Headed north from Santa Barbara on Highway 101, I was anticipating a very important Sunday night decision — which toppings to order on the pizza awaiting me, a pizza I’d been told would be the best I’d ever had. Anywhere. Such hyperbole for such a conventional item.
As I turned off the ramp and headed for the main thoroughfare, Bell Street, I thought I’d driven onto a movie set for Bonnie and Clyde or a John Wayne western. If the man who shot Liberty Valance had walked up to my car, sporting his trademark .45 Colt six-shooters in his gun belt, I’d simply have said, “Howdy.”
Such is the aura of this sleepy little town, Los Alamos, located in the heart of Santa Barbara County.
Indeed, the hills of Los Alamos provided a hideaway for at least one bandito in the mid-1800s. Salomon Pico, a flamboyant outlaw loved by his people and loyal gang, evaded capture for several years, hiding out in the surrounding wilderness. His wild escapades were the inspiration for and were popularized by Zorro, defender of the people, in countless books, films, TV shows and songs.
Belly up to the bar, I mean the saloon, and enjoy one of the local microbrews or a glass of wine from one of the many world-class Santa Barbara County wineries. For smoked cuisine at its finest, Chef Bobby Ostini offers up Red Oak BBQ in the Victorian dining room, resplendent with crystal chandeliers and enormous white cabbage roses on red background wallpaper. After dinner, amble into the billiard room and test your skill against the locals. Miss Kitty must be around somewhere.
A smaller gingerbread house, the Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast, has six themed suites and is a short walk down the street. Stop and browse through one of the art galleries, Art Brut Gallery or C Gallery.
Meticulously displayed antiques are a must-see at Gussied Up Antiques, and for those aficionados of English sporting gifts and art, there’s The Gentleman Farmer farm. The last standing Pacific Coast railroad station is being put to excellent use as the Depot Antique Mall. More than 60 vendors exhibit here in what looks to all appearances to be a Fibber McGee closet with items jammed from floor to ceiling. You’ll find much to love here as you step back into the Old West.
Oh, yes, the pizza. Well, the name of the establishment is American Flatbread Kitchen. I wish I could say it originated in Los Alamos, but there are hundreds of them all over the country. Pizzas are cooked in an amazing wood-fired oven. You can’t make a reservation, and it gets packed. So go early. It’s delicious, although not quite equal to its hyperbole, so if you want good pizza try it. It’s fun and full of atmosphere. If you want nostalgia, head for the Union Hotel.
Incidentally, I chose artichokes, eggplant and mushrooms for toppings. Not your grandson’s pizza!