The weekend before Valentine’s Day we took a last minute trip up to Los Alamos for some rest & relaxation, to eat delicious food, taste wine & to spend a few days living life at a slower pace. Sleepy little Los Alamos delivered in spades! A former stagecoach stop just an hour northwest of Santa Barbara and a few hundred feet off the 101, Los Alamos is about as unassuming as it gets. The main street spans just 9 blocks, so you can easily park your car when you arrive and leave it untouched for the rest of the weekend. Nevertheless, the editors at Conde Nast caught wind of this diamond in the rough and recently named it California’s next great food & wine destination. Intrigued by the promise of a yet to be discovered foodie destination, hit or miss cell reception and a weekend’s worth of wine tasting all within walking distance, we packed our bags and said a prayer for patience on the 101.
WHERE WE STAYED:
The Alamo Hotel - Originally built in the 1950’s, Shelter Social Club refurbished and revitalized this 21 unit motel while maintaining it’s quaint beginnings. Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiui residence in New Mexico, The Alamo Motel is minimalist without being cliche, a model of elegant efficiency with a playful & cozy touch of not too kitschy cowboy decor.
At the heart of the property is a small tasting room, an outpost for Santa Barbara based Muni Wine’s, along with a fire pit encircled by wood adirondack chairs. With a stack of firewood next to the tasting room and a pile of sirape blankets just inside the back doors, guests are invited to start a bonfire, cozy up with a glass of wine and mingle.
Word To The Wise: If you’re like me and prefer your sleeping quarters resemble a cave, bring an eye mask. In keeping with the bare essentials, the curtains aren’t of the blackout variety.
WHERE WE ATE:
Bell Street Farm - The 101 was none too kind to us on the way up, so this was our first stop as soon as we’d dropped our bags. Luckily, Bell Street Farm is just a hop, skip & a jump across the street! I had their sandwich special, The Chicken Club, and Garett chose The Italian Melt prepared as a salad to make it gluten free. Every single bite was divine. And you know a restaurant really leaves an impression when you’re back less than 24 hours later! For lunch the next day we split the Rotisserie Pork Salad which is topped with their infamous hot & crispy porchetta. Again, absolutely divine.
Word To The Wise: Order something with mayonnaise. It’s homemade & sent from heaven.
Ordering proved to be the weekend’s most difficult endeavor as I tried to absorb the menu while the smell of Stumptown & a croissant filled pastry case pulled my focus. We managed to compose ourselves long enough to order a pair of almond milk cappuccinos, the Gravlax Platter for me & Beans on GF Centennial Loaf Toast for Garett. From the cappuccinos, which Garett and I both agreed were some of the best we’ve ever had, to the bagel & lox beautifully displayed on a wood platter with all the fixings, to the made in house baked beans, everything was perfection. Not one’s to mess with a good thing, we eagerly returned the next morning ordering the exact same thing with the exception of the Breakfast Sandwich on a homemade english muffin taking the place of my gravlax.
Bob’s Well Bread Bakery - Aside from relax & recharge, we had very few must-dos on our list for Los Alamos, but breakfast at Bob’s was definitely one of them. As with most things in Los Alamos, the roadside view is deceptively humble, but walking through the door we were greeted with the beautiful hum of brunch - rhythmic grinding of coffee beans, relaxed and slow chatter of guests whose caffeine has just started to kick in, and the faint clatter of pans meeting the stove.
Now, you didn’t think I’d turn a blind eye to that pastry case did you? Fresh fruit pastries, classic Pain au Chocolat, hearty scones & Kougin-Amann which promised a buttery caramel filling - everything looked scrumptious, but I couldn’t resist the decadent temptation of the Chocolate Almond Croissants. Perfectly flaky and generously filled with semi-sweet chocolate & almond paste, savoring bites of croissant dipped in a warm cappuccino on Bob’s sun filled patio was delightful beyond words.
Word To The Wise: Tucked behind Bob’s Well Bread Bakery are two cozy cottages available to rent on AirBnB. The icing on the cake (or chocolate in the croissant), a stay includes a complimentary coffee & pastry!
Pico - If I’m being honest, I was a bit skeptical of Pico living up to the reviews. I could throw a rock at Bob’s Well Bread & Bell Street Farm, and what are the odds of that much great food not only being next to one another but smack dab in the middle of nowhere?! My skepticism was shattered by two words: Bacon Praline.
