“Airstreams are vintage, iconic, unique,” says Jody Aufrichtig, who spent months and millions to buy, import, and renovate a small fleet of vintage Airstreams. The point? To put them on the roof of his four-star Cape Town hotel, the Grand Daddy, and create what he calls a Penthouse Trailer Park. Trashy? No way. Try flashy.
Airstream travel trailers, those iconic silver bullets, hit the road in the 1930s and quickly became design icons, cropping up in movies and fashion shoots as well as stylish front yards along the way. These days, the rolling slices of Americana seem more popular than ever. Google the word Airstream and you get nearly two million results—from YouTube videos of loving restorations to forums populated by thousands of rabid owners. The Airstream fan club also includes impressively high-voltage celebrities, like Tom Hanks, Sheryl Crow, Francis Ford Coppola, and Johnny Depp.
Now hotels and motels around the world are adding Airstreams as a hip alternative to cookie-cutter rooms—as stand-alone hotels, as add-ons to existing inns, even as part of KOA (Kampgrounds of America) locations from Las Vegas to Maine. Style aside, features like multiple beds and fully equipped kitchens can also make Airstreams a cheaper option. Savvy travelers are fast becoming the newest Airstream aficionados.
One early—and enthusiastic—adopter of the trailer-hotel trend was The Shady Dell Trailer Court ($87 per night) in Bisbee, AZ, which opened in 2007 with the slogan “Midcentury Modernism Is Alive and Well at the Shady Dell.” Currently the Dell has nine fully restored vintage aluminum travel trailers for rent, including a 21-foot 1949 Airstream that sleeps two .
The hyperefficient use of space (à la a Japanese capsule hotel) is partly what attracted an Asian wellness retreat in Santa Fe, NM, to adopt the Airstream-as-hotel-room concept. Ten Thousand Waves ($99–$129, depending on the season) has a Silver Moon (a 2003 19-foot Airstream Bambi), which appeals to a broad range of travelers—from Airstream enthusiasts to guests looking for unique lodging. But it also rents for half the price of traditional accommodations, which is perhaps the real reason its Airstream had a 92 percent occupancy rate last year.
It’s style, however, that rules at the doo-wop-themed boutique hotel StarLux ($69–$233, depending on the season) in Wildwood, NJ. Wildwood is the doo-wop capital of the U.S., with more surviving examples of this classic ’50s-style design and architecture than anywhere else in the country), so it made sense for the StarLux to go retro and install two Airstreams. Each sleeps four and includes a kitchenette.
One of the latest hotels to offer an Airstream is the Lakedale Resort ($229 from May 1–October 31) on San Juan Island, WA. Inspired by all those celebrity Airstream enthusiasts, the resort added a fully restored 31-foot 1978 Airstream Sovereign to its existing roster of canvas cabins, campsites, lodge rooms, and log cabins. Snazzed up with Cuisinart kitchen appliances and Molton Brown bathroom amenities, it includes a private furnished lakeside deck.
The trend recently reached Europe as well with the opening of the Bel Repayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park ($125–$167 for two people) in the Pyrenees foothills of southern France, near Mirepoix, featuring nine restored vintage Airstreams, all with kitchens and outdoor barbecues. The owners have even converted an Airstream into an outdoor bar.
But perhaps the world’s chicest Airstream installation is in Cape Town, South Africa. That’s where the four-star Grand Daddy Hotel ($117 per night) offers seven vintage Airstream travel trailers installed with landscaping (and even mailboxes) on the roof. Owner Jody Aufrichtig was inspired by the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, in which Juliette Lewis’s character lives in an Airstream, and traveled to Ohio to purchase the trailers. Today, each “penthouse” has interiors customized by different artists .
While some hotels go for vintage or customized Airstream interiors, others prefer more modern designs that complement their locations. Hotel Airstream ($149–$179 per night) in Newport Beach, CA, offers one 2006 26-foot Airstream International Ocean Breeze edition with a full kitchen. It can comfortably sleep four, and it comes with beach-inspired décor and colors that fit right in where it’s parked—on dunes overlooking the Pacific.
A word of warning: whether it’s the shiny aluminum or the ingenious use of space, Airstreams can be addicting. Book a stay at these Airstream hotels and you may awake dreaming of owning your own.