The 1920s was a time of great change in the United States. Prior to the Great War, few Americans had the opportunity to travel very far from home, other than people of means. Transportation was limited to trains, steamships, horse and wagon, and primitive cars that had little endurance.

Those who survived the brutal war returned home exhausted, jaded, devastated by loss and injury. Suddenly, the world seemed smaller. Other people, other cultures were more accessible. Old conventions were abandoned. Drastic changes in fashion, wild music and dances, daring motion pictures, Prohibition, all contributed to a new reckless, adventurous spirit many Americans felt.

Technology had improved such that cars were able to travel long distances. Modern highways criss-crossed the country. Service towns, inns, cafes, gas stations, and mechanic shops sprang up every few miles and ‘auto-enthusiasts’ took to the road.

Campgrounds and auto-parks were constructed throughout the western states. Camping gear – including car-tents – made travel accessible to more Americans.

Thanks to vigorous campaign ads broadcast throughout the nation by developers and business owners, Southern California was christened The Land of Sunshine, a true dolce far niente. And, despite its many positive attributes, a change in venue did not mean a life without problems.

No matter – people flocked to California by the tens of thousands, determined to live their dreams.

On Sunset Highways, written by Thomas Murphy provided regional guides for travelers.  The first California volume was published in 1915 with a reprint after the war, in 1921.

The California of to-day is even more of a motor paradise than when we made our first ventures on her highroads. There has been a substantial increase in her improved highways and every subsequent year will no doubt see still further extensions. The beauty and variety of her scenery will always remain and good roads will give easy access to many hereto almost inaccessible sections. And the charm of her romantic history will not decrease as the years go by. There is a growing interest in the still existing relics of the mission days and the Spanish occupation which we may hope will lead to their restoration and preservation. All of which will make motoring in California more delightful than ever.

The book is available on the Project Gutenberg website. Santa Barbara has its own chapter with photos that capture life in the county in the early 1920s.

old view of Santa Barbara State Street

State Street – Santa Barbara – 1923

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