Camper vans are still enjoying immense popularity and are the top choice for people who value freedom and flexibility in their travel adventures. We are now living in a time where modern campers and trailers are making it easier than ever to step away from our daily lives and explore new places without sacrificing comfort.
Camper van conversion companies have also evolved and can now create more luxurious and more functional spaces to fit your lifestyle. One of them is California-based Big Bear Vans, an outfitter who specializes in creating custom conversions and aims to help clients fulfill their van life dreams. So far, they have converted about 50 custom vans, all with unique layouts and features. The camper van presented here is called Santa Monica and is one of the company’s signature models.
Built on a new 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 144 AWD, the Santa Monica is an all-in-one camping rig that comes loaded with creature comforts, including a high-end kitchen, a dinette, a bathroom, a lounging space, and sleeping space for up to five people.
Building a camper van is an exciting yet challenging venture, and the features it incorporates can truly turn it into a mobile haven for the owners. Big Bear Vans started during the pandemic when the owners, a travel-loving couple, converted an ex-ambulance and traveled all around the US and Europe with their three kids. They then started to give others advice on how to build a van, and later, it turned into a prosperous business.
Photo: Big Bear Vans
The Santa Monica design is one of the most popular in their portfolio and comprises everything you need to relax after a day of exploring. What sets this model apart from the crowd is the thoughtful layout and ingenious design solutions that maximize space and functionality, such as an elevator bed, multipurpose passenger seats, a sleek aluminum bathroom, a roof deck, and more.
Big Bear Vans has kept the exterior of the Sprinter mostly unchanged, with the only telltale sign that this is a camper conversion being the side ladder leading to the rooftop deck with a hammock and the roof rack for carrying luggage and equipment. Other notable features on the outside are an optional awning and electric step.
When opening the van’s side door, you get into the cooking/dining area, with a compact kitchenette boasting custom CNC-cut plywood cabinetry, an induction cooktop, a sink, a fridge, and a built-in microwave. A flip-up counter extension allows you to look out the door while you cook, and an additional small table that flips up on the outside lets you prep your meals outdoors if you wish. A narrow wooden slat with a beautiful branch-like pattern creates some kind of separation between the kitchen and the lounging area.
Photo: Big Bear Vans
In this van, there are two different zones where you can sit and eat. There is the rear dinette with two cushioned benches and a generous table in the center, and a secondary seating space up front made up of two swivel seats, a rotating RV table, and two extra passenger seats with belts. The Lagun-type table can be mounted either between the driver and the front-row passenger seat or between the driver and the second-row passenger seats.
Having a secondary lounging space is a great idea, especially if you are traveling with kids. During the day, you’ll probably want to enjoy your meals at the large dinette with the rear doors open to take in the beautiful views. But in the evening, after a full day spent outdoors, it’s nice to have a comfortable space to spend some time with your partner after you’ve put the kids to bed in the back of the van.
As mentioned, the Santa Monica van can sleep up to five people. This is possible thanks to the elevator bed that descends from the ceiling above the cushy lounge, which can also be converted to a full-size sleeping area when night comes. A fifth person can sleep on the extra recliner seats using a blow-up seat mattress.
A beautiful aluminum bathroom sits across from the kitchen cabinets. It offers owners complete privacy considering it hides behind a retractable door and comes with the basics, including an aluminum shower with real tile and a toilet.
Photo: Big Bear Vans
Storage is a sore subject when it comes to compact camping rigs such as this one. However, prospective owners have nothing to worry about, as the designers made sure to include plenty of storage solutions, including an over-the-cab shelf for pillows and blankets, upper cabinets in the kitchen and front lounging area, storage space under the dinette benches, plus the roof rack for extra luggage.
What’s more, this camper van is perfectly capable of supporting your off-the-grid adventures if your nomadic life takes you off the beaten path. It is equipped with 350 watts of solar power, 600 Ah lithium batteries, an advanced diesel water and air heater, air conditioning, as well as 40 gallons of fresh water and 23 gallons of grey water.
Big Bear Vans sells the Santa Monica camper van for $147,200 if it’s based on an RWD Sprinter and starting at $187,700 on an AWD 144 Sprinter. While this model’s main virtue is definitely its luxurious, highly functional interior, the powerful base vehicle ensures you can navigate any road in comfort and safety.