SLO down! Three hours outside of Los Angeles or San Francisco is a peaceful getaway to relax and recharge - the quieter Central Coast, where 32,000 acres of rolling bucolic vineyards flourish, open space and natural beauty abound, and charming towns pop up along the rugged coastline. Take a road trip or a long weekend and immerse yourself in "SLO CAL" where the sun shines 315 days per year. Combine multiple locations in one day or let your adventure take you where you need to go.
Start your exploration in Paso Robles, sipping vino. Vineyards are more relaxed and personal than Napa boasting some of the best cool climate grapes. A good place to begin is the winding roads to Halter Ranch Vineyard for tasty Cabs in their beautiful facility and glorious grounds. If extra time permits, take a complimentary tour of their underground wine cave.
Nearby, sample olive oils in 11 different varieties made right on site at Pasolivo, a 45-acre olive tree ranch. Cold pressed small batches with no adulteration provide high-quality health benefits, and a reason to leave with a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil.
Locals also recommend world-class vineyards such as Justin, Tablas Creek, Opolo, Denner, Law (reservations needed), Bodega de Edga, Daou, and Tin City - a two block radius of tasting rooms, breweries, and distilleries.
Make your way to RE:Find Distillery at Villicana where they craft unique spirits using sustainable methods like using the leftover saignee (grape juice) from their vineyards, removed prior to fermentation to enhance wine quality. As the base material for their alcohol, signee provides a sweeter, softer finish on the palette. The flavors linger in your mouth and are easy to drink by themselves. We recommend RE:Find's cucumber-flavored vodka, kumquat liqueur, and limoncello.
While in Paso Robles, walk around and browse the numerous shops. Grab food at Thomas Hill Organics, a chic bistro featuring a changing menu with local farm ingredients. Eat in the back outdoor patio and sip on a local wine with your meal. Stay nearby in low key Atascadero at the restored Carlton Hotel for a clean comfortable affordable room with a Jacuzzi style tub. Fresh pastries can be purchased next door or a morning cup of Jo and a homemade quiche is just a short walk away, at Bru Coffee.
Head to the coast to visit the Hearst Castle ranch in San Simeon. Weekdays are better, with fewer crowds. Book a tour in advance, like the Grand Rooms tour. Expect a harrowing bus ride to this enchanted hilltop estate that was built from 1919 to 1947. Marvel at the design, art, and antiques, while pondering the life of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Don't miss the Elephant Seals Vista Point, 5 miles north of Hearst Castle, where barking huge seals cuddle, frolic, and nurse their young on the sandy beach.
From San Simeon, head south to Morro Bay, a sleepy seaside town facing a giant volcanic rock and a world-class National Estuary in eyesight of this Gibraltar of the Pacific. Book a private kayak session with John Flaherty of Central Coast Outdoors and paddle over the glassy water surrounded by numerous birds, seals, and fish. Don't miss the oyster bed and the beach made up of 50 years of oyster shells. Right outside the dock is Bayside Café, an excellent lunch spot for generous portions of fish and chips and clam chowder. Spend a night watching the sunset dip while dining at one of the dockside restaurants serving local fish and big juicy clams. Six miles southwest is Montaña de Oro State Park - a worthwhile visit to walk on the secluded small rocky beaches and windswept hiking trails on rugged cliffs hanging over the ocean.
Head back inland to the adorable town nicknamed SLO (San Luis Obispo) - known as the happiest place in America - to stay in the heart at SLO Brew Lofts, located right above a pub on Higuera Street. My loft had exposed brick, full kitchen, elevated comfy bed, a record player, yoga mat, board games, and more hip fanfare. Right outside, SLO's Downtown Thursday night Farmer's Market shuts down the street, with food vendors, live music, and shopping till late. BBQ seemed to be a real hit as crowds lined up down the street for several joints grilling a variety of meats. Vegetable Butcher is a new spot not to miss, offering meat, seafood, and vegan lovers a playful diverse cuisine like Vegetable Loaded Queso Dip and Curried Sweet Potato and Corn Tacos.
Round out your trip with a drive on the pier at Avila Bay, a sunset seafood dinner at picturesque, cliff-side Ventana Grill in Pismo Beach, and a peaceful sleep at the surf-style luxe Inn at the Pier, where the ocean crashes right outside your room.
Find your own pace in SLO CAL.
Written by Melissa Curtin
Read more posts by Melissa Curtin