San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast epitomize California’s laid-back lifestyle. However, many San Diegans don’t consider these destinations due to the lack of direct travel options. Thankfully, Alaska Airlines now offers nonstop flights from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. A relaxing vacation on the Central Coast is closer than you think!
Once you arrive at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, rent a car and drive ten minutes north to Downtown San Luis Obispo. Check into the Hotel San Luis Obispo or Hotel Cerro and pamper yourself with a massage at one of their upscale spas. As the city’s slogan says, “life’s too beautiful to rush.” After recharging, explore the impressive collection of public art exhibits in the downtown district. Bubblegum Alley is a popular installation with locals and travelers alike. If you would rather shop and eat, browse the boutique stores and indulge your inner foodie at The Carrisa (I am a fan of their small plates and craft tacos). Round out your tour of Downtown San Luis Obispo by visiting the mission or catching a film or show at the Fremont Theater.
Continue your adventures and cruise up the Pacific Coast Highway to Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon. Cayucos is the “Wild Wild West” of the Central Coast with its large population of ranchers. As rooted in tradition as Cayucos is, the community is not afraid to be unique. Where else can you participate in a Polar Bear Dip, Sea Glass Festival, and Sand Sculpture Competition? Next is the sleepy village of Cambria, which is known for its Film Festival and Scarecrow Festival. I found Cambria to be welcoming and charmingly peaceful. While in the neighborhood, stop by Cutruzzola Vineyards; they’ll take care of you with their award-winning Pinot Noir and Riesling wines. On your way to San Simeon, stay at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort and set aside a day for Hearst Castle. In the spring and fall, the estate hosts a Living History program where volunteers reenact what life was like at Hearst Castle during the 1930s! After an exciting trip back in time, have lunch at Hearst Ranch Winery and lounge with a glass of vino on their beachside patio.
Speaking of wine, the answer to “white or red?” is “Paso Robles.” Exploring Paso Robles Wine Country was the highlight of my vacation. I recommend hiring Breakaway Tours to ensure that you have a safe and fun experience. You’re here to relax and enjoy, aren’t you? The Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA), or geographically designated grape-growing region, is a patchwork of 11 subdivisions and is one of the most diverse AVAs in California. Notable wineries include Barton/Grey Wolf, Denner, Caliza, Thacher, DAOU, Desparada, and Giornata. The owners are winemakers themselves and 95% of their production is family operated. It takes true passion for the craft to preserve that level of integrity. My favorite part about touring Paso Robles’ Wine Country was having the opportunity to talk to each of the proprietors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; they are happy to share their knowledge about viticulture, challenge your palate, and connect you to the magic of Paso Robles.
Half an hour east of wine country is the quaint city of Downtown Paso Robles. Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at The Piccolo and perk up with a cup of Joe at Spearhead Coffee. Wander around Tin City, an industrial market that features the works of local artisans. It is a diverse gathering of makers, tinkerers, craft brewers, distillers, and vintners. Insider tip: Giornata Winery and Desparada Winery have tasting rooms at Tin City. If you are more of a hard cider person, try the creative apple brews at Tin City Cider. Don’t forget to eat at the Tin Canteen and pick up handmade pasta from Etto. Dining options that are closer to downtown include Fish Gaucho and Les Petites Canailles.
Paso Robles shares a deep appreciation for the arts with San Luis Obispo. Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation at Sensorio attracts thousands of visitors each year. Once the sun sets, Munro’s blanket of solar “flowers” slowly bloom into a field of changing colors (I felt like I was in Avatar). Do not miss it! Additionally, Paso Robles prides itself on hosting a variety of other celebrations such as the Olive Festival, Wine Festival, Firestone Beer Festival, and Pioneer Days. There always seems to be something happening in this dynamic city, which is why I love it as much as I do.
Now that you know what California’s best-kept secret has to offer, don’t you owe it to yourself to “SLO” down and un”wine”d on the Central Coast?