Emilio Estevez: Day Tripping in Los Alamos

This marks the first "guest" post on my personal blog.  I met Actor/Director/Vintner/Entrepreneur Emilio Estevez about three years ago while visiting his home vineyard in Malibu.  I credit him and, especially, his "sweetie," winemaker Sonja Magdevski, with helping to breathe new life to the wonderful Central California town of Los Alamos, and with helping to elevate its standing as a legit culinary and cultural destination.  Here's his personal take on a typical day in Los Alamos...
-- Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo

Story by Emilio Estevez (written June 2014)
Photos by Bob Dickey, wineguydotcom@yahoo.com

From Santa Barbara, there are two roads that will get you into the Santa Ynez Valley and your Los Alamos Day Trip destination.  Both turn me on for different reasons. Your first glimpse of the valley from high on top the San Marcos Pass simply takes your breath away.  The mind wanders to the indigenous people and early settlers who looked out at the vast landscape and imagined endless possibilities.  The coast route is no less majestic and there is no mistaking the fact that you are at the western terminus for these United States.  

Casa Dumetz Wines and Global Gardens Cafe in downtown Los Alamos
I like to start my day in Los Alamos early and it begins at Cafe Quackenbush. Part art gallery, wonderfully curated by John Morley, and part cafe. Chef Jesper Johannsen serves up daily breakfast and lunch specials that are as tasty as they are enormous. I tend to go for the breakfast burrito and wash it down with a latte.  If you aren't an early riser and don't get there until lunchtime, order the pulled pork sandwich.  Caution: it's big enough for two!

A great way to walk off breakfast is to check out the gallery and then explore the town, while you're anticipating where you're going to go for lunch. Connie, who owns the C Gallery, is always offering up great new exhibits from artists near and far.  
Check out The Antique Depot, Gussied Up, Gentlemen's Farmer and The Irishman. Dennis always has something to sell you that you've never seen before at The Eclectic Shop -- that is, when he's not giving you a tip on an upcoming horse race at Santa Anita.

Winemaker Sonja Magdevski
The wine tasting rooms open at 11am and there are some great finds in this "no longer, one horse town."  I am partial, of course, to Casa Dumetz, where my sweetie winemaker and tasting room owner, Sonja Magdevski, has eight different offerings. Buy the Syrah Rose while she still has it -- it's really perfect for summer.

Bedford Winery offers great Cab Franc and Chardonnay. The Wine Saloon at the Union Hotel is offering up Kurt Russell's Gogi Pinot Noir.

The Union Hotel
Lunch at Bell Street Farm is a must.  This is a bistro that would be at home on State Street in Santa Barbara or even Rodeo Drive.  I love to watch my friends' faces when they walk in the front door.  "What is THIS place doing here?" they often find themselves asking out loud! Everything on the menu is insanely good and owner Jamie Gluck will greet you with a hug whether he knows you or not!

Theo Stephan's Global Gardens Cafe
Wash down that roasted chicken with a craft beer (or three) at Babi's Beer Emporium, where you will often find me behind the bar serving up the latest and greatest hard-to-find craft beer.  The best part is: you don't have to tip me 'cause I'm also one of the owners! 

As you leave Babi's and walk north, stop in at Global Gardens and grab some of the best olive oils and vinegars on the market.  Theo Stephan's olive source is just a few miles down the road from the shop. 

It's widely know that with the exception of Los Alamos' Third Saturday Evening Stroll every month, most shops, tasting rooms and eateries close quite early.  This leaves you with two dinner options.  Farm-to-table Full of Life Flatbread serves up some of the freshest locally sourced produce in town.  One rule about Flatbread: Always order the weekend special flatbread - FULL STOP.  Across the street from Flatbread is Charlie's Burger's.  Don't be fooled by the "burger" part of that sign.  On weekends, Charlie and his crew are doing the BBQ right.  Half chickens and "ribeyes by the inch" are slow-cooked over local oak.  The smell of the meat cooking over the wood puts one in a state of pure primal ecstasy.

With a bit of light remaining in the summer sky, I am back in the car for my return to Santa Barbara, taking the coast this night and, in my head, already planning my return trip to this extraordinary place many call "Little L.A."

Sonja and Emilio (photo by Amy Graves)



  1. Don't forget to visit terramonary stoneware & porcelain at the corner of Bell St. and St. Joseph, where Ramona Clayton creates some of the finest ceramic dinnerware on the Central Coast, whether you're looking for a large bowl for a centerpiece, a vase for your mantel, a couple of coffee mugs or a complete set of custom-made dinnerware for 12 or more.

  2. Always room for one more: transforming an old gas station on the main drag (Bell Street) is the area's new baker whose breads have taken the area by storm, Bob Oswaks of Bob’s Well Bread. He's been supplying his round, leavened loaves to Jesper at Quackenbush Cafe, and to Flatbread Pizza, and just did a demo at the fancy Santa Barbara Food and Wine Weekend at the Bacara. And here he is in our little corner of the world! Can't wait until he opens this summer.

  3. Tantara winery tasting room at the Skyview motel is open on the weekends as well serving up wonderful pinot noirs.

  4. (Comment from the author, Emilio Estevez)

    Thank you for the feedback on my "Day Tripping" guest blog. Thank you to Gabe Saglie for the opportunity to share my love for Los Alamos. The exclusions of businesses and yet-to-open businesses are not meant as a slight.

    However, this is MY day trip. And I simply wrote about the places and people whom I have interacted with over the years. People and businesses with whom I have a connection to and spend time with most weekends while in town.

    I do hope to get to know the other businesses and yet-to-open businesses in the town when time allows and when they open. I certainly encourage every business in Los Alamos to market and publicize themselves. While some do this quite well, others couldn't be bothered. It can be argued that I may be better positioned than most to have access to media outlets, but it's neither my responsibility nor my inclination to do it for them.

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  6. Quackenbush is closed but chef jasper opening 'plenty on bell' where ghostrider was also a dinner spot opening where Quackenbush was

  7. Quackenbush is closed but chef jasper opening 'plenty on bell' where ghostrider was also a dinner spot opening where Quackenbush was