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Five Reasons to Go to Los Alamos

Jenna Scatena | October 3, 2014 | Story California Destinations

No, not the site of the Manhattan Project—the scenic, Northern Santa Barbara County town that is suddenly full of French country cafes, craft beer, and good wine. Despite all this new development, the city still has an untouched appeal, with a historic stagecoach hotel, truly bizarre antique hunting, and local characters who will chat you up while you wait in the long line for the famed Full of Life Flatbread.

At the three-year-old Bell Street Farm, owner Jamie Gluck gives local ingredients the French treatment. (You'll recognize him as the man behind the bar wearing his trademark Stetson hat and black rim glasses). The outcome? Homemade country-style pâté on a fresh baguette with house mayo and pickled onions, or hot and crispy pork belly-wrapped pork shoulder with butter leaf lettuce and fennel tossed in homespun vinaigrette. Expect the cafe's interior to be decorated with bushels of lavendar and full of communal tables packed with chatty locals sipping Santa Ynez rosé. Tip: Inquire about Bell Street's occasional after-hours dinners with local vintners.

In the wine-soaked Central Coast, there's nothing like a glass of ice-cold beer. Enter newcomer Babi's Beer Emporium, opened by Emilio Estevez and his partner Sonja Magdevski late last year. Delightfully obscure drafts flow from a half-dozen gleaming taps, and the shelves are stocked with dozens of IPAs, lagers, and stouts. Santa Barbara food trucks ocasionally stop by on weekends, but every day of the week you can find people wasting time in the back beer garden.

You'll find everything from mid-century kitchenware to farmhouse oddities at the Los Alamos Depot Antique Mall and Wine Pub. This junk shop to end all junk shops is located within an old rail depot and spans three rooms and 25,000 square feet, with more than 60 rotating peddlers. But the best part is the wine and beer pub in the middle of the store, nestled among rocking chairs, armoires, and creepy dolls.

Before you dismiss the 1880 Union Hotel as a dusty former stagecoach stop (which, let's be honest, it is), consider this: Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney filmed the music video for “Say Say Say” here. You can rent the room itself—or any of the hotel's 14 other country-kitsch boudoirs, with names like “Moulin Rouge” or “Heaven's View”—for between $135 and $280 per night. But these days, the hotel's real action takes place through the swinging door of the Wine Saloon and the Wild West-style lounge, which hosts music and comedy nights.

A short drive from downtown Los Alamos, Figueroa Mountain offers an easy escape. The drive there is half the experience: Follow Highway 154 through hills sprinkled with gnarly oak trees and cows moseying through rustic ranches until you land at the base of the 4,500-foot mountain (look for signs for Figueroa Lookout around Los Olivos). From there, you'll have your pick between several trails that ascend the pine-covered slopes to points overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond. Look hard enough, and you might even catch a glimpse of little old Los Alamos.

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