Sexy Adventures, Mercedes Driving, and Farm Dudes: Camping 2.0

11.12.2013

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

How one weekend trip to an emerging California wine district reinvented camping for me forever.

There's something very attractive about farm life.

Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground in Buellton is one of the larger RV resorts in the state, with fairly gorgeous landscaped grounds and regular planned excursions to things like golfing or wine country. We would have been happy enough to stay in our Roadtrek (which by now I was really attached to) or in one of the campground’s refurbished Airstreams (Google “Airstream” and you’ll get a sense of the cult fan base those silver bullets have with LGBT folks, retro lovers, and hipsters, among others). But instead, at Flying Flags we agreed to test out the fastest growing camping option in America: the park model.  Park models are essentially fully furnished cabins meant to give travelers the campground experience even without an RV or a tent (yes, it is to camping what the “girlfriend experience” is to sex work). Folks just drive in, camp in the park model cabin, and then drive away without all the setup or tear-down of tents, or the fuss of driving an RV. The lesbian couple in the cabin next to us had their granddaughter and a Scottie dog and what seemed like many bags of groceries, all of which had come packed in a small Toyota Prius. (Next to them, we did look like we were driving a behemoth.)

There were a surprising number of people who drive their RVs and still stay overnight in the park models, which makes sense when you realize that you have a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen and tons of space to spread out in — something even die-hard RVers need occasionally.

Flying Flags is a hard place to drag yourself from, especially once you realize it has a huge pool, an ice cream bar, and two large spas (one for adults only, where we spent time swapping stories with about a dozen people, including two same-sex couples). But the Santa Ynez Valley awaited.

Green Acres Is the Place to Be

There are 70 wineries throughout the valley as well as tasting rooms in Solvang and other nearby towns (it’s quite easy to find pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, and syrah), where you can also explore arts (Los Olivos), antiques (Los Alamos), a historic saloon (Santa Ynez), and some Solvang musts. Among the latter: The Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, and the Mission Santa Ines, which is historic landmark and one of the famed 21 Catholic missions built along the California coast in the 1800s.

Our favorite part of the area wasn’t the museums (though I do recommend the privately owned Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps and Petroliana), the horseback riding (Rancho Oso offers great rides and you can also camp with your horse at their resort!), the locally made Trikkes (though I want one badly), or the gorgeous valley glider rides from Windhaven Glider RidesIt was the local farms, many of which are open to the public for drop-ins or pre-arranged farm tours. Meryl Tanz’s Clairmont Farms offers five acres of lavender and products made from it (and you might recognize it from films and TV commercials shot on location there). You can get to know llamas at Flying V Llama Ranch (805-735-3577), ostriches and emus at Ostrich Land (a 33-acre breeding farm; 805-686-9696), and alpacas (at Alpacas at West Ranch).

But we wanted food and were thrilled to discover numerous pick-your-own farms for everything from apples to dates. At Morrell Nut and Berry Farm you can pick olallieberries, blackberries, and more from June through August. Even better, there’s a great tour called ATVs for Agriculture, which is run by a nonprofit group to promote sustainable local farming. Tours take you out on an all-terrain vehicles to Nojoqui Falls Ranch, an organic farming and grass-fed cattle operation, where you learn about the inner workings of the 100-plus year old ranch and explore the gorgeous terrain it’s on.

And of course, there’s the wine. Santa Barbara County actually has four wine-growing regions — including the Santa Ynez Valley — each with longer growing seasons (and a long “hang time,” meaning grapes stay on the vine longer, which creates distinctive characteristics). The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association website, SBCountyWines.com, lists all the area wineries and what they produce, along with info on tours, tasting rooms, and events. There are numerous wine trails in the region, but what we loved most about the Santa Ynez wine trail is how integrated it is with the working farms and ranches — not just tasting room stop-offs — so you meander along rolling country roads and see horses and fields along with working wineries. It makes for a perfect day trip for both the drinkers and the designated driver (it’s not hard to find food and fun, freshly made, nonboozy beverages).

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