.Hot Wheels: This Mobile Sauna Brings the Heat to You

“I love heat.”

These three words were the simple inspiration for Driftwood Sauna, a portable sauna dreamt up by Whitney Bulterman.

She now pulls the rolling sauna with her 1998 Dodge Ram pickup to parties, celebrations, retreats and the like and sets up at your door, driveway or yard, where she rents out the hot room.

 “A couple of things led me to this,” Bulterman says. “I felt like there was a lack of spaces for people to just be and relax. And many retreats require so much money and time; I just wanted to provide a simple place for an hour—it’s that simple. I love to traveI, I love nature, and it all just came together.”

Built during summer 2019, the sauna rests on a metal chassis and accommodates up to eight people.

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“But most commonly there are two to four people,” Bulterman says. “Primarily, it’s just me running this, but I also do partnerships at various pop-ups. I have several people in Santa Cruz that work with me in setting up and coordination.

Indeed, Bulterman recently rolled the sauna into a parking spot along West Cliff Drive so the door and small rear deck faced the Pacific Ocean.

“This is a perfect spot because guests, after their sauna, can take a cold plunge in the ocean,” Bulterman says. “My friends helped me set out the chairs right here where people can relax after the experience.”

As far as the pandemic, Bulterman says she has arranged her business accordingly. 

“A lot of Covid restrictions have shut down public saunas, like at Well Within in Santa Cruz, and at the gyms. But I only allow members of a pod or ‘quaranteam’—a group of people who are committed to socialize with one another, like a family or household. After each use I have a protocol for cleaning.” 

Bulterman says she typically brings the temperature above 160 and up to 175 degrees. The interior of the sauna is made of tight-knot cedar. The heater is fueled by propane.  

“Cedar is the way to go,” she says. It’s very water resistant, and it is the traditional sauna interior.”

The setup includes a sauna tray with rocks that heat up for people to pour water over.

“The steam opens your pores as it raises the ambient temperature,” she says. “It’s good humidity and it feels really lovely.”

Driftwood Sauna is a portable sauna dreamt up by Whitney Bulterman. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Since Driftwood Sauna does not have brick and mortar expenses, Bulterman says, she can keep costs low. 

“Typically I get by with word of mouth and my website,” Bulterman says. “I have a good Santa Cruz crew, and they help get the word out. I recently set up in the Seabright area, and I did a private party at Waddell Creek.”

Additionally, Bulterman says she wants to give people an option outside of their home.

“It’s a bit of an oasis,” she says. “I want people to feel good, and I want to help them.”

One big takeaway, Bulterman says, is hearing everybody’s story about how they came to saunas.

“I’ve met all kinds of folks—like a Lithuanian beekeeper and Native American who says ‘sweats’ were important to his family as a transition from boyhood to manhood,” she says. “It reminds me of travelling, and the sauna makes it so easy to connect with people.”

When she moved to the area, she had no friends and no job. 

“Instead of complaining, I came up with this,” she says. “Do the thing that connects you with your community. Business has really started to ramp up in the past few months. Heat seekers are great folks to be around. Think less, feel more.”

For more information, visit driftwoodsauna.com.


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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