A scenic 140 mile drive northwest from Los Angeles will land you in idyllic New Cuyama, CA. This slice of California’s high desert is a destination where the journey is just as much of a prize as arriving in the quaint town located east of Central California’s wine country. En route, expect to see pastoral landscapes including high desert vineyards and bison farms as you approach the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. We love a quick jaunt to New Cuyama for a few days of relaxation (a.k.a. peace and quiet); our recommendations for what to do in New Cuyama, CA are listed below.
Ranching culture rules supreme in New Cuyama and dates back to the mid 1800s when land was deeded out. A brief oil boom in the 1940s and 1950s spurred much of the town’s infrastructure, and a modern day visit reveals these mid-century details still prevail throughout town. The key attraction for those spending a night or two in town is the revitalized Cuyama Buckhorn – which offers chic rooms, a coffee shop, and the town’s only bar and restaurant.
Where to Stay: the Best Places to Stay in New Cuyama, CA
Relax under the open skies at Cuyama Buckhorn. Photo c/o Cuyama Buckhorn.
The Cuyama Buckhorn dates back to 1952 and has been a centerpiece of the community ever since. Back in the day, oil executives would land on the airstrip at what’s now the Blue Sky Center for meetings, then grab a bite to eat and stay overnight at the Cuyama Buckhorn. This iconic hotel & restaurant was also a local haunt for Johnny Cash during the 1960’s when he lived in nearby Ojai, in the height of his wild days.
This classic roadside motel got a major facelift in recent years and has been transformed into a cozy contemporary hub perfect as your homebase to unwind or explore the valley. Inside and out, the mid-century meets modern West inspired decor blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, while the mini-bar is stocked with local sips and snacks.
Steps from the beautiful guest rooms, The onsite Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar continues to be a gathering place for visitors and locals alike. while the pool is the perfect spot to take in the big sky scenery with a coffee or cocktail in hand. Rates begin at $219/night at the Cuyama Buckhorn.
Glamping accommodations at the Blue Sky Center. Photo: Alex Nye.
Located right in town the Blue Sky Center offers quirky huts and camping on a repurposed oil company headquarters that was built during the region’s oil boom. Additionally, Cuyama Oaks Ranch is a quick 10 minute drive from town and offers more camping and glamping options – complete with an onsite petting zoo (which we always love).
Where to Dine: Our Favorite Spots to Eat in New Cuyama, CA
Options in New Cuyama are limited, but you’ll never go hungry thanks to the excellent fare at Cuyama Buckhorn. Photo: Stephanie Russo.
Dining options are limited in town with three core offerings located at the Cuyama Buckhorn. The Buck Stop Coffee Shop serves espresso and fresh baked pastries daily while The Buckhorn Restaurant offers farm-to-table comfort classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Don’t miss sampling local wine and spirits while mingling with the locals at The Buckhorn Bar which serves as a hub for residents of Cuyama Valley.
If you are heading out on an adventure, DIY your own picnic from the grocery store, or order a prepared picnic basket or packed lunch from the Buckhorn Restaurant, or try one of the neighboring towns’ offbeat dining options. Just up Highway 166 Tina’s Diner is a local mainstay in Maricopa for classic diner fare. Stop for a slice of pie (or sample from the full dining and drink menu) at The Place on your way to the Los Padres National Forest on Highway 33.
Where to Drink: Local Mead and Wine Tastings in New Cuyama, CA
While you’re visiting, sample session-style meads made with local Cuyama Valley honey at Cuyama Beverage Co. Photo: Jeff Uzzel.
If visiting the region in the spring, it’s impossible to miss the springtime bloom. Celebrate the seasonal bounty sip by sip via several varieties of session-style meads made with local Cuyama Valley honey by Cuyama Beverage Co located right in town.
Sample some of the local wines or pick up a souvenir at the nearby vineyards. Condor’s Hope Vineyard specializes in dry farmed grapes and olives with a focus on sustainable practices towards the high desert landscape that only receives about 15 inches of rain per year. Consult the website to book a wine tasting or for special events like yoga in the vineyard. Sagebrush Annie’s offers tastings by appointment only, but it is well worth arranging a visit to explore the unique property and learn from the proprietors Larry & Karina Hogan’s 20 years of history on this land.
What to Do In & Around New Cuyama, CA: Ranching, Trail Rides, and Carrizo Plain National Monument
Explore New Cuyama’s rich high desert and ranching landscapes. Photo: Noe Montes.
Cuyama Valley is a slice of high desert landscape perfect for exploring nearby national monuments and forests or for exploring the local ranching culture. You’ll also discover producers and providers intent on preserving and educating about this ecologically significant landscape. Just over an hour’s drive away you can stargaze from Mt. Pinos, one of Southern California’s best amateur stargazing locations.
Local organization Blue Sky Center focuses on creating rural resilience for Cuyama Valley residents by fueling creative projects and collaborations to showcase all that the valley has to offer. Check the website for upcoming events, to visit the campus, or for atist in residency programming.
Head to Cuyama Oaks Ranch for an animal farm tour and petting zoo experience. 3aster 3gg: Spend Johnny’s cash, hitch another ride. Hike the on-site trails on this 82 acre property off Highway 166.
Saddle up for some adventure with local equestrian outfitters. Explore historical sights on a trail ride, camp under the stars, or experience a cattle drive with Johnston Horse Camp to experience the Cuyama Valley like a local. Get up close and personal with a horse bonding excursion at Hidden Creek Ranch or up the ante on your equine adventure with a horseback archery session.
Adventuring in Cuyama Valley is not complete without a trip to the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Be prepared as the monument has no services and many dirt roads which may become impassable with rain. Soda Lake’s white alkali flats cover about 3,000 acres of land and is the main geological attraction here. Take the Soda Overlook and Boardwalk Trail for a view of the lake and the San Andreas Fault. Visit the elaborate pictograph site of the Chumash people dating back 3,000-4,000 years ago at Painted Rock near the Goodwin Education Center – plan ahead as advance registration is required.
With access to many nearby monuments, forests, and other recreational areas hikers have their pick of local trails. Do a day trip from town or plan ahead to get your trail fix on the way to or from New Cuyama. Enjoy the charm of this high desert valley for a day or two before slipping back to the city.
Our Lodging Picks for New Cuyama, CA
Boutique hotel Cuyama Buckhorn has the coziest rooms, an onsite bar/restaurant, pool, sauna and more. Rooms begin around $219/night.
Glamping options at Cuyama Oaks Ranch offers a range of accommodations, beginning around $199/night for its private yurts.