When it comes to weekend getaways, I tend to crave three things in particular: one, a destination that is as far removed from crowds as possible; two, somewhere surrounded by nature to hike and explore; and three, a proximity to tasty eateries to enjoy long and relaxing meals in. Over the course of my three decades living in Los Angeles, I’ve managed to satisfy this trifecta with a few locations that are within ideal driving distance for a weekend getaway. Possibly my favorite of these destinations is a little place called Los Alamos.
Located about fifty miles north of Santa Barbara, the tiny town was founded in 1876 by two ranchers from San Francisco, and named for the cottonwoods that line the stream banks running through the Santa Ynez Valley (one drive up the 101 will have you mesmerized). Originally part of the area’s Mexican land grants, once purchased, Los Alamos became a stagecoach stop, eventually hosting a depot for the Pacific Coast Railway that linked San Luis Obispo to another charming nearby town called Los Olivos. By 1901, however, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a wider line that bypassed Los Alamos, forcing them to shut down their depot, and leaving the area essentially frozen in time.
You can still get a sense for much of this history by visiting Los Alamos today, though as many destinations within close proximity to Los Angeles experience, it can only stay a secret for so long. On a recent drive up the coast, I was greeted by an array of new eateries sprinkled along the mile-long stretch of Bell Street, now attracting more visitors than it has likely seen since it’s 1890’s heyday.
Over the course of a three-day stay, I covered a lot of ground, and have put together my suggestions for a visit to this quaint, food-centered destination.
To Stay: The Alamo Motel
Part of the Shelter Social Club family, known for reviving accommodations in nearby areas like Santa Barbara, Ojai and Solvang, The Alamo Motel is a great central location to drop your bags for the weekend. The property also hosts a miniature outpost of Santa Barbara’s Municipal Winemakers tasting room, and a communal firepit surrounded by the motel rooms. If you’re one to crave a long, warm bath end of day, be sure to book one of their rooms with a clawfoot tub. rememberthealamomotel.com
To Eat: Plenty On Bell & Bob’s Well Bread
Plenty On Bell was one of the restaurants that had opened just a few days before our arrival. With a menu outfitted with ingredients from nearby farmers, ranchers, and fishmermen committed to sustainable practices, it’s a meal you can walk away from guilt-free. Ideal for a mid-day lunch as they close shop at 4pm. plentyonbell.com
Bob’s Well Bread, on the other hand, is the perfect pitstop between rolling out of bed and starting your day in Los Alamos. The bakery practices old world European traditions and techniques to make breads and baked goods that rival some of the tastiest bakeries in California. Not a wheat eater? Try their gluten-free Centennial Toast with a bit of almond butter, and a pot of hot tea. During my visit to Bob’s, I was also introduced to Steven Smith Teas, which made my favorites list in this post. bobswellbread.com
To Do: Solvang & Gaviota Peak
If you find yourself seeking a respite from eating, take your car into the nearby town of Solvang for a kitschy taste of Denmark, or hit the mountains for a beautiful (albeit challenging) hike up Gaviota Peak. Just be sure to pack ample amounts of water for the latter in the event that the temperature heats up. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even do a side trip to the hot spring. solvangusa.com | santabarbarahikes.com