The decidedly sleepy town of Los Alamos (population: less than 2000) lies about an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara. This former Wells Fargo stagecoach stop on the northern end of California’s Santa Ynez Valley is just seven short blocks long and peppered with buildings out of the Old West. The mood is definitely laid-back and relaxed.
So why go there? For one, we like atmospheric Bell Street, the main drag filled with shops, antique stores and the historic Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast, an 1864 Victorian that houses six themed suites. Or the historic Union Hotel, a wooden joint that dates back to 1880 and looks like it hasn’t been touched since then. It’s actually a functioning and popular hotel and saloon.
The town also features antique stores such as Sisters Antiques located in a historic home from the 1880s, art galleries such as the C Gallery, and nearby eateries such as Full of Life Flatbread, Bell’s, Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, SY Kitchen, Industrial Eats..
In addition to the wonderful cuisine in Los Alamos, the town also features tasting rooms such as Casa Dumetz, Bodega, Babi’s Beer Emporium, and Lumen at Pico. Many locals walk or ride their bicycles around town. Los Alamos Old Days is a celebration held in September annually on Bell Street. Los Alamos Old Days is usually two days long and offers stands and booths as well as a colorful parade that celebrates the agriculture and history around Los Alamos Valley, the Valley of the Cottonwoods. It’s all rather quaint and not at all as gussied-up-cutesy as nearby Los Olivos.
But change is coming to Los Alamos. We went there to check out Skyview, a modern boutique hotel reborn from an iconic 1950’s motel overlooking Los Alamos wine country. Set just off California’s iconic Highway 101, it offers 33 rooms, including two spacious suites and 16 deluxe rooms with fireplaces and private decks overlooking the rolling hills wine country. The five-acre hilltop property has its own full-service restaurant–Norman’s, a working vineyard, edible gardens and restored 1950’s-era heated pool.
The hotel’s original mid-century architecture has been handsomely updated to a modern rustic aesthetic and softened with luxury trimmings: flat panel televisions, down duvets, leather club chairs and marble-clad bathrooms with organic small batch amenities.
A cheery young staff attends to every need and even sets out a delicious light complimentary breakfast each morning. Think hard boiled eggs, muffins, coffee and orange juice.
A meal at Norman’s is worth the journey alone. Our ever-attentive and entertaining server, Jorge, served us a perfect grilled avocado done up with puffed rice, citrus, harissa, Aleppo pepper in a broken black garlic vinaigrette. Then out came a nicely-seasoned skirt steak with new crop potatoes, chimichurri, crispy capers, grilled onion and spicy greens.
An intermezzo of house salad was refreshing with butter lettuce, apples, and radish tossed in a blackberry vinaigrette. Vegetarians, fear not: a dish of roasted pumpkin and red quinoa cleverly composed with carrots, leeks, kale, harissa, coconut, lime, cilantro and pepitas hit the spot.
Chef William Hanko clearly knows his stuff: his use of exotica like whipped goat cheese, Calabrian chili butter, lentils, piquillo peppers, gremolata, pistachio and Grana Padano speaks to his eclectic talents. Oh, and desserts: they are sublime; we were in seventh heaven with a chamomile cake and bee pollen ice cream, spiked with lemon, white chocolate, candied pistachio and blueberry.
Skyview has thought of everything: the pool is heated; there are complimentary stylish Linus bikes for you to cruise about on. A happy hour swings into gear daily at 3 p.m. Of course, room service is no problem. And all rooms are thoughtfully equipped with Tivoli audio speakers to pair with your Bluetooth. Skyview Los Alamos has its light hearted, playful side and it is much more than an iconic roadside motel turned boutique luxury getaway. We’d call it a true wine country glamour escape with everything one needs to indulge in total comfort.
Visit http://www.skyviewlosalamos.com, 9150 US-101, Los Alamos, CA 93440, (805) 344-0104. Room rates during the week start at $139; weekends start at $249.