Reliving the California of Yesteryear

The Grimms are free-lance writers/photographers living in Laguna Beach.

If the holiday season makes you long for earlier times, you can relive yesteryear with a visit to this forgotten burg in the back country of Santa Barbara County.

A remnant of rural California, Los Alamos is home to five antique stores and a vintage hostelry, the Union Hotel. And that's about all.

Don't expect a cutesy tourist town like Solvang, which is a few miles up the freeway. But you'll have fun poking around the antique emporiums such as Los Alamos Imports, where goodies from bygone days fill an old 14,000-square-foot granary.

Plan a weekend visit if you also want to have dinner or spend the night in the hamlet's century-old hotel. It has a choice of 15 tiny rooms, all but three with facilities down the hall. Hearty meals are served family-style.

Agriculture Reigns

Los Alamos is an agricultural community within sight of busy U.S. 101. The exit to Bell Street leads you down its wide main street that's fronted by the historic hotel and antique stores. Park anywhere and walk from one to another.

Look first for the vast tin-roofed grain storage building that also served as a railroad warehouse and depot. It's the largest and oldest of the town's antique stores, Los Alamos Imports, which opened in 1975. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Every year proprietor Don Johnson searches Holland for Old World furniture and other items, including Dutch lace and Delftware. He also brings back doors and windows of etched and stained glass, European enamelware and German clocks.

Prowling through the place, you'll discover everything from a sauerkraut press to brass chandeliers, cook stoves to hatracks, school desks to telephone booths. Look for the 1880s horse-drawn buggy and a century-old street organ grinder that plays 10 tunes.

Nearby is a former blacksmith shop that has housed Krall Antiques for 13 years. Wall, mantel and grandfather clocks from France and Germany are a specialty of Hilda and Bernie Krall and their son, Buddy, who restores the vintage timepieces.

English and French Goods

They also feature early 1800s and newer furniture from England and France, as well as English stained-glass windows. Among some unusual items are a monk's bench and a church confessional, a hand-operated gasoline pump, carrousel horse, sausage stuffer and Wells Fargo strongbox.

Krall Antiques also has restored soda pop machines from the days when a bottle of Coke or Nehi cost a nickel or a dime. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Across Bell Street, look at the display of early household items in the window of Frontier Hardware, then visit a historic landmark, the general store, built in 1880. Esther and Glen Anderson have turned it into an antique shop and gallery open daily except Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

From America's Past

Inside is American furniture of the 1920s and '30s as well as clocks, needle art, paintings and collectibles. Not for sale at The General Store Antiques is the original safe and oak counter that once was a seed case.

Across Bell Street is That Olde House, a 19th-Century residence with nine rooms, each room housing American antiques and collectibles of a different dealer. Among the items are books, silver, clothing and furniture. Hours are 11 a.m. (noon on Sunday) to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesday.

Almost opposite are the Union Hotel and Camelot Inn, both labors of love of Dick Langdon, formerly of Los Angeles. He bought the hotel 16 years ago and used old barn wood to re-create the facade as it looked in 1884.

The two-story building is home to Dick, his wife and friends, but on Friday, Saturday and Sunday he rents out the upstairs rooms. Singles or couples pay $81 for a "dry room" (toilets and shower down the hall), $98 for a "wet room" (private bath).

At 9 a.m. the next day, guests gather around a big table in the dining room to feast on platters of eggs, sausage and pancakes. Breakfast is included in the room rate. On the days the hotel is open, dinner is served to overnight guests and the public, by reservation.

The fixed, old-fashioned menu features country-baked chicken and broiled or barbecued beef, homemade soup, salad, potatoes, vegetables, corn bread with honey butter, and fritters for dessert. The tab is $12 plus tax and tip; kids under 85 pounds stand on a scale and pay by their weight, $3 to $6.

For reservations call (213) 669-5444 or (818) 376-1880; to reach the hotel direct, dial (805) 928-3838 or (805) 344-2744.

Before and after dinner, hotel guests gather in the bar to challenge each other at shuffleboard and Ping-Pong to the music of a jukebox that spins 78s. The upstairs parlor has a pool table, shelves of books and an old-time typewriter where you can peck out a post card. Another attraction is the garden Jacuzzi.

A Morning Tour

When it's running, the 1918 White touring car parked in front of the hotel transports overnighters on a morning outing around Los Alamos. Or Langdon directs guests through the yellow 1864 Victorian next door that he's creating into a fantasy house with six theme rooms.

When the Camelot Inn opens next month or early next year, you can spend the night in a choice of eras and environments that range from the 1950s, where you'll sleep in a Cadillac convertible, to Roman times, where a chariot serves as the bed.

The price will be $300, including champagne and breakfast served in your whimsical retreat. Langdon already has 400 $50 deposits for a night in Camelot. Call the numbers above for more information.

Get to Los Alamos from Los Angeles by following U.S. 101 north about 60 miles beyond Santa Barbara to the Los Alamos/California 135 exit.

Round trip from Los Angeles to Los Alamos is 324 miles.

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