Dream getaway to Los Alamos and Ballard
By Rebecca Horrigan
One of the many benefits of living in Santa Barbara is that a world of wonderful wineries is at your fingertips. It might seem simple enough to get in the car and head out to these wide open spaces, but in these open spaces, namely the Santa Ynez Valley, there are over 120 wineries. To help you narrow down your choices, I’ve concocted two ideal itineraries for a weekend in Wine Country, one closer to Santa Barbara, and the other a bit more of a trek.
Let’s start with the hike. While Solvang and San Luis Obispo are famous for their vibrant food and wine culture, lesser-known Los Alamos offers a charming experience like no other. Nestled in the heart of the Santa Barbara wine country, in the northern part of Santa Ynez, is this small but mighty town. It has such an authentic, non-touristy vibe that I’m almost hesitant to type it in hopes of preserving its peaceful surroundings. However, my experience was too delicious to stay close to my chest.
Founded in 1876, Los Alamos’ Old West style feels both steeped in the past and expansive in its food scene and funky aesthetic. Just seven blocks long, Main Street Bell Street is home to delicious foodie havens, antique shops and top-notch tasting rooms. Nicknamed “Little LA” for its frequent visitors to the city, Los Alamos’ size is perfect for a stress-free weekend getaway. Its compact, liberating character. Without being bombarded with a plethora of places to soak and dine, visitors can truly unwind, relax, and be present. Isn’t that what we all want from vacations anyway?
The Skyview Motel in Los Alamos (Courtesy of Skyview Los Alamos)
Let’s start with accommodation. Even if you never leave the premises, the Skyview Motel would be reason enough to visit Los Alamos. Perched atop a hill, the Skyview lives up to its name with excellent views of the green hills and vineyards below. With cozy indoor fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, luxurious beds and a sun-drenched pool deck with an incredible bar featuring wine made in their own vineyard, the Skyview reaches for the skies with all amenities.
The original motel was built in 1959 and reopened its 33 ultra-hip rooms in 2018, retaining the classic mid-century building but amplifying the designer’s Western aesthetic. With its hilltop location, The Skyview also makes a playful nod to Hitchcock’s film Psycho and The Bates Motel. Their 1960s-style neo-American restaurant is even named after Norman. Still, there’s nothing scary about their comforting menu filled with local ingredients and delicious entrees like citrus and nut salad.
Start your day sipping a complimentary Nespresso and enjoying a croissant sandwich or Norman’s brioche French toast, then zip down the hill into town or, better yet, cruise on one of their complimentary Linus bikes.
Flatbread full of life (Photo: Rebecca Horrigan)
With a solid foundation, it’s time to pop the cork. Casa Dumetz is the perfect sunny spot to start a day of wine tasting with a lovely flight served by owner and winemaker Sonja Magdevski. Sample Rhône varietals, rich Pinot Noir or a perky pink Grenache. I was blown away by the inventive picpoul cider and of course her Feministy Party GSM blend, which Magdevski created to honor the people who helped her succeed in this field. Bodega Los Alamos, with bocce courts, fire pits and lounge chairs, makes you feel like you’re relaxing in your best friend’s backyard – if your best friend had an incredible taste for natural wine.
For dinner, we walked into Full of Life Flatbread knowing we would have delicious flatbreads made in their own wood-burning oven, but were surprised by the number of complex side dishes that left our heads spinning. and sing the taste buds. The daily special, a meticulously prepared crudo dish with Stephanie Sea Fish buttered scallops, avocado and fresh tuna, delicately dressed in a light citrus sauce with limes from owner Clark’s own backyard Staub launched us on our dream food journey. Their refreshing “Appetizer Spritz” pairs perfectly.
Travis’ Gaviota Vermilion Rock Cod Bacalao and Peppers served on charred sourdough bread topped with Olea Farms olive oil and onion salt blew me away, and the Central Coast Sausage flatbread with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes is always a success. Learning from Staub about his inspirations behind each dish and his love for his community was one of the most delightful parts. Stories like that of a Chumash elder who blessed the restaurant’s oven deepened my understanding of the attention to every detail of this beloved place.
Folded Hills Vineyard (Photo: Rebecca Horrigan)
If Los Alamos seems too far away, make Solvang your home base. Driving up the coast past Refugio Beach, an ocean breeze in your hair, marigolds seem to blow out the window. Before you even reach Buellton, Gaviota is the perfect place to stop and ensure that stress-free state of mind takes you to wine country. Just off the 101, Folded Hills Winery has the perfect family atmosphere to welcome you and start your journey on a high. The Busch family founded the Folded Hills estate in 2014, offering a delicious menu made primarily from Rhône varietals. Start your tasting with the beautifully crisp Lilly Rosé, named after founder Andrew Busch’s great-grandmother. You can choose from a variety of tasting experiences, such as pairing your wine with a selection of gourmet cheeses while learning from one of their knowledgeable and friendly wine educators all about their beautiful, sustainable 600-acre family farm and their working ranch.
After your tasting, get off the beaten and touristy paths of downtown Solvang and check into the beautiful Ynez Hotel. Nestled on two private acres, the boutique hotels feature an outdoor pavilion with bonfires for late-night smores and stargazing, gardens, a swimming pool and a sweet bodega with a fabulous selection of local wines and snacks. The former roadside motel was originally built in 1952 and after a meticulous renovation, reopened in 2021. The price is reasonable for the luxurious experience, and their friendly staff makes you feel like family. Take a nap in their hammocks, light your indoor fireplace after a relaxing shower, and linger in their cloud-like beds to really soak up the peaceful and cozy experience.
Keep the mood quiet over dinner with a short drive to the Ballard Inn restaurant. Dining on their quaint and beautiful porch while being attended to by their warm and knowledgeable servers evokes simple and gracious Southern hospitality. Their menu, created by humble and talented chef Brendan Collins, continues southern charm with specialties like summer corn succotash with homemade ricotta or cola-brined fried chicken with yam jam and hot honey. Be sure to start with their honey rolls and feel free to brush them with beurre de baratte (fancy butter). Their smoked red tuna crudo is the perfect light and bright aperitif counterpart. Their wine selection is full of stunners, including the speedy Gruner Veltliner from Solminer. As the sun begins to set, linger over one of their creative desserts like peaches and cream with grilled peach, sweet cream and pecans.
Ballard Inn Restaurant (Photo: Rebecca Horrigan)
Hotely Ynez offers a delicious continental breakfast and brings fresh pastries from Solvang’s famous Danish village bakery Olsen, so you don’t have to queue for one of their delicious Danish cheeses. While you may think you’ve had your baking fix, no stop in wine country is complete without a visit to beloved Bob’s Well Bread in Ballard (don’t worry, there’s also one in Los Angeles). Alamos). Executive-turned-baker Bob Oswaks was looking for balance in life and found his niche baking bread by hand in small batches in a custom-built stone deck oven. He opened Bob’s eight years ago in Los Alamos and now has a second location in Ballard. With a bite of their Ethereal Glazed Morning Bread or Egg in a Frame #1 (easier, local farm egg in a toasted slice of sourdough bread with herb-roasted tomatoes and dry-aged goat cheese), he is clear why they were named one of Travel & Leisure’s “Top 15 Amazing Small Town Bakeries” in the United States.
Bob’s Good Bread (Photo: Rebecca Horrigan)
As you can see, that’s only a small portion of what’s available in wine country, and I’ve written too much already. Follow these tips, mix and match, or choose your own adventure. You can’t really go wrong when there’s so much to savor.