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Camping Made Easy

Autocamp Russian River: Airstream trailer accommodations offered year-round, priced at $195-$425 a night, depending on the season and day of the week. The luxury tents are offered from May through October, for $139-$225 a night. Reserve your space at autocamp.com. 707-604-6103.


Here are a few other “glamping” resorts to consider when you plan your staycation on the North Coast this summer:

Coast Vacation Trailers: This Fort Bragg company rents 19 RV trailers that they will drive to your campsite along the Mendocino Coast, from the Westport Beach RV Campground and MacKerricher State Park south to Van Damme State Park and the Albion River Campground. The trailers sleep from two to nine people and come with firewood, paper products and some or all of the linens. Rates start at $200 a night, not including campground fee. Pet-friendly, with some rules and $10 a night fee for dogs. To submit a request, include number of people and the name of the campground where you have made your reservation to coastvacationtrailers.com. 707-962-9294.

Terra Glamping: This resort perched 430 feet above the Pacific Ocean in Annapolis offers 10 safari tents with memory foam beds and ocean views. Two-night minimum on weekends. Rates start at $250 per night. 33005 Coast Highway. 646-801-8076. terraglamping.com.

Hipcamp: Known as the Airbnb of camping, this website can help you reserve a site at private, previously off-limit spots like Salmon Creek Ranch in Bodega as well as public parks such as Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville that offer a more unique experience than a more typical campground. hipcamp.com

When summer rolls around, outdoor enthusiasts often feel the call of the wild, complete with crackling campfire, twinkling stars and a bed of dirt and pine needles.

But who has the energy to pack up all that camping gear and food for a two-day trip, then tear it all down again? At the end of the weekend, you head back to the office exhausted but relieved. At least you can get some rest there.

Nowadays, with the rise of “glamping” resorts such as the Autocamp Russian River in Guerneville, you can have your s’mores and eat them, too. Instead of your butt grazing the hard ground when the air mattress springs a leak, you can snooze soundly inside one of 23 custom Airstream trailers or 10 luxury tents tricked out with high-end linens and blankets.

“My husband loves those outdoorsy vacations,” said Jennifer Jacobs of Phoenix, Arizona, whose family of four spent a couple of nights at Autocamp Russian River in late May. “Truthfully, I’m at the age now where I’m not going to camp anymore, so my husband thanked me for giving him a couple of days out in the wilderness … It was the best of both worlds.”

The resort, which opened last August, is both family-friendly and pet-friendly, which has helped keep it solidly booked, even on rainy weekends in February. Although not inexpensive, the marriage of the sleek, nostalgic Airstream trailers with the mid-century modern clubhouse set amid the redwoods seems to resonate across the generations, drawing everyone from millennials to baby-boomer retirees.

Ryan Miller, the 27-year-old co-founder of Autocamp, said the company does not view the “outdoor hospitality” business as a new trend. Rather, it is piggy-backing on the long-term appeal of outdoor recreation while tapping into a shift in lodging and travel tastes, which now align more closely with Airbnb and a desire for more authentic adventures.

With Autocamp, it’s an experience unlike any other. “It parallels the millennial ideals and values of experiences over things,” Miller said.

Mark Belhumeur, general manager for Autocamp Russian River, agreed that most people who come to the resort are looking for a unique experience, not just a place to stay.

“We are camping for those who don’t like to get dirty,” he said. “Everything is provided. All you bring is a couple of filets for the barbecue and you’re all set.”

Of course, it’s not going to appeal to the true tree-hugger looking for a wilderness experience, complete with a backpack the size of the Ritz, filled with bland MREs and stringy beef jerky. Still, it’s a good gateway drug for those craving time away from the incessant beeps and blinks of modern technology.

“It provides a turnkey opportunity to experience what we like to call ‘the spirit of camping,’” Miller said. “We make it easier for people to get outdoors.”

