Since its inception in 2011, the Heels and Wheels all-women drive event has grown into a West Coast fixture, featuring cars from top manufacturers, female industry figures, and plenty of opportunities to mingle. This year marks the event’s 10th anniversary, a milestone for founder Christine Overstreet, who gravitated towards the idea after a career in PR. The first Heels and Wheels event she organized took place in Palm Springs a decade ago, bringing no more than 30 people together to talk cars in a safe space that felt worlds away from conventional car events. Instead of specs and horsepower, the Heels and Wheels events became all about the conversation that arose when all-female audiences shared what they wanted out of a vehicle.
Used to witnessing women fade into the background at male-dominated car shows, Christine went out on a limb and organized an event where style, practicality, and speed could co-exist. Avoiding catering to stereotypes of what a woman who needs a car looks like, Christine asks manufacturers to select the vehicles showcased with no input on her part. While some featured models prioritize packability and function, others (like the convertible Volvo unveiled at one of the first Heels and Wheels events) embrace different lifestyles. In Christine’s words, women tend to look at cars differently than men do—and not necessarily because they’re driving an entire elementary school soccer team to a Saturday match. At this year’s Heels and Wheels, it was clear that function and flair could meet without overpowering one another—and that the event has cemented its spot in the hearts of California car enthusiasts.
I arrived at Santa Barbara’s Mar Monte Hotel on September 21st, after a scenic drive up Highway 1. While Christine enjoys returning to certain unforgettable locations to host the event, she also tries to spice things up by moving across the west coast year by year. The locations she chooses are heavily based on fleet vendors, nearby lodging and the perfect venue, which is how this year’s event came to Santa Barbara.
After settling into Mar Monte, I attended Heels and Wheels’ opening reception sponsored by Jeep. The reception played host to the media guests and female representatives of each car manufacturer supporting at the event. Along with other guests, the next day I attended a presentation sponsored by cars.com that analyzed the links between electric vehicle ownership and gender, a highly relevant topic that provided some food for thought. It was still quite early, so I spent the next hour doing the vehicle walk around, where representatives of each company shared information about the vehicle their brand chose to bring to the event. This brief introduction helped me set my sights on which vehicles I absolutely had to test drive later that day.
After heading to nearby Presqu’ile Winery (the host venue), my group and I were able to select vehicles to try out at our leisure, courtesy of the event’s organizers. A short thirty minute driving loop featuring winding roads, scenic views and some road time on Highway 101 was a perfect balance of action and serenity, allowing each driver to experience the full range of their vehicle. I test drove the Lexus RX, Volvo C40 ReCharge, limited model Alfa Romeo Guila and the Aston Martin DBX, which I then drove all the way back to Santa Barbara. Calm, cool and collected, the Volvo, Alfa and Aston flew to the top of my list as I completed my test drives. Hiding a 4.0 L Twin-Turbo V8 Engine, the 2022 Aston Martin DBX is the first SUV the world-renowned company has made in its century-spanning career. The Volvo C40 ReCharge was another pioneer, taking the title of the company’s very first purely electric SUV. The crossover in styles only added to the vehicle lineup, reiterating the point that not every woman has the same idea of what constitutes a dream car.
After a local-ingredient based lunch from Chef Julie Simon, I attended another reception, this time sponsored by Honda, followed by dinner (courtesy of Infiniti). By then, it was time to wrap up my Heels and Wheels experience and reflect on the lasting significance of an all-female drive event. In my interview with her, Christine brought up the power of awareness and networking—two factors that play a huge role in increasing female visibility in niche automotive circles.
By bringing together female industry professionals, enthusiasts and all the women in between, this year’s Heels and Wheels was, undeniably, a success. Even more importantly, the event did not for a second feel contrived, or like it was designed to cater to a slew of needs attributed to women. It was, first and foremost, a driving show. That authenticity, coupled with knowledgeable reps, hands-on test drives and opportunities to mingle, is what keeps the conversation flowing among the event’s attendees, year after year.