It’s a four hour drive from San Francisco south down Highway 101, but once you arrive in San Luis Obispo (SLO), the SLO lifestyle makes it all worth while – relaxed, down to earth and just plain easy. If you time your trip right, you’ll be there when the local wine celebration called “Roll Out The Barrels” is in full swing. The 2009 event happens at the end of April. Here’s what I discovered in 2008 while exploring the “SLO life.”
“Roll Out The Barrels” is an organized weekend of great wine and food. Choose from winery visits, winemaker dinners and the delicious pairing of SLO vintners and local food producers. In addition, stroll the streets of downtown – a combination of Art Deco architecture, converted Old West buildings (now cafes, antique stores, galleries and places to taste wine) and Victorian “painted ladies.” Hike and bike if you’re so inclined – parks and trails are everywhere. The green hills and Mediterranean climate of the Central Coast are alluring. Vistas are endless. There’s a weekly bash at the Thursday Night Farmers’ Market. And don’t forget Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Quality Suites was the economical choice that offered everything I needed – complimentary breakfast, wi-fi and DVDs and within walking distance of downtown. After settling into a two-room suite, I set out to discover SLO. Passing numerous bakeries and coffee houses, I went straight for the wine tasting rooms.
You can do a walk around tasting in downtown SLO without a designated driver. Taste, a wine shop operated by the SLO Vintner’s Association, offers more than 70 local wines from around the county (Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, Avila Beach and Nipomo). If you haven’t tried an Enomatic wine dispensing system yet, this is a fun place to start. Central Coast Wines has a cozy tasting area in the back of the store. It takes it name from the regions it encompasses – San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties as well as Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria and Edna Valley. If you’re looking for a single winery, try Shadow Canyon Cellars. Their estate syrah from York Mountain should definitely be on your “must try” list.
It’s hard not to work up an appetite after all of that walking and tasting. Novo, housed in an old cigar factory situated alongside San Luis Creek, has five patios perfect for outdoor dining. Its name is Portuguese for “new” – an accurate description of the Brazilian, Mediterranean and Asian tapas and flavors. Together with an eclectic interior, it is a hip place (much of the décor comes from owner Robin Covey’s antiquing jaunts). Novo is known for making its own curry pastes as well as roasting and grinding its peanuts and spices. Try the Singapore Chicken Satay, the Roast Duck Breast with penang curry, Malaysian Chicken with a luxurious coconut milk curry and the green beans with pancetta and chillis. If something milder is what you crave, order the Salmon Bisque and Seared Scallops with blood orange-lemongrass beurre blanc. Paired with various local Sexten, Wild Wood and Baileyana wines, it was a delicious evening. The Belgian Dark Chocolate Truffles and port for dessert made for a decadent finish.
Since the Edna Valley (part of SLO wine country) is literally minutes from the center of town, it’s easy to plan a trip that encompasses many of the wineries in the burgeoning region. You’ll be greeted by lush rolling hills, acres of vines and many family-owned wineries. Claiborne & Churchill, Baileyana, Tangent, Wolff and Edna Valley offer all the best of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Zinfandel and more.
Before heading back downtown, stop at the Old Edna Townsite, home to a gourmet deli, antique shop and gallery and Bed & Breakfast. This SLO county landmark is over 100 years old. Picnics and box lunches are their specialty – eat in the Breakfast Cottage, a little gem onsite. It’s an experience to meet owner, Pattea Torrence, also known as the “mayor” of Old Edna. She’ll regale you with stories about the history of the area as well as her preservation efforts.
Time to Roll Out The Barrels. This annual event is held in the plaza of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (founded by Father Juniper Serra in 1772 and the fifth of California’s 21 missions). “Grown here, made here” is featured as more than 40 local vintners, food producers and purveyors offer the best of what SLO has to offer. Enjoy the delicious taste treats, wine samples and watch a demonstration of how to build a handcrafted French oak barrel.
In the evening, choose a winemaker dinner or party on Higuera Street at the Thursday Night Farmers Market. The crowd is overflowing; the produce is sensational, and the aromas from fresh cut flowers and smoky barbeque pits are enticing. If ribs and corn-on-the-cob are what you want, head right for McLintock’s – where you’ll surely need lots of napkins.
On the way back to the San Francisco, I visited San Simeon for a tour of Hearst Castle. Designed by the legendary Julia Morgan in the early 1900s, the Castle of Dreams sits 1600 feet above sea level and five miles up a winding road off Highway 1. The celebrated William Randolph Hearst was always working on his magnificent estate where he spent endless days entertaining Hollywood royalty in the 1930s. The architecture, décor, landscape, pools and views are breathtaking.
SLO offers a laid back vibe in a time of uncertainty. Unwind, enjoy great wine and food, and take in the sites. It’s worth the drive knowing you won’t use your car much while there.
Getting There: San Luis Obispo is 220 miles (about a four hour drive) south of San Francisco on Highway 101 (located at the intersection of Highway 1). Fly direct from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, www.expedia.com/gogreen, www.eco.orbitz.com, http://www.travelgreener.com/Tourist Information: http://www.visitslo.com/; http://www.sanluisobispocounty.com/.
Where to Stay: Quality Suites, Rooms from $144.45; 1631 Monterey Street; Reservations, Information and Specials: 800.424.6423, 805.541.5001; http://www.qualityinn.com.
What to do: Roll Out the Barrels, April 30-May 3. Information and tickets: http://www.slowine.com, 805.541.5868.
Where to Eat: Novo Restaurant & Lounge, Soups & Salads from $8, Tapas-Appetizers from $8, Tapas-Dinner from $15, Vegetables from $8, Curries from $16, Desserts from $8, wines by the bottle from $18. 726 Higuera Street, 805.543.3986, www.novorestaurant.com. Old Edna, Sandwiches from $7.50, 1655 Old Price Canyon Road, 805.544.8062, www.oldedna.com. F. McLintock’s Saloon, Ribs from $17.95, 686 Higuera Street, 805.541.0686, www.mclintocks.com. The Art Café & Bakery, Sandwiches $8.95, 570 Higuera Street, #105, 805.548.8570, www.artcafeandbakery.com.
Don’t Miss: Taste, 1003 Osos Street, 805.269.8278, www.taste-slo.com. Central Coast Wines, 712 Higuera Street, 805.784.9463, www.ccwines.com. Shadow Canyon Cellars, 846 Higuera Street, #5, 805.748.6358, http://www.shadowcanyon.com/vineyard.htm.Claiborne & Churchill Vintners, 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road, 805.544.4066, www.claibornechurchill.com. Baileyana and Tangent, 5828 Orcutt Road, 805.269.8200, www.baileyana-tangent.com, Wolff Vineyards, 6238 Orcutt Road, 805.781.0448, www.wolffvineyards.com. Edna Valley Vineyard, 2585 Biddle Ranch Road, 805.544.5855, www.ednavalleyvineyard.com. Hearst Castle, Tours (reservations recommended): $20 Adults; $10 Children; 805. 927.2020, 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, http://www.hearstcastle.org.