How often does an abandoned motel get the chic, vintage Americana makeover it deserves? The Skyview, a 1950s-era roadside motel in Los Alamos, California, an hour outside of Santa Barbara, shows us how it's done.
LOS ALAMOS, California — I've driven past The Skyview, a 1950s-era California motel in the Santa Ynez Valley, at least a thousand times over the years. How can they let it sit empty? I wondered, marveling at the the hilltop perch, roadside ranch-style aesthetic, and sexy neon VACANCY sign that lit the winding driveway. If anyone got their hands on the property, I worried, they'd probably tart it up like some dime-a-dozen Mediterranean-style wine country inn.
To my great relief, I've discovered that new managing partner Kimberly Walker (also of San Luis Obispo's Granada Hotel & Bistro) has done no such thing. She pays homage to the motel's mid century and Western roots without falling into twee territory — no mean feat! — using cowhide rugs, Pendleton blankets, crisp white shiplap walls and cedar outdoor showers in all 33 rooms. The Skyview even offers a fleet of terra cotta-hued Linus bikes for jaunts down the hill, where wine tasting, dining, and the good life beckon from town. It's like summer camp all over again, with Richard Neutra and James Beard as camp counselors.
Every touch and moment on the property assures me The Skyview is in good hands, from the Tivoli speaker in my room and tiny tube of Marvis toothpaste on the bathroom sink to the booklet titled "How To Skyview, And Other Stuff" — a small yet remarkably informative guide to the area — beside the bed.
Still, no one has forgotten that it used to be a creepy abandoned motel. In fact, the on-site restaurant and bar are named Norman, a nod to The Skyview's previous Hitchcockian persona. The kidney-shaped swimming pool vibrates bright blue once the sun descends. After dinner, I dip my feet in the water. Did travelers of yore sup on flawless charcuterie or sip garden-to-glass cocktails as I just have at the glittering mid century bar? No, but they likely enjoyed the same satiety and optimism I feel here. Beneath a yellow beacon announcing MOTEL to motorists far and wide, it's tough to feel lost.
On the way back to my room, I meander through a garden of native foliage, navigating clusters of felt-hatted young hipsters laughing and sipping cocktails around communal fire pits. They seem genuinely happy, and I realize I am too, not just because The Skyview is here but doubly so because it almost wasn't here at all. Back in my room, I luxuriate in bedding down beneath a fluffy duvet before drifting off. The motel is safe. Life is good. Everything is going to be okay.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get Here
Fly into Santa Barbara Airport, rent a car and drive one hour north on Highway 101 to reach Los Alamos. Remember, The Skyview is a motor hotel, best approached from the open road.
When to Visit
Fall is always the best time to visit California's Central Coast, and Los Alamos is no exception. For a full-weekend celebration of the town's Western roots, come during the historic Los Alamos Old Days at the end of September each year, when the whole town turns out for a chili cook-off and dance, artisan fair, car show, and old-timey parade.
What to Do Nearby
Spanning just a few blocks along Bell Street, Los Alamos has become the tastiest little town you've never heard of, with some of the most respected eateries and wine tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley. For breakfast, grab a cup of Stumptown Coffee and a pastry at Bob's Well Bread, a bellwether bakery and cafe that's garnered accolades from far and wide. (To start the day off on a decidedly indulgent note, order the Egg-In-A-Frame #2, a thick slice of buttery pain de mie with a baked egg at its center, smothered in lardons.) Walk down to the new Lo-Fi Wine tasting room, where small lots of natural wines and varieties atypical for the valley reign supreme. Or try Bodega Los Alamos for a curated bottle shop including offbeat local wines, kitchenware and must-have goods like preserves from Los Angeles luncheonette Sqirl.
Make a lunch date at Bell's, where husband-and-wife team Daisy and Greg Ryan bring expertise gained in the kitchens of New York’s Per Se, Gramercy Tavern, and Tribeca Grill to bear on French-inspired bistro dishes. (If you're lucky enough to visit during late summer or early fall, do yourself a favor and order the stone fruit salad. If you're lucky enough to visit anytime at all, try the French dip sandwich, an umami bomb on a buttery brioche roll.) For a casual but flavorful dinner, hit Full of Life Flatbread for loyal-to-local California cuisine including salads, wood-fired pizzas, and a nice wine list. For a slightly more upscale scene, visit Pico, housed in the town's former general store, for wine-centric cuisine and "unicorn flights" of rare or library wines. Don't miss Sunday Burger Night for chef Drew Terp's over-the-top creations (think: duck confit as a condiment) or house-made ice creams with flavors like Squid Ink & Caramel.
Keep Exploring Central California
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