Wonder where the celebrities hang out these days? Believe it or not, the answer is Los Alamos. This quiet, rustic town is in the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country. It is less than 4 square miles, 10 miles north of Buellton and 18 miles south of Santa Maria.
Highway 135, or Bell Street, is the street where you’ll want to hang out. This stretch of road is home to the historic 1864 Victorian Mansion bed and breakfast, Gussied Up Antiques and the Los Alamos Depot Mall. If you want antiques, choice retro and vintage items at reasonable prices … grab a croissant at Bob's Well Bread Bakery and walk across the street. Give yourself ample time because this place is huge and it’s full of treasures.
Trust me, you want to eat lunch at the Bell Street Farm. Jamie Gluck, the owner, will greet you with a big smile, a handshake and a list of the day's farm-to-table menu specials.
I like to eat on the back patio, which is dog-friendly.
Los Alamos should boast about being home to the 1880 Union Hotel & Saloon. This hotel is a story in itself. Walking into the Union is like traveling back in time to, well, 1880.
There’s really nothing like it in Santa Barbara County. Originally it was a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. It now has 14 rooms, each with unique themed décor and a definite Old West ambiance. I always enjoy stopping in for a cool drink and sitting at the bar or out back in the beautiful garden with friends. You might even catch a glimpse of actor Kurt Russell. The saloon carries just three wine labels, including Russell’s Gogi Wines.
You’ll never be bored with the friendly people, pool table or outdoor giant chess game. There are so many interesting things to do and see. Speaking of seeing things … I’ve been told by a very convincing longtime employee, that the Union Hotel is haunted.
She told a compelling story about things being moved around when she was the only one at the hotel. She often stays at the hotel and there is one room that she will not longer sleep in. All I can say is, “Who ya gonna call?”
The 1880 Union Hotel has a rich musical history. "Say, Say Say" what you want in a small town and you’re sure to hear that Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson produced a video by that very name at the hotel. The song was released in 1983 and became a hit in numerous countries. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Johnny Cash also sang at the hotel in the 1950s.
Los Alamos has inarguably gone from antique to chic … with its Old West feel and some of the region’s best wine tasting, beer and food.
On any given Friday or Saturday night while enjoying a tasty dinner at Full of Life Flatbread, and glass of good local wine, you’re just as likely to run into someone famous in this little town as you are on Sunset Boulevard.
A great place that features great food, an espresso bar, local wines plus an art gallery featuring contemporary art by local artists is Café Quackenbush.
Few small towns can offer old town tranquility and cultural sophistication as seamlessly as Los Alamos.
Terramonary Pottery is another jewel … their collection is world class featuring porcelain dinnerware, ceramics, gifts and books. If wine tasting is your thing, Casa Dumetz is a fun place … on Friday nights you’re likely to run into Emilio Estevez, a friend of the owner. Oh, and the wine isn’t bad either. Often, on the weekends, there’s live music as well. Next door is Bedford Winery, featuring local wines from the Santa Ynez Valley … the staff is like running into old friends. Personable, friendly and knowledgeable.
Los Alamos is easy to find and well worth the drive. It’s right off Highway 101 in between the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys, adjacent to horse farms, wineries and rolling hills. It is easy to see what attracts the rich and famous to live, and play here. But it’s really the locals that make this place shine.
Good old-fashioned neighborliness … everyone knows everyone, the vibe is relaxed, and laid back, but with its own “buzz” that never seems to stop.