Review: The Cuyama Buckhorn Is the Platonic Ideal of the California Roadside Inn
It’s #robelife for everybody at this newly renovated high-desert property
Location, location, location — it’s the cardinal rule of travel, real estate and event planning. What defines a coveted location, though, shifts: these days location is less about a packed “it” spot and more about covering new ground. If it’s remote, that’s better. And if it’s outdoors, that’s ideal.
During this strange in-between time — with some vaccines administered but lots of uncertainty lingering — the Cuyama Buckhorn, a newly renovated roadside inn in the remote high desert of Santa Barbara, is an ideal destination. It’s just over two hours from L.A. and a little over five from San Francisco; unlike the packed coastal regions, the desert is truly a realm of its own, where the stark, ever-changing beauty of the desert feels even more welcome after months sticking to our overly familiar, quarantined worlds.
Of course, New Cuyama will likely share the same fates — and popularity — of neighboring destinations like Ojai, Scottsdale and Joshua Tree as things return to normal. Which makes it all the more reasonable to head there now. Even during these trying times, the Buckhorn is a notable success, laser-focused on not just the essentials, but on a cascade of tiny, finishing touches that make all the differences when you’re trying to find a home away from home. Here are the highlights.
A heated pool, jacuzzi and barrel sauna make #robelife the move for this desert haven.
While New Cuyama’s meager population is a local punchline, the Buckhorn takes its reputation as the best game in town very seriously — in fact, their kitchen offers the only full-service restaurant for miles. It’s doing the work nonetheless: A complete overhaul and redesign of the former motel transformed ample acreage of drive-up parking spots into a private, outdoor oasis designed for #robelife aficionados. Aside from the all-weather, heated outdoor pool, a brand new addition to the property, there’s a substantial jacuzzi and even a barrel sauna. Get settled after your drive up from the city by shedding street clothes for a cozy, Buckhorn-embroidered robe, and settle into the warm water while gazing at a magnificent desert sunset.
Batched cocktails are a balm for most pandemic-related problems — and pack a punch
Poolside happy hour from 4:30-5:30 PM ensures you can start your weekend early, indulging in the bar’s carefully batched, expertly mixed Mason jar cocktails that easily serve 3-4 drinks per jar. From Bloody Marys to margaritas or Manhattans, these beverages pack a punch and make the water, sun, and desert view that much more enjoyable. If water isn’t your thing, get comfortable flirting with the outdoor pool table, navigating a full-size bocce ball court, or lounging around the resort’s private grassy lawn or multiple fire pits. My best advice? Nab that robe, no matter your activity — it’s that cozy.
The property’s restaurant and bar alone is worth the trip
As mentioned earlier, this roadside inn is a massive force in the tiny town of New Cuyama, and a big part of that is thanks to their excellent food and drink. It might be the middle of nowhere, but the menu at the Buckhorn is on par with any trendy new restaurant in Los Angeles proper. Meat lovers will be particularly excited about options like the Santa Maria tri-tip, which is smoked on the property’s very own historic red-oak grill, and comes as a sandwich at lunch or as part of a smoked meat platter. Same goes for the pulled pork and three kinds of burgers, with the Bacon and Bleu option a clear favorite for its healthy serving of housemade bacon.
There’s plenty of options for any vegetarians, too, like the roasted tomatillo Caesar with spicy parmesan cracklings, or veggie tacos served with chips and salsa, and even a seasonal pasta that can be served meatless upon request. The Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar is open to the public, so even if you’re not staying at the inn for some reason but find yourself in the area, definitely stop in to experience the delicious, locally sourced dishes.
Recently renovated rooms offer minimalistic, western chic that doesn’t skimp on luxury
A western vibe sometimes means sacrificing comfort for the sake of the bit, but even as Buckhorn lives up to its name, the rooms go above and beyond what’s expected for a boutique hotel. The beds are incredibly soft and firm, outfitted with luxe Brooklinen sheets, while a massive indoor shower that’s almost as big as the whole bathroom in my Los Feliz studio is stocked with local Furthur products and brand-new fixtures. A fully stocked mini-bar for those who want to drink in private includes local vodka, gin, and even brandy bottled at a local Ventura distillery.
Every room also offers its own semi-private patio, so you can enjoy the outdoors without necessarily needing to be around others, especially as social distancing is still a concern. It’s these small details that make the rooms feel cozy but upscale, perfect for escaping the chaos or familiarity of your own apartment for a few nights. One of my favorite finishing touches? A s’mores kit, complete with sticks — roasting marshmallows at one of the fire pits is a sweet way to end the night, or potentially bond with your fellow travelers.
An in-house coffee shop and country store mean you never have to leave the grounds.
For breakfast, custom boxes can be delivered to your room with housemade granola, soft-boiled eggs, or overnight oats, but even if you have breakfast in bed, make sure to head down to the in-house coffee shop — their Americanos are subtle but caffeine-charged, and the bevy of baked goods, especially the homemade biscuits, might tempt tempt you away from a healthier start. The coffee shop also hosts the property’s local market goods, with everything from hotel merch (the crewneck is on point) to buttermilk, fresh bread, honey, and even a California Poppy growing kit. Stock up on a slew of unique birthday gifts, all while supporting area makers and impressing your friends.
Visit tasting rooms like Sagebrush Annies and Condor’s Hope, or explore the desert
Local wine is a huge part of the offerings at Cuyama Buckhorn, and two tasting rooms — Condor’s Hope and Sagebrush Annie’s — offer guests the chance to experience the region’s varietals. Sagebrush Annie’s owner, 87-year-old Larry Hogan, still personally runs the tastings at his shop, and may very well regale you with stories about his long career as a cattle farmer before turning to wine making late in life. (Make sure to set up an appointment before showing up at the wineries.) If wine isn’t on the menu, check out the Aliso Park campground for an easy, flat hike before heading home. Or, you know, staying poolside in that fluffy robe until the last possible moment is totally acceptable, too.
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