Looking for a New Desert Destination? This May Be It

At a new retreat in the Cuyama Valley, a mix of cowboy charms and midcentury design make for a delightfully low-key, high-style desert getaway

If you’ve ever dreamed of Joshua Tree without the Instagrammers and the pressure to trek around a national park every day, this might be the place.

Located in the high desert of Santa Barbara County—about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from L.A. and at roughly the same altitude as J. Tree—Cuyama Buckhorn offers a funky, arid retreat in an area brimming with open space and just enough things to do to make for a relaxing getaway.

The roadside resort was built in 1952 when New Cuyama was an oil boomtown for ARCO. Petroleum and gas production eventually declined, and now agriculture is the main industry for the whistle-stop, which has a population around 700.

In 2018, Ferial Sadeghian and Jeff Vance, partners in the West Hollywood–based architectural firm iDGroup, purchased the Buckhorn with the aim of restoring it to its glory days. “You could see the bones of a beautiful midcentury building,” Sadeghian recalls, noting that the resort was designed by noted architect George Vernon Russell, responsible for icons like the Hollywood Reporter building on Sunset Boulevard and the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

The pair have lovingly renovated the property to create a stylish, low-key luxe, and sustainability-minded vacation spot. A new pool, which debuted earlier this year, and a barrel sauna overlook open plains, a picturesque abandoned building once occupied by the Burger Barn, and the setting sun. The leathery smell of P.F. Candle Co.’s teak-and-tobacco scent breezes through indoor areas. At night, guest gather around cozy fires—including one in a vintage ochre-glazed outdoor Malm stove—dotting the two-acre grounds. Sadeghian says the Cuyama Valley has drawn comparisons to both Joshua Tree and Marfa, Texas, but notes that the area is many years away from such developed destinations. Still, it does offers a similar sense of funky surprises among beautiful desolation. “People don’t expect this.”


Cuyama Buckhorn

The 21 guest rooms have been remodeled in a style Sadeghian calls “midcentury cowboy”: rustic woods mingle with clean lines; cowhide rugs rest upon patterned, black-and-white tiles from the 1950s. Amenities include semiprivate patios; soft Brooklinen towels; bath products from the buzzy, eco-minded Los Angeles company Further; complimentary instant Verve coffee, Tea Pigs teabags, and s’more kits. A thoughtful mini bar is packed with locally made booze and snacks.


Cuyama Buckhorn

The inn’s Buckhorn Restaurant is pretty much the only game in town. Thankfully, it serves tasty, affordable rustic fare made with local ingredients—from a Santa Maria tri-tip sandwich ($15) to a roasted tomatillo Caesar salad ($12). An adjoining coffeeshop offers up pastries; espresso drinks; and a fridge stocked with staples, like premixed jars of fresh margaritas. At press time, the restaurant was open for dinner only on weekends, but guests may order supper nightly to be enjoyed in their rooms, on their patios, or among the myriad delightful outdoor vignettes on the property. The stunning bar is closed amid COVID-19 but promises to be an atmospheric spot for cocktails.


cuyama buckhorn

Laze around the pool, take in a sauna, or pretend to play bocce while sipping a local microbrew. Go for a hike in picturesque Aliso Park or Carrizo Plain. Tour and taste at Condor’s Hope winery (condorshope.com), or frolic with goats named after RuPaul’s Drag Race characters at Cuyama Oaks Ranch (@cuyamaoaks).

The Bottom Line

Cuyama Buckhorn

Friendly to guests with pets and children—and to design devotees with neither—this is a chic retreat for those looking for well-appointed desert relaxation. But if you’re seeking a bustling shopping and restaurant scene and more-formal notions of luxury, this might not be the destination for you.

Cuyama Buckhorn, Rooms from $229 a night; 4923 Primero St., New Cuyama.

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