Spanish for “the cottonwoods”, which line the stream banks running through the Valley, Los Alamos is located approximately 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, near the intersection of US Highway 101 and State Route 135.
Los Alamos was founded in 1876 by John Bell and James Shaw, both formerly of San Francisco, who had purchased adjoining 14,000-acre ranches from the area’s original Mexican land grants. They were jointly determined to build a town and allocated one-half square mile from each of their ranches, for that very purpose.
Los Alamos became a stagecoach stop in 1876 and by 1882, it hosted a depot for the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway that linked San Luis Obispo and Los Olivos. It is now the only surviving depot of the Pacific Coast Railway and currently houses the Depot Antique Mall.
By 1901, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a wider-gauge line that bypassed Los Alamos, and the smaller railway couldn’t compete; it finally shut down in 1938, and Los Alamos became somewhat “frozen in time”, preserving much of the charm and atmosphere of a bygone era.
“It is hardly possible to conceive the existence of a pleasanter location than the Los Alamos Valley, or one combining more valuable resources with natural beauty.”
– John Bell’s biographer, 1883