Located just off Hwy 101 in Santa Barbara County, between Buelton and Santa Maria, is the old historic town of Los Alamos. This is your classic “One Horse Town”, with just a single street of businesses, Bell St. (which doubles as Hwy 135), no stop lights, not even a stop sign. But many of the buildings have been thankfully preserved from a bygone era.
Los Alamos is situated smack in the middle of Santa Ynez wine country. There are literally vineyards on all four sides of the town. It is one of the most beautiful regions in the Southern Central Coast of California. If you ever find yourself in Santa Ynez, Buelton, Los Olivos, or Solvang then take the quick trip up to Los Alamos, it will be worth it.
Los Alamos is noteworthy for having quite a few excellent cafes and restaurants, open for lunch and dinner. This is quite unlike its nearby sister city of Los Olivos, which although incredible cute, has almost no places to eat and rolls up the sidewalks at 5 PM.
One major draw in Los Alamos is Bob’s Well Bread. On the weekends his cafe is absolutely packed with folks seeking French Pastries, sandwiches and coffee. He has a great outdoor seating area with shady trees and a court for playing Pétanque. I wrote a blog post on Bob’s previously which you can read here.
The are also Plenty On Bell, Bell’s Restaurant, Pico, Charlie’s and Full of Life Flatbread. The thing here is that these are for the most part very, very good restaurants. The food is not your typical fare. The chef’s are experienced and they pride themselves on using local ingredients.
Bell’s Restaurant is another place we stopped at recently for lunch on our way to an antique fair in Santa Barbara. There is a bit of a story here. We once stopped in at this place over a year ago, just to check it out. The owner was there, an extremely dynamic man from West Hollywood. It had always been his dream to own a restaurant, so he decided to open one in Los Alamos. Not exactly around the corner, but he’d been commuting back and forth for many years. This finally grew tiresome so he had sold the restaurant, and the day we popped in was his last day. We were quite sad actually, but not nearly so much as the older couple who had just arrived from Santa Barbara for lunch. They came to Bell’s every week and were absolutely devastated when they found out he was leaving. He had built up that kind of clientele. He was also a big Francophile, which is ok by us. So, quelle dommage, a little piece of Los Alamos had come to an end.
Fast forward to our recent visit. We kept hearing about Bell’s from locals, and that it was still quite good. Though apparently under new ownership. So we thought time to try it out. Are we glad we did. As we’ve pieced the story together, the new owners are husband and wife. She is a chef who worked at one of the big restaurants in New York for a time (Thomas Keller’s per se). He is from Austin TX, where he owned a restaurant. They decided to move to Los Alamos and open a restaurant there, with a large French influence. You can see that from the menu:
From the Bell’s website: French-inspired bistro in the Central Coast of California from per se alums Daisy and Gregory Ryan. Daisy executes classic bistro fare with a eclectic wine list highlighting some of their favorite local and European tables in the former Bell Street Farms space.
A couple of pics of our meals, French Dip and Steak Tartar (Dominique’s favorite, raw beef with a raw egg yolk):
OK, enough about food, there is more to Los Alamos than that.
Los Alamos also has some antique shops for those looking for vintage finds. Noteworthy are the Depot Mall, which is quite large and takes a while to fully discover. And there is Sister’s Antiques, which Dominique and just love. Sister’s is at the top of our list for antiquing, along with The Blue Door in the Funk Zone, and Big Daddy’s in Culver City.
Sister’s is set up inside an old house, a historic one at that. You walk through what used to be the various rooms of the home, each one decorated in a slightly different style (perhaps by separate vendors). Your visit ends up feeling like a journey. Really quite nice.
There are other shops on Bell Street, as well as cafes, restaurants, wine tasing bars and event locations.
The 1880 Union Hotel is popular with bridal parties and has a great old saloon.