california

LOS ALAMOS

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Driving along the 101 Freeway North of Santa Barbara, it is possible to get distracted and miss the little towns that are nestled into the roadside. For many years I have driven past Los Alamos, missing the one turn off sign. And for years I have been missing the true heart of what most locals experience - fresh, quaint and local. Los Alamos is historian’s haven and a foodies delight - it's all in one easy-to-access main road.

 

Once pulling off the freeway there is really only one main street in Los Alamos – not called Main Street, but Bell Street – named after one of the founders of the town from 1868. Much of Bell Street has had its original buildings restored into boutiques, cafes, antique stores and wine tasting rooms. We find a park, where the car will remain for the day and set out on foot. Before the crowd from the surrounding Santa Maria and Lompoc areas start forming, when sneak into Bob’s Well Bread & Bakery. Bob’s appears to be every visitors first stop in town. It is a hard decision to make between the baked goods that smell amazing and the savory items that are freshly prepared in the kitchen out the back. Outside in the patio we grab one of the remaining tables in the sun under the Oak trees. Breakfast is promptly delivered to us – and fresh farm tastes are there. Planning our next moves we don’t have far to go, about 100 feet. The owner of Bedford Winery, Stephan, meets us at the door with his dog Hitch, welcomes us in and apologizes that he has sold out of the white varietals. Instead we have a great range of reds to enjoy while hearing about the great mushroom festival the that the winery hosts every January for their wine club. Stephan is the unofficial historian of the town and a mushroom connoisseur, which has developed into a food event paired with his wines. Next door is a new winery, Frequency Wines. They are a small producer, 700 cases in their last harvest. Winemaker and owner Zac has been making wine for five years, earning an impressive 90 plus rating from Robert Parker, specializing in Rhone varietals, only selecting grapes from around the Santa Ynez area. Keeping their harvest small and constructing small bottle numbers has been an obvious asset to this brand. Following our noses, we arrive to a restored building with a few dogs outside and a chicken painted on the window at Bell Street Farm. Entering through the main door we are greeted by Jamie the owner. "Here, try this wine" he says, "it's local and fab."  

Asking what is good here is redundant, as everything is good. We order their special rotisserie chicken with butter leaf lettuce and a pastrami sandwich. With no room for dessert we continue down Bell Street to our next destination Babi’s Beer Emporium. Co-owned by actor Emilio Estevez and his partner, winemaker Sonja Magdevski, Babi’s stocks 40 to 60 bottles of craft brew, along with six beers on tap. Very knowledgeable staff suggest we undertake a flight of California beers, educating us on IPA’s, wheat and hops as we sip. The locals have arrived for a regular end of the day beer and add their take on the most popular brews. Without needing to leave the building we walk through the hole in the wall to Casa Dumetz were we are greeted by the owner Sonya. More local wines and choice. Made local and with passion. As the sun is setting we head to the oldest building in the street, the Wine Saloon at the Union Hotel. In late 19th century, when the Pacific Coast Railway arrived and the regal 1880 Union Hotel opened its doors – which now has been restored. The wine bar looks like something out of a Tarantino wild west movie with the original swinging saloon doors, deer head mounted on the wall and dollar bills nailed to the ceiling. In the bar, actor Kurt Russell’s show-cases deep reds along with a rose from Kate Hudson’s vines. With glass in hand we wander through the saloon looking at all the detailed history on the walls.

 

 Across the road we head for a bite to eat at Full of Life Flatbread where herby, cheesy flatbreads, are fired in a wood-burning oven, and topped with bounty from the local farmers’ market. Our last stop for the day is the Los Alamos location for Santa Barbara based Municipal Winemakers. On a cooler winter day there is a fire roaring at the back of the tasting room which is also part of the Alamo Hotel. The day has ended in a location that is having its re-awakening through the locals making their mark in a town with history. If not for one sign on the freeway and passionate people writing about their experiences, Los Alamos would have long gone.