We arrived 30 minutes early for our reservation (a strange phenomenon that occurs when the restaurant is 40 feet from your hotel room) and were rewarded with the best seat in the house. Tucked into the corner booth, we had a full view of the warm & simply decorated dining room. The restaurant is located within the Los Alamos General Store, and the dining overflows into the main space where a Joanna Gaines style behemoth dining table accommodates large parties. Our waiter was bubbly, charming & very knowledgeable about the menu. Her wine recommendations, the Lumen Grenache and Lucas & Lewellan bubbly, were two of our favorites all weekend, and she even took the time to note the gluten & dairy free options on a menu for us.
After her solid wine recommendations, we followed suit and chose the Heart of Ribeye, the presentation of which was like a work of art on a plate, and Homemade Pappardelle in maitake mushroom & shallot tomato sauce.
You’ll noticed we don’t have any pictures of our meal, and there’s two good reasons for that. First, we didn’t want to be those obnoxious people with their flash going off in the middle of the romantic, candlelit dining room. Second, after watching dishes arrive to other tables and catching whiffs of the amazing aromas, we couldn’t possibly wait an extra second before digging in!
Word To The Wise: Ask if the Budino, a magical little pot of chocolate ganache & sea salt caramel, is on the dessert menu!
WHAT WE DID:
Foxen Canyon Road - The hidden gem of our trip! Prior to arriving in Los Alamos we hadn’t heard of much to do outside of the “downtown” area, so when Jamie, the charismatic, farmer-chic owner of Bell Street Farm, mentioned a scenic, winding road with a few wineries, we scribbled down directions and prayed for enough cell service to operate Google Maps when we inevitably got lost. One questionably angled Do Not Enter sign and a few U turns later, we made it to the fork in the road Jamie had mentioned and decided to hang a right. With all of the recent rain the drive up to Los Alamos was beautiful and more lush than either of us had ever seen California, but Foxen Canyon felt like we had dropped into the Irish countryside - rolling green hills in every direction, cows and horses lazily grazing and a horizon of billowing gray clouds promising a mid-afternoon shower.
Every few miles we’d spot rows of grapes and an elegant tasting room perched in the hills with a long driveway winding it’s way down to the road, a large sign displaying the vineyards logo and their tasting room hours. Like choosing a bottle at the grocery store, we were judging by the label - gold plated letters felt a bit posh for our jeans & flannels while calligraphy & wild flourishes also seemed rather intimidating to a pair of novice wine tasters. Just as we thought we’d passed the last of the wineries and had better turn around and take our chances on the dress code, we spotted a simple, modern grey building framed by towering oak trees & red picnic umbrellas.
Word To The Wise: To get to Foxen Canyon from Los Alamo, hop on the 101 South for about 5 minutes, then, ignoring the oddly angled Do Not Enter sign, turn left onto Alisos Canyon Road. You’ll know you’ve reached Foxen Canyon when you hit the fork in the road!
Andrew Murray Vineyards - Greeted by a simple, black & white, typeface sign with a sleek, grey tasting room in the background, we knew we’d found the right spot. Everything about the Andrew Murray tasting room was bold but unpretentious, warm & inviting - from the yard games & circles of weathered wood chairs on the patio to the floor to ceiling windows & wood planked walls. As we entered, we were greeted by a sweet & enthusiastic server who walked us through the tasting options & encouraged us to take our time browsing the menu.
We chose to share the Rhone Reserve Flight consisting of 6 reds and a white, and we thoroughly enjoyed every one! The Grenache & Mourvedre were our favorites followed closely by the Grenache Blanc, which came as a surprise since neither of us are typically fans of white wine. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere, we were encouraged to wander around the tasting room and grounds, enjoy the yard games on the front lawn or just relax as we sipped our wines. Most impressively, our server never missed a beat and always knew which wine was next in the lineup.
Word To The Wise: Now you know I couldn’t go wine tasting and not have some bubbly! We finished our visit with a taste of the Sonorous sparkling wine which was a perfect balance of clean & crisp with a tiny bit of toastiness. And as if that wasn’t divine enough, our glass came accompanied by a passion fruit truffle.
If you're looking for a relaxing destination for your next vacation or searching for a food & wine experience that marches to the beat of it's own drum, I hope you consider visiting Los Alamos. This charming town more than exceeded our expectations, and we can't wait to return!