The small town of Los Alamos is at the heart of California wine country. It’s around 150 miles from Los Angeles, about a 3-hour drive, and is located at the junction of US Highway 101 and State Route 135. The isolated town is small and unincorporated, near many vegetable farms and vineyards. Rolling hills surround the town, with cities like Lompoc, Buellton, and Solvang just beyond them. There is a short stretch of businesses along Bell St., which serves as a small-scale downtown. Restaurants serve quality food sourced from the surrounding farmland. The buildings are old and new art galleries, antique shops, wine tasting rooms, and a variety of restaurants. During the last weekend of September, the annual Los Alamos Old Days festival honors the town’s western heritage with a celebration including arts and crafts fair, BBQ, car show, dance and parade – the celebration runs along the entire downtown.
The restaurants are top notch, serving quality food sourced from the surrounding farmland. For breakfast, Bob’s Well Bread is a must. Plenty on Bell serves classic American faire like the Turkey Reuben Sandwich for lunch, and classic dishes for dinner such as Chicken Pot Pie and the Roast Chicken and Bread Salad. Full of Life Flatbread serves pizza baked in a huge stone oven in the center of the restaurant. The pizza ingredients originate from within 400 miles of the restaurant – just a few hours drive. An example of the kind of pizza they serve? The Central Coast Sausage contains: Naturally Raised Pork in a Housemade Nitrate-Free, Blue Agave, and Fennel Sausage, Smoke-Dried Tomatoes, Onions, Mushrooms, Cheeses & Fresh Garden Herbs. For dinner, don’t miss the stone-ground, homemade tortillas, and signature salsas at Valle Fresh. Their taco platter (3 tacos for $12) was an extraordinary deal considering the perfect portion size and superb quality of ingredients.
If you really want to feel like you’ve traveled in time, the two hotels in town will transport you to the past. The oldest hotel, The Union Hotel, opened in 1880 and was once a stagecoach stop during the Wild West. The hotel feels like the set of Gone With the Wind (they actually have two chandeliers from the movie) down to the creaking hardwood floors. Currently, they are making some modern renovations, but the wine saloon is open for business, just past the swinging wood doors (a la Tombstone).
The second hotel, the Victorian Mansion, has 6 different themed rooms that promise to “delight your senses with a hint of nostalgic adventure”. They make the designers at the Madonna Inn look like amateurs – at least in terms of décor. In the 50’s Suite, the bed frame is a 1956 Cadillac convertible parked in front of a giant screen with an authentic movie-style projector. The French Suite is designed to look like an artist’s loft that overlooks Paris and the Eiffel Tower, and in the Gypsy Suite you sleep in a caravan “outside” (the walls are painted to look like an enchanted forest at night). The rooms are limited, each hotel has less than 10, but their restaurants and bars are open to the public.
The people and businesses in Los Alamos embrace a close sense of community that is often lost on those of us living in suburbs or urban cities. Most of the businesses share inventory and ingredients, creating their own twists on the shared local faire using their unique methods and machinery. In this small town, there is enough fun and indulgence to be had for a full weekend adventure; it’ll reignite your love for California.