“We used to call it the Bates Motel,” says Los Alamos restaurateur Will Henry as he visits my table at Pico on a bustling “burger night.” He’s referring to the Skyview, an iconic roadside motel perched on a hill just off the 101. Built in 1954, it’s been a fixture of the area for generations.
Above clockwise from left: Skyview Hotel, Cambria Beach Lodge, Cuyama Buckhorn
In 2020 the large “motel” sign may still be visible, but this is hardly the looming, drive-up terminus of the past. No longer just for the weary overnight traveler, it’s become a destination all to its own.
Skyview Hotel (they traded in the “motel” post-renovation) follows a common trend throughout tourist towns in California: Turn small, dilapidated travel lodgings into shiny, design- forward boutique hotels. In Skyview’s case, the once foreboding property got a full makeover while preserving its mid-century roots.
Above: Skyview Hotel
There are 33 rooms, each with a private deck, which accommodate both guests and their animal companions. Next to the ’50s-style pool, there’s the on-property eatery Norman’s (yes, as in Bates), which serves up a chic retro vibe and devilish libations.
The reemergence of Skyview in Los Alamos helps draw a younger, hipper crowd to the once sleepy town. The main drag had already attracted the likes of Will, who is a Santa Maria winemaker in addition to owner of Pico. For him, Los Alamos has a bright future, and the rebirth of Skyview only enhances the town’s profile. (9150 US-101, Los Alamos, skyviewlosalamos.com)
Just off historic Highway 1 in charming Cambria, Cambria Beach Lodge was one of the first to reimagine the roadside hotel for a new kind of customer. A few steps from the ocean, the hotel’s overarching aesthetic reflects the “surf, wheels and timber” that epitomize the Central Coast. Sun-bleached floors and turquoise blue accents brighten the surf shack ambience, and yellow bikes await your journey into town—where you might settle on a meal at local favorite Robin’s.
The location makes for an easy trek to Hearst Castle. But if you’d rather avoid the crowds, consider a bike ride along the coast or head to the hills for some relaxed and refreshing wine tasting. (6180 Moonstone Road, Cambria, cambriabeachlodge.com)
An even newer motel-turned-hotel offering takes you deep into Santa Barbara County to New Cuyama and Cuyama Buckhorn. Located on historic Route 166 in the high desert, this 1952 gem is more tucked away than the others, though they do have Tesla chargers on-site! This tells you a little about the ideal customer—the weekend traveler who wants Western romance and clear, starry skies but still prefers a handful of welcome amenities.
Highlights include a sparkling pool, free WiFi and Bluetooth radios, and The Buckhorn Restaurant and Bar. While the inn is only open on weekends, the restaurant serves up hospitality seven days a week, as does its sister eatery, The Buck Stop coffee shop. A local hub for more than 60 years, the restaurant brings travelers and locals to one space for kick-ass cuisine and conversation. This is the true spirit of the roadside stop. It’s nice to see it alive and thriving. (4923 Primero Street, New Cuyama, cuyamabuckhorn.com)
The Buck Stop