Susan Upchurch of Graton, who serves as district director for Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, has stayed at the Autocamp resort three times since it opened last August. Her first stay last fall was free, as a thank you for her small contribution to the resort’s crowdfunding campaign, This spring, she returned with a group of girlfriends and stayed one night in the luxury tents, then returned a week later to an Airstream for a birthday getaway with her husband.

“We went for a hike in Cazadero during the day, and then went to River’s End for dinner,” said Upchurch, a long-time fan of the Airstream trailer. “The river is beautiful, and for a good part of the year, it’s a good place to be. You don’t have to drive far, but you feel like you’ve gone away.”

The resort credits much of its appeal to the sleek design of the aluminum-bodied Airstream, a sausage-shaped travel trailer first built in 1930s by Stanford graduate Wally Byam as a modern shelter that would move like a “stream of air” behind a car.

“It’s a unique experience, to stay in the iconic Airstream that we all grew up with,” Belhumeur said. “I can remember family vacations, and you’d pass one on the freeway, and it was always dreamy.”

Autocamp Russian River partnered with Airstream of Ohio to source custom trailers for the Guerneville resort that feature the same nostalgic shape and shiny, aluminum exterior as the original models. But inside, the trailers offer bigger bedrooms with skylights and a sofa bed for kids or extra adults. The enlarged bathroom beckons with a Carrara marble shower and a residential toilet, making it more like a boutique hotel suite than a trailer. There is a sink, refrigerator and microwave, but no oven. Guests who want to cook can use their own private barbecue pit.

To pay homage to sleek design of the Airstream, Autocamp hired architect Dan Weber of Anacapa in Santa Barbara to design the central clubhouse in Guerneville, which is topped by a flat, cantilevered roof that keeps the structure exposed while creating a horizontal contrast to the towering redwoods.

“It was designed in the mid-century modern style, a la Frank Lloyd Wright, with warm, redwood logs next to concrete next to steel,” Belhumeur said. “The fireplace comes out of the floor.”

Miller, who launched the company in 2013 with five vintage trailers in Santa Barbara, said the design is what sets the resort apart and creates the upscale experience for the guests.

“Good design is a passion of ours, just like the great outdoors is,” he said. “We feel that Autocamp is where great design and the great outdoors meet up. That’s the secret sauce.”

Although it’s located along a busy road in a mostly residential neighborhood, the resort is close enough to Guerneville that guests can hop on a bike to get to town, where the dining scene has expanded exponentially over past 10 years, The choices now range from Crista Luedtke’s Boon Eat + Drink, which opened in 2008, to the Guerneville Bank Club, which opened last spring and houses a pie and ice cream shop and a cooperative wine tasting room.

“That outweighs the need to be in a remote location,” Miller said. “Our guests are excited about being near Guerneville.”

Miller said he stumbled upon the West County hamlet almost by accident, while on a road trip from Big Sur to the North Coast to scout out new locations for Autocamp. (The company is currently launching several new resorts in California and beyond.)

“I drove out to the coast and that was what cemented it for me,” Miller said. “I realized how jaw-droppingly beautiful the whole area was … I love all the little towns, and the Italian dinner places.”

Because all the restaurants were closed on the Tuesday they arrived, the Jacobs family had to improvise, picking up a couple of pizzas from Safeway that they threw on the campfire.

“It was a little bit of an adventure … but regardless, we made s’mores,” Jacobs said “My husband built the fire and showed the kids some life skills.”

The family spent a good deal of time in the cozy clubhouse, which is stocked with old- fashioned board games and offers coffee and juice in the morning. The old-school juice squeezer — shiny and functional, just like the Airstream trailers — held Jacobs’ 11-year-old son in thrall.

“It was a teachable moment … you don’t pour your orange juice, you squeeze it,” she said. “If you get a little bit of time when they are not touching their phones, that’s a win.”

Autocamp Russian River offers Airstream trailer accommodations year-round, priced at $195-$425 a night, depending on the season and day of the week. The luxury tents are offered from May through October, for $139-$225 a night. 707-604-6103.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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