Tucked away off Route 101 in Santa Barbara grape country, the tiny enclave of Los Alamos has quietly evolved into California’s next great gourmet destination.
Not long ago, it was a dusty backwater with the nickname “Los Almost”: a former stagecoach stop with a single main street on the fringe of the Santa Ynez Valley. Though just an hour north-west of Santa Barbara, it felt a good deal more remote. Flash forward to 2016 and once sleepy Los Alamos (pop. 10,500) now sees a steady stream of grape-country visitors and day-trippers, many of whom are so taken with its languorous, grape-stoned cowboy vibe that they end up spending the night.
Some stay even longer. The town’s reinvention is due largely to a tight-knit community of creatives, many of them LA refugees, who came to Los Alamos in search of a second act. There’s Bob Oswaks, who ran marketing for Sony Pictures Television and now mans the ovens at Bob’s Well Bread, his artisanal bakery in a renovated filling station. There’s Jamie Gluck, a former fashion advertising executive who spends his days in a 10-gallon hat at the helm of Bell Street Farm, a rustic-chic lunch spot with a phenomenal crispy porchetta. Across the street, journalist- turned-grapemaker Sonja Magdevski runs Casa Dumetz Wines and the nearby Babi’s Beer Emporium. And just down the block, in the 1880 Union Hotel, the sepia-toned, taxidermy-bedecked Wine Saloon is overseen by actor Kurt Russell, whose own GoGi pinot noir is served at the bar.
How on earth did this happen? The first glimmers came in 2003, when Clark Staub – a 20-year music-biz veteran and erstwhile Capitol Records VP – opened Full of Life Flatbread on the west end of Bell Street. With its obsessively sourced local ingredients and massive 900-degree wood-fired oven (blessed on its first lighting by local Chumash elders), the restaurant was soon luring chefs and epicureans from all over the state – and putting Los Alamos on the map as a tiny but legitimate food destination.