Way back, in 1936 a man named Wally Byam took the badges off a Bowlus trailer and moved the door from the front to the side. He dubbed his rolling hotel the Airstream Clipper. Little did Wally know that 80 years later, his company would only have grown stronger or that I’d be exploding the kitchen window in one of his gorgeous creations near a beach in Malibu, California.
He’d be familiar with California though, as that is where Airstream was born. It wasn’t until 1952 that Airstream starting packing up for a move to Ohio. The company said good-bye to the West Coast completely by 1979, but this 2017 Airstream Classic has returned to the shapely seaside only to have me bust out some of its side glass.
[Disclaimer: This story took place last year but I’m terrible at my job, so it’s only finally getting told now. Airstream loaned me a trailer for the weekend, and dropped it off at a Malibu camping spot that my wife found and rented. We paid for the spot, they hooked up the trailer. Sorry it took so long Airstream, and I still feel bad about the window.]
Camping spots near the shoreline of North Malibu don’t pop up that often. My smart wife has an email alert signal her when such a spot opens up, so we didn’t hesitate to book it when the time came. The problem for us, however is that we own zero tents, no RVs, and there’s nary a sleeping bag to be found amongst us. I’d driven an Airstream Avenue a few years back, so I decided to see if perhaps something else might be made available for a new experience.
An email was sent off. A conversation struck. Loan agreements were signed. Someone with a truck capable of the task was going to be delivering a 30-foot Airstream Classic to a spot in the dirt that sits at the foot of the hills of Malibu. This relaxing weekend up the coast a ways seemed to be gathering steam.
It was the first camping trip for our young daughter. I placed our camping gear, our clothes, and our baby gear into the back of a Range Rover SVR I happened to be driving and we set off north along the not-so-scenic 405 Freeway. On the way up came word that our mobile condominium was running late.
I thought the truck was up to the task of towing the Airstream, but the driver suffered a transmission failure somewhere outside of Las Vegas. The City of manufactured Sin had claimed a victory over cogs, and my trailer would a bit later than expected. A second tow vehicle was dispatched, and it and the trailer arrived five minutes after the park gates were supposed to close at 10pm. Thankfully, the kind folks running the place left the door open and the driver was clearly hustling to get this trailer dropped for us. He actually managed to pull past the spot, then reverse the Airstream into place in one smooth move. It was such a good display of parking that a nearby camper wandered over to give praise.
As is best when camping, good friends joined us on this adventure. More prepared than us, they arrived with their tents, cooking tools, and plenty of extra odds and ends for anything that might pop up to alter the enjoyability of the weekend. They brought all of that, and I brought plenty of food and beer. After all, there’s a fridge and a kitchen in the Airstream.
It’s in the Airstream where camping becomes something more. Tent-toting purists will scoff at the idea of holing up in this aluminum monster, but for weekend warriors and beyond it’s movable luxury. The materials used, the layout, and the general ambience of the Classic transport you mentally, in addition to the change of location that comes with towing and camping.
I expected something nice. I didn’t know it would be this nice. In fact, nearby campers kept wandering over to talk about just how lovely the trailer looked. Much like taking some manner of high-end luxury vehicle to a gas station or random parking lot, people notice and the Airstream provides enough of a pull that others can’t help but fall into its orbit with a desire to learn more about it.
The layout of this particular Airstream Classic has you enter through the side door (as Wally Byam wanted it to be) and step up into a living and dining area. To the immediate right you’ll find a couch with power-reclining features. Turn to the left and you have a dining table on one side and a kitchen with lots of storage on the other. Over the dining area, on the wall behind the seating space, there is a flat screen television as well as controls for the audio system, which offers up a Bluetooth connection.
Move rearward, and you’ll find a bathroom and a shower. The amazing thing here is that Airstream haven’t combined the two into one space. On the left is a stand-alone shower. While the right side brings an impressibly large bathroom. If you ignore both of those and continue past, you arrive at the master bedroom. This can be ordered with a pair of smaller beds, but our Airstream features a cozy queen bed that takes up most of the available space in the rear. There’s enough room to maneuver around the sides of the bed, and there’s also plenty of storage. Another TV sits on the wall back here. The rear of the bed is power adjustable so you can have back support if you want to sit up and watch the flat screen on the wall, and USB outlets are located on either side of the bed so you can plug in and charge whatever phones or cameras you’ve brought on the trip.
It’s supremely comfortable yet classically clean and stylish inside. Much like what Volvo is currently doing with its excellent lineup, Airstream lends a similar air of luxury without trying to hard to provide that luxury. You know you’re in a nice space, yet it’s not shouting at you that you should feel lucky to be sitting where you’re sitting. The outside might be a different story, as that aluminum skin acts as a campground beacon for attention, but it’s a style that is rooted into the lore of classic Americana and it’s given a pass here. Apple pies and corn fields intersect alongside our interconnecting interstates and along the way you’re going to find an Airstream trailer shining magnificently under the summer sun.
Malibu too proved to be as enjoyable as both our company and our camper. The campground in North Malibu is set slightly back into a wooded space, away from the roadway that runs alongside the ocean. It’s an easy ten minute walk from the cool, conditioned air of the Airstream to the salt spray of the endless Pacific. My wife and daughter laugh in the whitewash of waves that originated a world away while my buddy, his wife, and I realize our hardest decision of the day ahead is which beer to sample next.
The sun begins to dance closer to the distant horizon. That brings on new colors to the darkening sky. It’s a signal to retreat back to our campground. A fire must be started. Food must be prepped. Bottles must be opened.
We’ve only left our home for a weekend, but taking the Airstream Classic to a campground is an easy way to get away from the day-to-day. We can bring our dogs, our daughters toys, good friends, and anything else we need and bring them along on an affordable vacation.
Now, the word affordable here is a relative term. I’m assuming that’s if you already own an Airstream or some other form of recreational vehicle. This one here isn’t cheap. An Airstream Classic starts at $139,900. You can obviously go up from there. Used ones are well under $100,000, mind you. That’s still more than a lot of standard towables out there, which have more features such as pop-out elements to create more interior space.
They don’t have the history and the style though. They don’t have a heritage initially crafted by Mr. Byam. Somethings are worth spending money on, and an Airstream is a passport to wonderful adventures that will never go out of style. It’s Levi’s jeans paired with a well-worn flannel shirt and a beaten-up baseball cap. It’s an old pickup truck. It’s a tool for getting away from it all while retaining a home base you bring on the journey.
There are smaller and less expensive Airstream offerings. The Classic is the flagship though, and it carries the mantle and the name well. If you can’t afford a new one, find a used one and see more of the world around you. Bring your loved ones. Bring your friends. Bring your dogs. Bring your food, beer, and wine.
Just make sure you get out there and go see all the beauty this country has to offer. Be it the beaches of California, the amazing parks of Utah, the forever vistas of Montana, or the coasts of the Carolinas.