Going Coastal: CA Central Coast

Hugging the Pacific shoreline, California’s stunning Central Coast wine region is home to pretty much every vineyard from San Jose to Santa Barbara. 

Published: 3/21/2018

Hugging the Pacific shoreline, California’s stunning Central Coast wine region is home to pretty much every vineyard from San Jose to Santa Barbara. It embraces San Luis Obispo County, home to Paso Robles and SLO Wine Country (Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys), and Santa Barbara County, home to Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys. Everywhere you go, you’ll be amazed by how much there is to see, taste, and do.

 

SAN LUIS OBISPO (SLO) COUNTY

With 80 miles of rugged coastline, there are plenty of spectacular places to hike, bike, and kayak. Start your exploration of SLO County on Montana de Oro State Park’s rugged cliffs and secluded sandy beaches. For a 360-degree sea-to-mountain view, scale Bishop Peak, the tallest of a chain of ancient volcanic peaks called the Nine Sisters. With two distinct wine regions nearby, it’s easy to go from an exhilarating outdoor adventure to something a bit tamer—like tasting wine, olive oil, and spirits.

More than 200 wineries in Paso Robles are located on Paso’s east, west, and “far out” west sides. They’re not hard to find, but as an extra convenience take the Wine Line, a door-to-door hop-on, hop-off shuttle service. Or look into a tour company. Central Coast Jeep Tour Adventures can take you on roads less traveled to wineries less known in an open-air jeep.

The region is also becoming a leader in small, quality olive oil production, and there are many artisan producers ready to show you why. In the hills of Paso Robles, check out Kiler Ridge Olive Farm where you may take an olive production tour, walk in the orchard, and enjoy a tasting at the farm’s eco-friendly straw bale building.

Paso’s craft spirit movement is also in full force. The list of local distilleries—which began in most cases as local winemakers’ pet projects—is expanding. They’re all making different types of spirits including small batch gin, vodka, whiskey, limoncello, brandy, and rye. A Paso Robles Distillery Trail map is available at pasoroblesdistillerytrail.com. Or head to the Wine Boss Lounge in downtown Paso Robles for the latest local craft brews, wines, and spirits. Paso’s walkable downtown has many excellent restaurants, unique shops, and tasting rooms. Paso Wine Centre touts the county’s largest by-the-glass wine list and 48 hard-to-find local wines at the Enomatic tasting machines.

Just about 30 minutes down Highway 101, you’ll come to SLO Wine Country where most of its 30 wineries can be found within five miles of the beach. If you can, take a free guided hike up Pecho Coast to the Point San Luis Lighthouse. The trail is open to 20 hikers each Wednesday and 40 hikers each Saturday. Pismo Beach is an ideal launch point for kayaking. Spend a good part of the day investigating spectacular rocks, caves, cliffs, and beaches.

It’s so easy to combine coastal adventures with wine tasting because the bulk of SLO Wine Country can be covered within a 15- to 20-minute drive. The tasting rooms speak to the uniqueness of this region. Find: Sextant Wines’ tasting room and gourmet deli in the historic town site of Old Edna, Silver Horse Winery in the old one-room Santa Fe Schoolhouse, Biddle Ranch Vineyard’s chic mountain and vineyard-facing terrace, and Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard’s funky barn in the heart of an apple orchard—a popular spot for gourmet food trucks and peacocks.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

For many, the name “Santa Barbara” is synonymous with the idyllic seaside city blessed with beautiful beaches and Spanish architecture that bears its name. But there is so much more. Santa Barbara Wine Country begins about 30 minutes inland from the city of Santa Barbara, just over the Santa Ynez Mountain range in Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley.

In the northern part of the county, Santa Maria Valley, offers wide open spaces, simplicity, and a style all its own. It’s home to six distinct AVAs, more than 30 tasting rooms, and dozens of restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, but Santa Maria–style barbecue reigns supreme. Make sure to include a meal at Far Western Tavern, the bastion for this native tradition, in your plans.

Winegrapes grown here are outstanding, but strawberries are this valley’s highest yielding crop. Watch for strawberry stands from mid-spring to early fall, or score baskets of the succulent gems at the Santa Maria Certified Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons or at the Orcutt Certified Farmers Market early Tuesdays. Speaking of Orcutt, this charming town is on the upswing with several tasting rooms and other businesses worth checking out. You’ll also find a variety of golf courses in and around Santa Maria Valley featuring stunning greens with panoramic mountain views and highly affordable rates.

Somewhere down the Foxen Wine Trail, Santa Ynez Valley begins. This picturesque valley encompasses six communities— Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang. Each has its own vibe, and it’s fun to visit them all.

You can drive, but cycling makes the adventure feel more real. Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours offers packages to accommodate riders with all levels of experience. The Happy Canyon Cycling Tour takes you past vineyards and pastures to the base of Figueroa Mountain. Following a farm-to-table lunch and tasting at a winery, the ride continues into beautiful Ballard Canyon.

Want to express the beauty you’ve found in Santa Barbara County? Gypsy Studios in Solvang offers a great weekly outdoor class: Painting in the Vineyard. Students are encouraged to relax and paint while they enjoy a glass of estate wine in an ideal stress-free environment. A trained, local artist guides the step-by-step painting process. 


 

EXPLORE: SANTA BARBARA'S FUNK ZONE

Make sure to check out this hip urban pocket of downtown Santa Barbara. Its converted warehouses and buildings displaying graffiti murals and contemporary artwork set the scene. Boutique tasting rooms, galleries, surf shops, and a range of restaurants offer plenty of ways to spend an afternoon, just a couple of blocks from the beach and Amtrak station.


 

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As seen in the issue Spring 2018 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.