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Coasting Along California’s Central Coast

There are several good reasons to visit California’s Central Coast. There are the cool climate wines, dog friendly beaches, and from October to February, monarch butterflies. Did I mention the great wines?

Whether you are traveling south from San Francisco to Los Angeles or the other direction, or simply want a great getaway, the Central Coast is calling. If you are also traveling with your four-legged furperson, then the Central Coast is barking to come and enjoy.

The Bed

Facing the Pacific, Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach is a good marriage of Southern California chic and east coast charm.  The airy and cheerful lobby has inviting seating with hip beach vibe, is decorated with colorful modern art from nearby San Luis Obispo’s Edna Contemporary Gallery, and leads directly to a large patio with fire pits overlooking the ocean’s expanse.

Hallways in gray, blue, and white emit a likeness of the ocean. The 124 guest rooms are spacious, starting at 368-square feet, and most have balconies. The king-sized bed frame in my room was framed in light woods and ecru fabric. Wainscotting and tongue and groove paneling added more coastal pizazz, while the oversize balcony vied for my attention. Most important, the room was equipped with a Lavazza Espresso maker and a tea pot, making mornings delightful and evenings relaxing. High-count cotton linens made sleep dreamy.

Best of all, Vespera is dog-friendly – as is much of the Central Coast. On check-in Rerun the goofy Labrador was given a leash, dog tag, ceramic food bowl, and a package of peanut butter treats. There are several water stations around the hotel and pooch/people gathering spots, including the outdoor deck and the patio. And when it’s time for your pup to play, there are balls, frisbees, and toys to borrow from the Pismo Pup Club. Even better, the beach fronting Vespera is pooch-friendly.

The Meals

At Vespera's Pequin Coastal Cocina, Chef Freddi Piera showcases locally sourced ingredients with a Mexican flair. Braised beet tops with Cabrales Espuma ­ – a creamy Spanish cheese – topped with candied walnuts and pomegranates was a tasty melange and the braised short ribs were so tender so that using a knife was optional. The Starlight Lawn with its firepits was great spot to sip a craft cocktail, such as a Mango Collins rimmed with spicy Tajin, while watching the sunset do its magic.  

Just a stone’s throw from Pismo’s Pier, Splash Café has been serving its acclaimed clam chowder for over 30 years and has been owned by the same proprietor since 1989. The word is obviously out as Splash sells over 40,000 gallons a year of this hearty fare. Splash’s lively and funky atmosphere is a enjoyable place to fill up and people watch.

Shin’s Sushi, a locally owned spot in downtown San Luis Obispo – SLO to locals or those in the know – has daily specials. Try the House Special hand rolls because there’s nothing quite like deep fried salmon among its best friend, the avocado.

Make an advance reservation at  DAOU Vineyards in Paso Robles ­ – more on that later – and enjoy utterly marvelous wines in an atmosphere second to none along with a fantastic meal prepared by DAOU’s new chef, local wunderkind Spencer Johnston.  

The Finds

Although Vespera offers daily morning yoga and stretching classes right on the beach, Rerun’s idea of downward dog instead meant running in the hard pack sand for several miles, joyously digging for seashells, then gleefully body slamming the surf. So my mornings started this way and I was happy to see Vespera also had a hose sprayer available by the boardwalk’s entry to the hotel to ensure Rerun remained clean, coiffed, and her fur coat silky soft.

Though we would have normally hiked the nearby Pismo Preserve with its 10-miles of ranch roads and trails, the weather didn’t cooperate, so we instead engaged in a bit of retail therapy in nearby SLO with its quirky vintage shops, selection of bookstores, and cafés.   

If ice cream floats your boat, Leo Leo Gelato is not to be missed. Made fresh by Master Gelatier Niccolo Lekai using ingredients from their dairy in Paso Robles, Leo Leo has a storefront in downtown Paso, but I got my first fix – a coffee gelato cookie sandwich – at Vespera’s lobby kiosk, the Supply Cove. Sufficiently sated, strolling through Studios on the Park with its vintage car entry showcases several talented local artists was a pleasure. However Rerun much preferred frolicking Paso's lovely grassy town square just fronting it. 

Like a Phoenix rising, at 2,200-feet elevation in Paso Robles Adelaida District, just 10-minutes from downtown Paso, is DAOU Vineyards & Winery, arguably the country’s most beautiful vineyard.

While true that DAOU’s Tuscan-like vistas, European furnishings, and manicured grounds cause visitors to believe they’ve been swiftly transported to the continent without a passport, it’s the inspired, award-winning wines DAOU Mountain produces with the expertise and passion of its owners, brothers Daniel and Georges Daou, that causes guests to be wowed time and again. It's no small wonder that last year DAOU Mountain received over 105,000 visitors to this exquisite locale. With 960-acres and 480 under vine, there is a delightful view for everyone.    

In just over a decade, DAOU Mountain went from a dream to an idea then reality, that not only produces great wines, like its Wine Advocate 97-point 2020 Soul of a Lion, but in many ways has also changed the very landscape of Paso. For many, it has put the entire Central Coast on the oenological map for all to enjoy. Try the wine flight along with a fantastic charcuterie board with artisanal cheeses or enjoy a perfectly prepared pan seared Skuna Bay salmon or steak au poivre by Chef Johnston. What you eat at DAOU, save a bit of room for the Espresso Chantilly. You can thank me later.  

The Lessons Learned   

California’s Central Coast truly has something for everyone. Whether you are seeking excellent cool climate wines, good food, or a relaxing get-away with friends, family, and/or your four-legged furry friends, a few days here will have you scheduling your prompt return.

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at

Julie L. Kessler

Written by Julie L. Kessler

Julie L. Kessler is Money Inc's Senior Travel & Luxury Editor and writes for several major media outlets in the U.S. and overseas. She is also an attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning book "Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight." She can be reached at

Read more posts by Julie L. Kessler

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