When wealthy tourists discovered Santa Barbara County near the end of the 19th century, grand hotels catered to their every need by providing luxury accommodations, fine dining, music, dancing and social events for those who chose to “winter over” in Southern California. High-end shops in the area offered furs, jewels, and other extravagant merchandise. Outdoor diversions were especially popular for those who were no longer housebound by winter weather. Hotels arranged tours for hunters who sought wild game, or those who wanted to fish creekside, or from the sea. Visitors could enjoy golf, ‘sea-bathing,’ tennis, hiking, or yachting almost any day of the year.
One of the most popular pastimes was the pleasure drive. Carriages could be rented so tourists might spend the day driving along an oak-shaded road, the beach at low tide, or braving the extraordinary San Marcos Pass between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. These were rare and exotic landscapes for people who were from the Midwest or East Coast.
By the 1920s, the number of auto-enthusiasts throughout the country continued to grow. While many in the United States could not afford the luxury hotels, new auto courts and less expensive hotels grew like mushrooms, especially in Southern California. The area was a prime destination for tourists. Locally, a variety of m.aps highlighted various points of interest throughout Santa Barbara County, including the mission trail – El Camino Real – identified by the slew of highway markers.
This era was also the beginning of modern photography. New technology put easy-to-use cameras in the hands of many Americans for the first time. Most families had photo albums filled with pictures of life’s memorable moments, especially those taken on vacation. California’s landscapes and incredible vistas became familiar photo backdrops in a pre-Instagram world.
With the advent of better roads and more dependable cars, camping soon became a popular hobby. With little more than a car and some helpful tips, families could travel economically and find enjoyment in Nature, whether for a weekend or a month. The national parks were in the business of welcoming travelers and campers. Auto-camps sprang up throughout California. With advice from books like Motor Camping, authored by JC Long and JC Long, or The Motor Camping Book, by Elon Jessup, campers’ questions were anticipated and answered. Even families with small children and little extra money could enjoy time outdoors. The love of camping became a national pastime that only grew more popular with each passing decade.
Not for Everyone
Even with the advent of affordable, dependable cars and the many opportunities for camping outdoors, these pastimes were not available to everyone.
Prior to the 1960s when legislation secured services and supports for Californians who had developmental disabilities, families were routinely advised to institutionalize – and forget about – a family member who was differently abled. Invisibility was society’s answer. There was no accessibility with regard to transportation, housing, employment, or even the smallest of daily tasks and pleasures others enjoyed: dining out, entering a shop, attending a movie or play, going to a park or beach. Camping was, for most, completely out of range.
The era of the 1920s was also one of segregation and mob violence. People of color suffered the wrath of these vigilante groups, most of all.
Article from Big Pine Citizen, Volume 9, Number 52, 9 December 1922:
Washington – Administration leaders in the Senate abandoned the Dyer anti-lynching bill, admitting defeat by the combined Democratic and insurgent Republican filibuster. The decision to throw the bill overboard was reached at a secret caucus of Republican senators. The filibuster started last week and put a stop to the transaction of all business in the Senate.
The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, legislation to prohibit the lynching of human beings in the United States of America, was not re-introduced until 1935. The bill was never passed because of opposition by Southern legislators. It wasn’t until March 29, 2022, that United States President Joe Biden signed anti-lynching legislation into law, for the first time in United States history.
The Negro Travelers’ Green Book published in the 1950s, proved that people of color traveled in the United States of America at great risk to themselves and their families. The book lists hotels, restaurants, tailors, bars, auto mechanics, and other establishments considered safe for African American travelers. There are no entries listed for Santa Barbara County.
The 1920s and ensuing years, were just as restrictive for Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and other people of color, who have endured limitations in their ability to travel freely throughout their own country.