Two hours north of Los Angeles is a tiny town that time forgot. With a main street that’s just seven blocks long, Los Alamos draws visitors back to the Old West while demanding that they slow down. Don’t come here expecting a long list of attractions, but instead plan to linger over a delicious meal and an excellent glass of wine.
Founded in 1876, Los Alamos was long an important transportation hub, first as a stagecoach stop and later as a station along the Pacific Coast Railway. In fact, it’s home to the last standing Pacific Coast Railroad station.
Local resident and Los Alamos champion Jen Hooten describes her town as a place that is committed to lingering. Many artists, filmmakers, and writers have escaped Los Angeles to pursue a slower pace of life here.
1. Taste The Wine
Los Alamos is located in the north end of the Santa Ynez Valley, a region known for producing pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah. Needless to say, wine tasting should be high on everyone’s list. Start on the town’s main thoroughfare, Bell Street, where you’ll find a handful of tasting rooms and wine bars.
Bedford Winery specializes in barrel-fermented chardonnays and signature syrahs. Owner and local resident Stephen Bedford has been making wines in California for over 30 years and is eager to share them with visitors. Pop into the tasting room to sample a variety of their wines, or buy a glass of your favorite and enjoy it outdoors with a picnic lunch.
Next, head to Lo-Fi Wines, specializing in natural wines, including excellent gamay, rose, chardonnay, and cabernet franc. The founders, Mike and Craig, believe wine is like life and music, which is made apparent by the owners’ collection of vinyl records regularly playing on a turntable in the tasting room.
In 2004, Sonja Magdevski founded Casa Dumetz Wines, featuring pinot noir and chardonnay. Later, she added the Clementine Carter label, specializing in grenache and mourvedre. The most recent addition is The Feminist Party label, with the solo offering of a grenache, syrah, and mourvedre blend. This is a tasting room not to be missed, where you’ll enjoy six samples in the garden.
If you’d like to explore beyond Los Alamos, there are 120 wineries throughout the valley.
Voted one of the top ten most beautiful wineries in California by Conde Nast, Presqu’ile Winery specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. Located about twenty minutes outside Los Alamos, this family-run winery has quickly become one of the valley’s most popular destinations.
Pinot noir lovers should definitely head to Foxen Vineyard and Winery, located on the historic Rancho Tinaquaic. Sustainable wine-growers Dick Dore and Bill Wathen showcase their wines in a solar-powered tasting room.
2. Keep Drinking
If you prefer beer and hard liquor over wine, that’s just fine. Head to the saloon at the historic 1880 Hotel, where you’ll feel like you walked into an Old Western movie set. The dark wood interior is an ideal setting to enjoy a drink or two. This hotel has hosted the filming of popular music videos, including those for Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Jon Bon Jovi.
If you’re traveling with a mix of beer and wine lovers, try Babi’s Beer Emporium, located next to Casa Dumetz Wines. Babi’s offers craft beers and ciders on tap. If you get hungry, order a snack or meal from their restaurant partner, dim Sama. Bodega Los Alamos is another fun option if you hope to combine wine, beer, and food. Sit outside in their garden with the beverage of your choice accompanied by a cheese plate. Feel free to linger while enjoying a game of cards or bocce ball.
3. Time To Eat
In a short period of time, Los Alamos has become a foodie destination attracting visitors from all over Southern California. So set aside plenty of time for dining while you’re in town.
If you want to splurge, make a reservation for the five-course, prix fixe dinner at Bell’s. Owners Greg and Daisy Ryan moved to Los Alamos after impressive careers in the restaurant and hotel industries in order to settle down with their son, Henry. Daisy was recently honored as one of the ten best new chefs in the country by Food and Wine magazine. The French-inspired cuisine receives rave reviews from locals and visitors alike.
Probably the best-known restaurant in town -- and for good reason -- is Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. Located in a former gas station, Bob’s sells seriously good bread, pastries, and sandwiches. There will probably be a line, but it’s worth the wait.
For an eclectic menu that’s beautifully executed, head to Pico, located in the old General Store. Dining options range from a classic burger to carrot-miso crusted cod. Locally produced Lumen Wines complement the cuisine nicely.
4. Search For Treasures
If you need a break from eating and drinking, spend some time browsing the town’s unique shops.
For one-of-a-kind and vintage home decor items, pop into Sisters Gifts and Home. Owners Ana and George Curiel have gathered 10 dealers and artists under the roof of a charming house on Bell Street. For a really large selection of antiques and vintage items, head to the Los Alamos Depot Mall, where you’ll find dozens of dealers selling a wide range of items. At T and T Local Artisans Enterprise, you’ll find more than sixty local artists and artisans under one roof.
5. Hike, Bike, Or Explore
If you need to break up all the eating and drinking with a little exercise, try heading out of town for a hike or bike ride.
Local hikers recommend Grass Mountain, which is about a half hour outside of town. The 5.2-mile out-and-back trail starts easy but becomes progressively more difficult, so come prepared with water, snacks, and sunscreen. If you’re visiting during the spring, you may enjoy a show of wildflowers. If you prefer your hikes with an ocean view, try Gaviota State Park, also located a half hour outside of Los Alamos. Hike to the Gaviota Wind Caves, a four-mile round-trip trail with a very steep climb for the last half mile. There is little shade on this trail, so do come prepared for the sun and heat.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a popular cycling spot, so if you want to explore this scenic region by bike, book a tour with Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling, offering one-day or multi-day experiences. They also offer an option to combine cycling with wine tasting.
6. Explore Santa Ynez Valley
If you’re able to spend more time in Santa Ynez Valley, then head out to explore a few of the nearby towns. Even the drive between towns is scenic, so you’ll enjoy every minute.
In just twenty-minutes, you’ll be in the Danish-inspired hamlet of Solvang. Wander the charming streets lined with shops, cafes, and bakeries. To make your stroll more educational, take the Solvang Heritage Audio Tour, available on the Experience Solvang app. Over the course of two miles, you’ll visit the First Folk School, Little Mermaid statue, two of the windmills, and much more. When you get hungry, pop into one of the many bakeries selling traditional pastries such as aebleskivers, flodebollers, and stroopwafels.
Then continue on to Los Olivos, made famous by the 2004 movie Sideways. Sample more wine at Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard, and then linger over a delicious lunch at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe. Before leaving town, save time to browse the Los Olivos General Store. This is the ideal spot if you’re looking to bring home any souvenirs or gifts.
7. Stay Longer
The stylish Skyview Los Alamos is an iconic roadside motel turned boutique luxury that offers 33 guest rooms, a full-service restaurant, a heated pool, and a working vineyard. If you prefer something historic, make a reservation at the Victorian Mansion, a bed and breakfast inn featuring six theme suites. Choose from the ‘50s-themed suite reminiscent of a drive-in, the French suite oozing romance, or four other equally fun rooms.
Shelby Sim, president and CEO of Visit Santa Ynez Valley, recommends visiting Los Alamos Thursday through Sunday, since many of the businesses in town are closed Monday through Wednesday. He also wants visitors to know that they will need to walk or use their own car for moving between restaurants and wineries -- you aren’t likely to get an Uber to pick you up.
In a state like California, known for its large cities, advanced technology, and fast-paced life, Los Alamos offers visitors a place to slow down, linger, and relax. Don’t bring an agenda, just let the day unfold. You’ll return home with a renewed outlook.