Travel : Los Alamos, CA

We've spent many magical nights in Los Alamos, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, eating well, drinking too much wine, and watching the sun set behind rolling hills of golden grasses and live oak. It was one of our first getaways when we moved to LA, and our last before shelter-in-place restrictions began in March. It's a place we're constantly telling friends about, and we wanted to share a few of our favorite spots, in town and around the region, that we recommend for a quick weekend trip up the coast.

Centered on Bell Street, the commercial strip of Los Alamos is only half a mile long, but somehow the town has attracted some of the best restaurants and winemakers in the region. Santa Barbara County is known for fantastic wines, particularly cool climate varieties like Pinot Noir that do so well with the region's unique climate of warm days and cool, foggy nights. Naturally, wine tasting is a huge draw for the area, but the local agriculture extends far beyond grapes, and many restaurants make great use of both the local produce and the region's old-west tradition of open fire barbecue. This is by no means an exhaustive list of worthy attractions, but these are the places we keep returning to.

In Town :

We always stay at the Alamo Motel in the center of town. Taking inspiration from Georgia O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu, the rooms have a minimal southwestern vibe. Every evening they light the fire pit in the courtyard, which is perfect for the cool nights the valley is known for. It's the perfect home base for tasting and eating around town. 

Just across the street is the Los Alamos General Store, which houses Pico, a restaurant highlighting seasonal local ingredients, and the tasting room for Lumen Wines, which happens to be my favorite winery in the region. They make some of the best Pinot Noir in California, sustainably grown with minimal sulfites, and have recently started making more adventurous orange wines with their Grenache Blanc and Pinot Gris.

As natural wine has gained popularity recently, more winemakers with a low-sulfite, biodynamic approach have been opening in Los Alamos. A Tribute to Grace, focusing exclusively on Grenache and made by another innovative female winemaker, opened a tasting room last year, and recent years have also seen the opening of Lo-Fi Wines and Bodega, a natural wine bar featuring bottles from around the world.

Green chick pea & grilled octopus salad at Full of Life

For a more casual dinner, we love to walk down to Full of Life Flatbread at the west end of town. They make some of the best pizza (which they call 'flatbread') we've had out west, and their vegetable-forward side dishes are also fantastic, all coming out of their wood burning oven at the center of the restaurant. And it goes without saying—they have a great wine list of local bottles.

After dinner, we love taking a walk around the back roads of the town as the sun sets. A short walk down Centennial St leads to Los Alamos County Park, as it becomes Drum Canyon Rd and continues to wind up into the hills. For a longer walk, you can continue up Drum Canyon Rd about two and a half miles to its high point, which overlooks a picturesque valley of ranches and live oaks.

In the morning, we'll walk a couple blocks down Bell to Bob's Well Bread for coffee and breakfast. Opened by a Hollywood exec-turned-baker, who can usually be found manning the register every morning, it's a great place to grab something quick like a pastry or bagel (one of the best you can get in Southern California), or sit and enjoy a larger meal in their oak-shaded backyard. We also like to grab a loaf of bread on the way out for an afternoon picnic.

Elsewhere :

Driving up from LA, we love to stop at Cold Spring Tavern for lunch on the way. Nestled in a canyon just off of the 154 above Santa Barbara, Cold Spring Tavern opened as a stagecoach stop on the route through San Marcos Pass in 1868. Every weekend they have big outdoor barbecues, with live music and tri-tip sandwiches grilled Santa Maria-style over oak charcoal. Sharing a sandwich is the perfect bite to fill us up for some wine tasting when we check in. Unfortunately these gatherings are currently paused due to the pandemic, but I'm sure they'll start again when it's safe to do so.

Speaking of barbecue, another regular stop for us is the Hitching Post II in Buellton, about ten minutes south of Los Alamos. Made famous by the film Sideways, the Hitching Post focuses on the traditional barbecue of the Central Coast, beef and vegetables grilled over an open fire of local live oak. We've been obsessed with finding (or creating) the best burger for years now, and the Hitching Post burger is hard to beat—ground in house from prime steaks and kissed by the smoke of the fire. Alongside their grilled artichoke, it's such a taste of California.

We can't take a trip to Los Alamos without making a detour to Lompoc for dried beans. Though they grow and sell many varieties, Lompoc Beans' specialty is the pinquito, a small pink bean native to California that's become a staple of Santa Maria-style barbecue. The drive from Los Alamos south via Drum Canyon Rd to the 246 west to Lompoc is gorgeous and quintessentially Central Coast. Afterwards you can keep going west out to Surf Beach, one of the few public beaches on this strip of coast. Another is Jalama Beach, isolated at the end of a long and winding road off of Highway 1, if you're up for more of a drive.

If the tasting rooms in town aren't enough, north of Los Alamos is picturesque Foxen Canyon, a patchwork of vineyards and wineries. Two of the best are Foxen and Presqu'ile, both famous for their Pinot Noir alongside a handful of other French varietals. Presqu'ile's grand tasting room is located at the top of a hill with views of the ocean beyond rolling hills of vineyards. It's a great capstone to an afternoon of tasting down the canyon.