This Charming Town Is the Best-kept Secret on California's Central Coast — and the Perfect Place for a Girls Getaway
After its enviable climate, the best thing about Southern California might just be that you can drive two hours in any direction and find yourself in a starkly different place — a yucca-dotted desert, a cove ideal for surfing, a mountain peak wearing a hat of snow.
It's the rolling hills of the central coast that have captured my small-town heart lately, though — in particular, Los Alamos, California, a hideaway in Santa Barbara County where wine-tasting rooms seem to outnumber the local population. Having just exited a stretch of life made foggy and sluggish by a pandemic, there's little more I want than a good meal, a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc, and maybe a stroll through an antique shop. I haven't found a better place for this trifecta than Los Alamos.
Where to Eat in Los Alamos
Start your Los Alamos day at Bob's Well Bread, located seconds off Highway 101. The gas-station-turned-cafe opened in 2014 and quickly became a bright, shiny light calling to pastry lovers near and far. I try to arrive as early as possible – shop hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. – so that I can have my pick of the day's goods.
Order anything in the pastry case: cinnamon sticky buns, strawberry or blueberry danishes, caneles. One of these paired with a hot latte makes for a terrific morning meal at an outdoor picnic table. On the prepared food menu, I'm partial to the Egg in a Frame #1, comprised of a grilled slice of Bob's sourdough, a local egg, roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese. There's also a giant shelf of loaves baked fresh daily. If you're road tripping, the bread travels well and Bob offers tips for freezing and reheating on the cafe's website.
If Bob's is the anchor of the Los Alamos food scene, Bell's is the ship's sails. The restaurant is helmed by chef and Santa Ynez Valley native Daisy Ryan and her restauranteur spouse, Greg Ryan. Their staff is gregarious, and while the French-inspired menu may read fancy, the overall vibe is relaxed and comfortable. There are always children around, too — sometimes Daisy and Greg's, sometimes mine. Nothing is hurried here, and everything is delicious.
On my most recent visit, I came to town with two girlfriends and big plans to wine and dine. "Chips and dip" at our Bell's lunch was Regiis Ova caviar paired with a housemade raifort sauce and Utz potato chips. We ordered a bottle of Press Gang Cellars sauv blanc to further help us lean into the buzz of the back patio. A lightly dressed salad with oranges and currants and goat gouda followed – always order the salad, as it's bound to be made with hyper-local produce from purveyors like Finley Farms. Moules frites, with mussels plucked from the waters near Santa Barbara, and a chunky egg salad sandwich are other top daytime selections. Book your table via Tock in advance, whether for lunch or a pre-fixe dinner. After being awarded a Michelin star this year, all eyes are on Bell's.
If you're staying overnight in Los Alamos, you'll have a second day to sample more local restaurants. Try Full of Life Flatbread, known for wood-fired pizzas on a great patio, Plenty on Bell, and Pico.
The Best Wineries for a Girls Getaway
Wine-ing and driving do not mix, but that is no matter in Los Alamos. Visitors can sleep on Bell Street, eat well on Bell Street, and taste many, many wines on Bell Street.
My friends and I had flights of Lumen Wines at Lumen Lounge at Pico, a small corner bar within a larger restaurant in the old Los Alamos General Store, built in 1880. We walked down the road afterwards, popping into Elder Flat Farm store for munching provisions — dark chocolate, fancy corn nuts — before arriving at Bodega. This beautifully shaded wine-and-beer garden is the place for a full glass of wine and meandering conversation; guests can play a game of bocce ball, chat by the fire, or chill in a hammock slung beneath coastal live oaks. The storefront has a great selection of wine bottles to go, too, when your time in the garden comes to an end.
Hitting the Los Alamos Antique Shops
Roaming the aisles of the Los Alamos Depot Mall is my preferred way to separate wine stops and meals in town. Inside this long, barn-like structure are the curio collections of myriad consignment sellers; my friends and I spent an easy hour here in search of one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Arrive in a patient mindset so you can slowly consider cabinet after cabinet stocked with tea sets, vases, art work, and more. I left the depot giddy, with a piece of pottery crafted by members of the Indigenous community and a small brass crane sculpture.
Sister's Gifts and Home, located at the other end of Bell Street, is another worthy stop. Because it is set in a historic residence, shopping here feels a bit like wandering a new friend's house. I always find a home good I need — last time it was a bedside water carafe — and I always have to leave something behind.
Where to Stay
I love an updated motor lodge, and Los Alamos has two of them, the Alamo Motel being my favorite. The property is directly across the street from Bell's and was renovated by Shelter Social Club in 2010. It may have limited amenities but it lacks nothing in style, with interior décor and furnishings inspired by Georgia O'Keefe and the beauty of Los Alamos' agricultural surroundings. There's a koi-filled pond and a fire pit out in front, plus Bar Alamo, an adorable wine-and-beer shed open Thursdays to Sundays. Micheladas are a new offering on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
As you start planning your own girls getaway to Los Alamos, keep in mind that many businesses are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In general, a weekend visit is best for first-timers, so that you can experience as much of the town as possible. My friends and I just missed wine tasting at A Tribute to Grace, having neglected to double-check the shop's closing time — but that just gives us a reason to return.