmos, cozy kitchens, comfortable beds, stereo systems, hot showers, and even cable television provide for a true indoor sanctuary, the perfect place to retreat after a night ‘round the campfire and start the next day over a sizzling pan of bacon and eggs. Certainly, RV livin’ is by no means traditional camping—where the communal hardships of tent life are just as much of the fun as the closeness to nature—but it is the solution for those who want to pair their love for the great outdoors with the comforts of home.
Of course, since price tags generally start in the through-the-roof range, most of us won’t be able to afford our own RV until we sell our homes to retire on the road. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get a taste, because for the past year, Santa Barbara-based Vacation Trailers 2 U has been setting up their custom-made, excellently appointed rental rigs at our region’s state beaches, county campgrounds, and private parks. As the only company permitted to do so with both the state and county—but part of a growing trend in this niche of the rental market across the country—the company’s 17 trailers are fast becoming a familiar feature from Carpinteria State Beach to Cachuma Lake and all the RV hotspots in between.
“My wife and I, we’re dinosaurs, I guess,” said owner Jason Kimbrell, a San Diego native who studied English at UCSB and then founded this company after a dozen years working for his father, one of the most successful RV retailers in California, Arizona, and Florida. “We’re not into pop culture. We don’t watch TV much. We don’t believe in video games and violent movies. We believe in environmental responsibility and appreciation for the great outdoors. Our overarching mission is to get people, especially families with young kids, to turn off the TV set, turn off the computer, turn off the video games, and get outside, roast some marshmallows around the campfire, and bond with your family, actually talking as opposed to texting.”
To show off what he meant, Kimbrell brought one of his trailers to the Ocean Mesa campground at El Capitan Canyon last weekend and invited me, my family, and a handful of our closest friends to post up in the eight-man condo-on-wheels for Friday and Saturday night. To say little of Ocean Mesa itself—see the sidebar for more, but I doubt there are many other campgrounds in the world where you can get a world-class massage, throw horseshoes, put your kid on the playground, hit the hot tub and pool, buy some morning coffee or evening chardonnay, and do your laundry all within a few yards of your campsite—the Vacation Trailers 2 U experience was all Kimbrell promised, a comfortable home-base from which to grill burgers, sip wine, whip up guac, guzzle fridge-cooled beer, walk to the beach, contemplate icy cocktails, meander the trails, and instruct on the finer points of s’mores-making.
Others apparently agree. “If I had 100 trailers, I could keep them all rented on the coast in the summer,” said Kimbrell. “There’s huge demand.” Nonetheless, Kimbrell is still learning the seasonality of the market, how Cachuma is more popular during the spring and fall, how Flying Flags in Buellton appeals to the family-reunion and wine-tasting crowds, how more affluent customers from Orange County and Simi Valley tend to prefer the amenities of Ocean Mesa, among other lessons. “Like any small business starting out, especially in this economy, it’s challenging and there are a lot of long days,” admitted Kimbrell, who’s also busy as the father of a nine-month-old baby. “What keeps us going is that we really love and believe in Santa Barbara and the outdoor recreational opportunities here.”
Vacation Trailers 2 U will deliver rigs to Cachuma Lake, Carpinteria State Beach, El Capitan State Beach, Ocean Mesa at El Capitan Canyon, Refugio State Beach, Gaviota State Beach, and Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton. See vacationtrailers2u.com or call 877-EZ-CAMPING.
Camping Gone Terribly Right
El Capitán Changes the Face of Gaviota Camping … Again
The word is “glamping”. One part camping and one part glamour, this relatively new twist on spending a night or two in the great outdoors is as much about massages and hot tubs as it is crackling campfires and starry nights. First brought to the Gaviota Coast nearly a decade ago by the folks at El Capitán Canyon, their rancho-relaxo style cabins and car-free policy replaced the longtime family campground across the highway from El Capitán State Park in May 2001 with a decidedly more nature-minded, albeit expensive, experience. Their pampered camping offerings have grown in recent years with the opening of Ocean Mesa immediately to the west of El Cap Canyon. In short, from cozy tent sites and stunning hiking trails to family fun-inducing facilities and eyes-full of wide-open spaces, Ocean Mesa is everything you expect to find at a choice state park rolled seamlessly into the offerings of a high-end resort.
To many on the South Coast, and even to those who frequent the Gaviota area, Ocean Mesa remains something of a secret. Tucked in discreetly among old avocado trees, the outer shell of a once-upon-a-time sprawling eucalyptus grove, and a few gnarled oak trees, the more meat and potatoes sibling of El Cap Canyon offers a private alternative to the three state park campgrounds in the region. Still-maturing native landscaping and whimsical rock work weave through 20 campsites and 80 RV spots—some of which enjoy ocean views and all of which have full electric and plumbing hookups. Add to that the 11-mile Bill Wallace Trail that heads out from Ocean Mesa’s backyard and loops through and above one of the more beautiful and spiritually charged canyons around, a large swimming pool and hot tub area, a dog-friendly atmosphere, on-site spa services, and a campground market that can satisfy the needs of the biggest wine snob among us, and you have yourself a shining example of the glamping state of mind. Even better, unlike the state park across the street, you don’t need to make reservations a year in advance to get in on the action.
For more information, see oceanmesa.com — Ethan Stewart