Vagabond Life: Downtown Santa Ana Airbnb

The first time we stayed in this downtown Santa Ana Airbnb in November 2017, I was alone–and totally freaked out. Let me set the scene.

The Friday before checking in, while on assignment in Santa Ana, I drove by the location, and found it surrounded with yellow tape. A crime scene. Great, I thought, and checked into cancelling, but we’d lose too much money. It was only one week, right? Plus, I was no stranger to the area or to crime scenes, so what was the big deal? We decided to keep the reservation.


The following Monday I arrived alone, in the late evening after a long day of work, and parked in the structure. Brian would join me the next day. I dragged my luggage across the street to the Broadway apartments, built in 1908, and typical of old downtown structures with stores below, and apartments above.

A couple of homeless men sat leaned against the building, lost in their haze of madness. Through a barred door between a vacant storefront and a school uniform store I found a steep, scary set of eerily lit stairs ascending to the apartments. The uneven wooden steps creaked as I carried my heavy suitcase to the top, every footfall echoing in the narrow chamber.Santa Ana steps

In the dim hallway, I found the unit, and struggled with the lockbox. My fault–not the fault of the box–probably because I was nervously checking over my shoulder. Which was weird. I’m used to being in all kinds of situations and neighborhoods, and rarely get nervous. So why now? I knew only that I wanted out of the hallway and into the safety of my own space. Rich, the very kind host, helped me via text and I got in.

The Downtown Santa Ana AirBnB

The studio was small but cute, with great old-world charm. The general layout was perfect, with the bathroom off the entry hall, a living area, a cute dressing room with built-ins, and a small kitchen. Of course hardwood floors and period correct furnishings would have been more appealing than brown carpet and modern furniture, but still, it had the vibe of a place I imagine a single shop girl in the 1940s might live.

Santa Ana Air BNB

The place certainly had an urban feel, a “Manhattan-like experience” as a few reviewers said. Having been in a few tiny New York apartments, I would agree.

Santa Ana AirBNB

I locked both locks and slid the chain to settle in. Lots of street noise drifted in through the windows, the occasional bang on the trash can, a yell or a cry out. Street lights streamed through the mini-blinds and made shadows on the wall.

Sometime around two a.m., I woke to the cry of a man on the street outside my window belting out, “Where are you?” in a very Jack Nicholson ala The Shining kind of way.

I thought….

Oh man! Brian is going to hate this place.

As a news photographer, I spend a lot of time in Santa Ana–the county seat–so I’m well aware of the quirks. The civic center has for years struggled with homeless issues, and have been actively searching for a solution. We’ve done a ton of stories on the problem, but not Brian. He spends his days in a Harley dealership fulfilling people’s dreams of freedom.

But here’s where the story takes a turn.

Not only did Brian not hate it, he loved it, and so did I.

Downtown Santa Ana Airbnb

In fact, we’ve stayed in this studio three times now, and plan to stay again. It’s the contrast of neighborhoods we love in our Vagabond Life. Last week a lovely residential neighborhood, this week a lively urban apartment.What we love about it:

  • Fits our love of old stuff
  • The character of Downtown Santa Ana
  • The comfort and convenience of the studio
  • Walking, walking, walking 4th Street, with all of its character
  • So many gorgeous buildings
  • Tons of great restaurants
  • And just… the vibe of the place

Rich has made some nice additional touches to the place since our first stay. Like this butcher paper list of things to do and see and eat.

Downtown Santa Ana Airbnb

A decorative plant shelf.

Downtown Santa Ana Airbnb

Coffee. We were surprised on our first stay to find no coffee maker. But it wasn’t a problem. We bought a little stovetop espresso maker for ten bucks.

Coffee maker

With every stay, he’s left a little treat for us, this time a bowl of fruit and a bottle of wine.

Bowl of Fruit

I love the bathroom, with the incredibly deep old cast iron tub and the skylight overhead. Part of the charm is that it hasn’t been gutted, still with the old cabinetry and doorknobs, and character.

This place was a great exercise in approaching something with an open mind and appreciating it for what it was. I’m so glad we didn’t cancel that first trip back in November, considering it has become one of our favorite stops in this vagabond life.

Want to try Airbnb? If you click the link below and set up an account, you will get $40 in travel credits! How cool is that? And yes… we will benefit as well. We’ll get $20 in credits once you book a trip.


Until next week…

(when we’ll be vagabonding on the road)

Later Gators!

  • For other stories of our vagabond life, click this link.
  • Next up, the next letter in the Letters to Charlie series
  • And if the blog looks different to you, it is. Rebuilding the site, so there may be a few quirks, but cruise around and check things out.

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