Summer is already in full swing. A lot of people are hitting the roads for the July 4 holiday — AAA says roughly 3.3 million people in the Southland alone. That’s more than the number of people who took off for the Memorial Day weekend. And the agency says most will be driving to their destinations.
If you’re thinking about heading out of town and you only have a day to do that, Krista Simmons, a travel writer and the host of Fork in the Road podcast, has an idea for you. Fill up your gas tank and head to a little town in the Santa Ynez Valley called Los Alamos.
What the fuss is about
Los Alamos is about two hours north of Los Angeles. The town is a former stagecoach stop and has an old world catch, according to Simmons. “It’s kind of like Palm Springs hip vibe meets a one horse town.”
Within the town’s seven blocks, there are a bunch of wineries, restaurants, and even an antiques depot.
“It’s a small town, which I think is something that we’re all desiring as city dwellers. … We’ve been kind of stuck inside and cooped up in a megapolis, so I’ve been finding myself out there more often than not just kind of wanting to unwind,” Simmons says.
Despite that small town feel, Simmons explains it’s bustling with young, creative people, from winemakers to restaurant owners.
On top of all the action, it’s simply idyllic. “You’ve got these beautiful rolling hills and they’re dotted with oak trees. The air smells like that incredible Live Oak barbecue that’s so iconic in the Central Coast,” says Simmons.
What to drink
The Central Coast is known for its quintessential wineries and Los Alamos is no different. Unlike the big estates in Napa and Sonoma, the town keeps that small, old town feel in its wineries too.
“Los Alamos has a ton of really cool, very boutique small wineries. … You're going to be enjoying [relaxing] on a garden patio, you may be tasting with a winemaker. They're just really beautiful spots that are specifically focusing on natural wine,” says Simmons.
One of Simmons’ recommendations includes Lo-Fi Wines, which marries music and tasting. “You can rock in there, and they've got a record player out. You can taste some natural wines. The winemakers are oftentimes there, so you get to chat with them and ask questions,” explains Simmons.
Another wine shop on Simmons’ must-visit list includes Pico Los Alamos, which she recommends you call to make a reservation because the pandemic is still here.
What to eat
There are plenty of places to catch a bite on your day trip here. One can’t-miss stop is Bob’s Well Bread. The bakery was started by Bob Oswaks, who Simmons says is a “former Hollywood executive that did what a lot of us dream of doing ... he ditched his life in Hollywood … and then moved up to Los Alamos to open up a little bakery.”
Simmons says the bakery makes incredible baguettes, English muffins, and “every type of brunch treat you could possibly imagine.” And unlike some other places, Simmons says, “You'll find him there working the counter a lot of the time.”
Another highly rated restaurant is Bell’s. Simmons says the restaurant is so good that people will drive there just for lunch. It’s run by seasoned chefs Daisy and Greg Ryan. “They do … what they call ‘Franch food.’ So it’s a hybrid of traditional French and Rancho cooking from the Central Coast. And it’s just so delicious,” says Simmons.
Simmons suggests you go to Bell’s during the week since weekends are tough to snag a reservation.
How to enjoy the outdoors
Like most of the Central Coast, Los Alamos has a ton of outdoor things to do, including hiking. Simmons particularly likes to hike is Figueroa Mountain and Los Alamos Park, which is closer to the town. It’s [Los Alamos Park] about six and a half miles of paved trails, which takes about two hours to hike on average, and is suitable for various fitness levels..
“You get those gorgeous views of the sweeping vistas ...of those rolling oak tree line hills. It's just a beautiful way to start your day,” says Simmons.
He recommends you hike in the morning to avoid potential heat, and then head to one of the restaurants or wineries.
Where else to go
The area “is made up of six different communities, and each one of them definitely have [sic] their own vibe. And it’s very easy to get around from each one, as long as you have a car,” says Simmons.
Simmons recommends the town of Los Olivos, which is small and is filled with tasting rooms.
You can also visit the namesake town of Santa Ynez. Simmons suggests staying at Hotel Ynez, which she considers a darling boutique property, and they even deliver barbeque to your door.
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As a whole, the town has cool markets and tons of places to hike. “It's just a really, really beautiful place to escape and just detach for a little bit,” says Simmons.