photo credit: Jakob Layman
There are several obvious perks to living in Los Angeles, including its proximity to places that are not Los Angeles. Head two hours in any direction and you’ll hit pristine beaches, snow-covered mountains, sprawling deserts, and some of the best wineries in the country. Even Las Vegas is just a clean shot down I-15. You could probably spend a decade in LA and not get to every place, which is why we’re telling you to clear your schedule and prioritize just one: Los Alamos.
Located about an hour northwest of Santa Barbara, this town of just 1,800 people has slowly transformed from a sleepy farming community into one of the most objectively cool small towns in the entire state. Walk down the main drag of Bell St., and you’ll find fantastic beer gardens, crowded tasting rooms, and a collection of restaurants that rival the best of Los Angeles. But what sticks out the most about Los Alamos is its energy - a palpable buzz generated by likeminded locals and LA expats coming together to build new and interesting projects, escape city life, and basically just do whatever the f*ck they want.
But despite all the activities and energy, Los Alamos is still a town that you can walk across in less than 20 minutes, which makes it an ideal spot for a weekend getaway. No three-page itineraries or long-standing reservations required, and certainly no elbowing your way through crowds of geriatric wine tourists. Los Alamos is a place that still feels untouched, but you also get the sense that it’s on the cusp of much more. So stop what you’re doing and go before everybody else does, too.
Bell’s is a fairly new addition to Los Alamos - it opened in 2018 - yet it already feels like the heart and soul of the place. Located right on the main drag, this casual French bistro is a great afternoon pit stop while you stumble between tasting rooms, but if you’re staying in town for dinner, snagging a table at Bell’s is non-negotiable. Whether it’s the moules frites, uni and caviar mille crepe, or our favorite steak tartare in existence, this is food we’d put up against some of the best French restaurants on the West Coast. Couple that with a lively interior that looks like a centuries-old Provence farmhouse and a waitstaff that talks to you like you’re a family friend, and you’ll be wondering why anyone actually ever leaves.
If you’re staying in Los Alamos - or within 10 miles of Los Alamos - your day begins at Bob’s. This order-at-the-counter cafe/bakery is located inside a converted gas station right in town, and is one of the most popular breakfast spots in the region, which means you can expect hour-long waits on the weekends. But frankly, we’d wait two hours for this food. There’s a full menu featuring everything from breakfast sandwiches to gravlax platters (plus wood-fired pizza on weekend afternoons), but your focus really needs to be on the pastries and baked goods at the front counter. The kouign-amann and almond croissant will wipe clean any lingering wine hangover.
A town the size of Los Alamos can only have one incredible, drive-worthy dinner spot, right? Wrong. Enter Pico, a restaurant/wine bar/general store on the main drag that’s every bit as special as its French bistro neighbor. Pico’s American-ish menu changes frequently, but know that whenever you come, you’ll eat a lot of fresh vegetables, giant platters of charcuterie, and a ricotta agnolotti that will change your life. The space itself is quite large, with multiple levels, a front bar area, and a patio out back that’s great for big groups. You’ll hear a lot of people in town debating whether Pico or Bell’s is better, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. The fact that a town this small has two restaurants that would be among the best in LA or SF is mind-blowing, and certainly not something to fight about.
Located on the far edge of town, past all the antique stores and tasting rooms, it might be easy to overlook this casual flatbread spot, but that would be a huge mistake. In operation since 2003, Full of Life is a staple of the community and a great place to go when you’re with a lot of people and have zero energy to make a reservation somewhere. There’s a big back room that’s perfect for parties, plus a side patio full of lawn games that everybody can play while they wait for their food to arrive. The menu usually has a dozen different flatbreads, plus weekend specials, but our go-to is the Central Coast Sausage with fennel, smoke-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and mozzarella. If you’re looking for some nourishment before getting in the car and heading back to reality, go to Full of Life.
Bars / Tasting Rooms
There are a number of great tasting rooms in Los Alamos, but MUNI is our favorite. Located in a tiny standalone cabin in front of the Alamo Motel, a typical stop at MUNI goes like this: You come in for a quick wine flight, end up staying for two hours talking to the bartender about Mubbly (and why it tastes so good), then spend all night hanging out on the wooden bench swings outside. If you come on a Saturday in the summer, chances are they’ll be doing an outdoor movie screening as well.
With a sprawling outdoor space filled with fire pits, hammocks, bocce ball courts, and a greenhouse where you can buy ice cream (obviously), Bodega is easily the best place to drink outside in Los Alamos. Open all day on the weekends, this wine and beer garden is where you stop during your afternoon wine crawl and then immediately decide to come back after dinner because you like it so much. Their wine and beer lists change frequently, but you can expect a strong emphasis on local natural wines, sour beers, and even a house-brewed IPA they have on tap - plus a light snacks menu if you get hungry. Bonus: There’s a bungalow on the property that you can rent out for the entire weekend, assuring you that you never have to leave.
No Los Alamos wine crawl is complete without a lengthy stay at Casa Dumetz. The lively tasting room is always packed and feels like you’re drinking inside the courtyard of a Spanish casita. $20 for a four-glass flight might seem a little steep for the area, but the pours are generous and the wine is tremendous. They serve everything from grenache blanc to pinot noir, but our favorite is their Feminist Party line, a red wine blend that combines grapes from four different local vineyards. Also, if you need a little break from all the wine, head next door to their sister business, Babi’s Beer Emporium, where you can enjoy excellent craft beer, ciders, and tacos on a great side patio.
Lo-Fi’s bare-bones tasting room isn’t the flashiest in town, but it’s worth a visit simply to try some of the best natural wine currently being made in the Santa Ynez Valley. It’s owned by two friends who live right in town, and some of the wines come from grapes grown in Los Alamos proper. They make a variety of excellent gamay, rosé, chardonnay, and cabernet franc - and for $15, you can try six of them. Even if there’s somebody in your group not particularly sold on natural wines, they’ll at least be lured in by Lo-Fi’s excellent vinyl selection, all played on a turntable right in the tasting room.
There will come a point during your night in Los Alamos when all the restaurants and tasting rooms close up and you’ll wonder what happens next. The answer is 1880 Saloon. This rowdy bar on the ground floor of the Union Hotel is not just the only place in town that’s open past 9pm, it’s also the most debaucherous spot you’ll encounter all weekend. Originally built in 1880, destroyed in a fire in 1893, then rebuilt (and reopened) in 1915, this historic saloon is where every night owl in town goes for fantastic people-watching, ill-advised rounds of whiskey shots, and conversations no one will remember in the morning.
If, for some unfathomable reason, good wine, incredible food, and unadulterated country living isn’t enough to convince you to spend a weekend in Los Alamos, then make the trip simply to stay at Skyview. This iconic roadside motel has been open since 1959, but after a complete renovation in 2018, it was turned into one of the most impressive boutique motels in California. Sitting up on a hill overlooking Los Alamos and the surrounding wine country, Skyview has a fantastic pool area, free beach cruisers to ride around town with, and back-facing rooms with private fire pits and outdoor showers. It’s romantic, retro, and the perfect place to remind yourself why we all pay so much money to live in this state.