Maybe It's Time to Go to the Desert And Sleep in a Flying Saucer

It may not be a real spaceship, but Hugh Hefner was still a fan.

Photo courtesy of Airbnb
Photo courtesy of Airbnb
Photo courtesy of Airbnb

You see a lot of strange things in the California desert, so a 13-foot-tall, flying saucer-like ellipsoid doesn’t seem too out of place-especially here outside of Joshua Tree, not far from Integratron. With oval eyeholes and orange-red sheen, it could be mistaken for one of the giant Burning Man sculptures. But in fact it’s an Airbnb, available for a surprisingly reasonable $211 a night.

This desert oddity known as Area 55 is one of just 68 known Futuro Houses in the world, and the only one in the United States you can spend the night in. If you’re hoping it will beam you up, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re an architecture buff or looking for a sick Instagram shot, come on down.

Once lauded as revolutionary in the techno-utopian age of the space race, the Futuro House was designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in 1968, one year before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Suuronen conceived it as a portable ski chalet: a prefabricated vacation home easily plopped onto a steep and snowy hill for hassle-free alpine adventures. The rounded top was practical: Snow would just slide right off.

At around 8 feet across and 520 square feet inside, the house offered a tiny kitchen, bathroom, and table. A “fire pod” fireplace facilitated apres ski activities and an electric hatch stood in for the front door. The Futuro’s 16 individual parts were bolted together on site or sometimes transported fully-formed by helicopter, prompting some bewildered onlookers to think they’d just spotted a UFO.

A Futuro manufacturing license was granted to 30 companies around the world, but when the oil crisis hit in 1973 prompting the cost of materials to go up, less than 100 were made.

Today, the ones left standing are meticulously documented on, run by Texas (by way of the UK) resident and Futuro superfan Simon Robson. According to Robson, only one existing Futuro House is occupied full-time as a home: It’s in Houston, Delaware, purchased in 1977 by one Barney Vincelette, “a bit of an eccentric.”

Photo courtesy of Airbnb
Photo courtesy of Airbnb
Photo courtesy of Airbnb

As for the Airbnb in Joshua Tree, it has its own titillating past: Its first residence in 1968 was at the very first Playboy Club Hotel in Lake Geneva Wisconsin, now the Grand Geneva Resort. The Futuro was a big hit on the opulent property, said to be one of Hugh Hefner’s personal favorites (other amenities included a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a cabaret that hosted the likes of Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli).  It even inspired its own Playboy spread.

From there its journey gets murky, with brief stints as a beauty salon, realty office, and possibly a Ford dealership prop before falling into the hands of its current owner, LA-based music producer Ronald Jackson. Jackson spent ten months gutting and rebuilding it to modern glamping standards, complete with a wireless-controlled retractable stairway (though if for some terrifying reason the door malfunctions while you’re out in the middle of the desert, the Airbnb listing mentions an emergency hatch under the rug).

There are Eero Aarnio-inspired ball chairs and movies like Men in Black, Alien, and Star Wars on hand. Outside you’ll find hot showers and private restrooms, plus a spacious kitchen area with a propane grill island and fire pit to cook under the stars.

Since launching in October of 2019 Area 55 has been featured in music videos and countless extraterrestrial-themed Instagram posts, its own Instagram account gaining almost 8500 followers. If you’re not able to book it-which is likely, it’s booked up pretty much always-there’s another Futuro Airbnb in Warrington, New Zealand. Then there’s the ski pod attached to Hotel Tarelka in Dombai, Russia, the only known Futuro still used for its original purpose. Or you can procure your own: London-based artist Craig Barnes is looking for some space to set his turquoise Futuro up for long-term settlement.

But perhaps easier is picking a favorite off the list on and planning a drive-by visit. The one by the pink elephant in Livingston, Illinois, perhaps. Or the conjoined twins in Carlisle, Ohio. Or head to Florida-always your best bet for all things weird-where one sits on a rooftop in Pensacola ready to beam up, and another in Tampa serves as a glow-in-the-dark constellation-adorned VIP room of a strip club named “2001 Odyssey.” That one has some mob history you might want to peruse before popping the Champagne.

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. Beam her up, Scotty (Nicki Minaj version). 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.