Driving by on Highway 166, Cuyama Buckhorn looks like an unassuming truck stop and diner, the main attraction in a tiny town of less than 600 people in the high desert of Santa Barbara County.
New Cuyama was a company town founded in 1951 by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) that's struggled since the oil company left in the late 1970s. After a three year renovation, boutique hotel Cuyama Buckhorn is putting this small town on the map for leisure travelers and it's the perfect getaway from Los Angeles, a 2.5 hour drive to an unexpectedly beautiful desert hideaway.
The 1950s motel and diner debuted as a full-service resort for the first time at the end of February with a restored lobby and redesigned guest rooms, outdoor fire pits, a professional-grade crushed oyster shell bocce ball court and outdoor billiards table. There's no spa, but the new heated pool, Jacuzzi and barrel sauna with sunset mountain views are ideal for decompressing from city life. Tables and benches were built by a local metalworker at Blue Sky Center next door and there's an outdoor culinary education space for interactive workshops and cooking classes. With just 21 rooms, this is an ideal location for small weddings and corporate retreats.
Sustainability was paramount with the drought-tolerant landscaping, vintage furniture and repurposed building materials. Local farm partners in the area were consulted to determine plants and trees that would do best in the desert climate and that require the least amount of water consumption. All to-go containers are compostable and bath amenities by Furtherwere made from converting waste grease (vegetable oil) from fine dining restaurants into glycerin. The masterminds behind the stylish mid-century modern meets rustic Western design are none other than the owners themselves. Ferial Sadeghian and Jeff Vance, business partners and architects from Los Angeles-based design-build firm iDGroup, who purchased the property in 2018 and are deeply invested in rural revitalization and celebrating and supporting the Cuyama community.
The robust food and beverage program at Cuyama Buckhorn highlights the bounty of the Cuyama Valley, with the majority of ingredients sourced from local ranches and farms. Chef Daniel Horn worked at Aman Resorts for 12 years before arriving in Cuyama November 2020 to lead the culinary program.
“I had never heard of Cuyama Valley before and I've been amazed by everything growing here,” he says. That includes pistachios, olives, heritage grains, jujubes, apples, broccoli, lettuce and carrots which all appear regularly on his menu. Meat is also sourced locally, along with organic eggs from SZ Ranch. “These are the best eggs I've ever had in my life.”
Horn smokes tri-tip on a historic red oak grill in authentic Santa Maria-style, served alongside pulled pork on a hearty BBQ platter that's a standout entree on the dinner menu. All the meats are house smoked or housemade (there's even lamb sausage for breakfast) and vegans will delight in the BBQ smoked jackfruit. Cuyama Buckhorn is the only full-service restaurant in town and the back bar is lined with vintage newspapers with nine buck heads mounted on the walls watching over you.
On weekends, motorcycle clubs often come through, stopping for coffee and breakfast to fuel their rides. Cuyama Buckhorn's small general store sells locally made souvenirs, Cuyama Beverage Co mead and some of Horn's housemade sauces, bottled cocktails and jams. The hyperlocal minibar in each room tempts you with artisanal snacks and drinks including cookies bites, pistachios, popcorn, wine and spirits.
Outdoor enthusiasts can hike or bike in the vast Los Padres National Forest and nearby Aliso Park Campground has a well-maintained 2-mile trail that is an easy stroll for beginners. You can also go off-roading in Ballinger Canyon or search for condors at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Foodies can visit family-owned farms like Santa Barbara Pistachio Company and schedule a tasting of dry-farmed wine and olive oil at Condor's Hope.
At night, relax by the fire pits and marvel at the brilliant stars splashed across the night sky. It certainly feels like a world away from Los Angeles, a step back in time and space set to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra and John Denver. The kind of place that inspires reflection on what's really important in life and the beauty of community, nature and freedom.