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7 Essential Wine Tasting Destinations

These Central Coast outposts showcase the quality and variety available in this region

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Hitching Post II

You can’t leave the Central California Coast without filling up on Santa Maria barbecue. This regional style of barbecue dates back to the 19th century, when ranchers held Spanish-style cookouts, grilling simply seasoned top-block sirloin and tri-tip over a native local oak species to add a smoky flavor to the meat. That deep fragrance of red oak hangs in the air as you enter the Buellton Hitching Post II. Opened in 1986, the restaurant has roots in a sister restaurant, Casmalia Hitching Post, which opened in 1952. While the menu is varied, it’s the authentic Santa Maria barbecue, especially tri-tip, that draws crowds. Black-and-white images of generations of horsemen hang on the walls in the simply decorated room that may look a little familiar if you’ve watched the film Sideways, which included many scenes shot inside the restaurant. But the best action is behind the window to the kitchen, where owner Frank Ostini and chef de cuisine Bradley Lettau collaborate at the indoor barbecue. Pro tip: Pair your barbecue with Hartley Ostini Hitching Post wines, crafted by Ostini and friend Gray Hartley.

Clos Solène Winery

Romantics may be drawn to Clos Solène for its origin story. Sixth-generation French winemaker Guillaume Fabre promised his love, Solène, their own “clos,” or enclosed vineyard, in the New World if she would come along with him to put down roots. Their Paso Robles winery has even been the subject of a documentary, which was a finalist in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. But the romantic backstory is only a small part of what makes the wine special. Clos Solène produces 11 different wines (mostly Rhône and Cabernet Sauvignon blends), each with its own identity and vineyard site. A year ago, the boutique winery purchased an estate property in the Willow Creek District that has become the new home to Clos Solène Estate—complete with a winery, vineyard, and tasting room. Pro tip: Tastings are available by appointment, and while visitors can purchase a limited amount of select wines, the best opportunity for fans who want open access is to become a member of the wine club (with three- and six-bottle options).

Beckmen Vineyards

Successful first acts often lead to equally successful second acts. After years as leaders and pioneers in the electronic music business, Tom and Judy Beckmen decided to turn their attention to winemaking. Today, with their son, Steve, they’re turning out innovative wines in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos. The winery focuses on Rhône varietals and has two estate vineyards: The 165-acre hillside certified biodynamic Purisima Mountain Vineyard has almost 40 individual blocks of Rhône grape varieties; the 17-acre vineyard that surrounds the winery is planted predominantly with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Swing by to taste (although groups of six or more require reservations) or bring your own picnic and nab a gazebo. For a more in-depth experience, reserve a private tour with a customized wine tasting flight paired with cheese and charcuterie. Four different levels of membership in the wine club offer access to hand-selected bottles, flavor profiles, and recipes to match.

Folktale Winery & Vineyards

In a valley only five miles from the Pacific Ocean, Folktale Winery lives up to its name: The Old World French-style château appears like a castle from childhood fables amid the vineyards and oak trees. On arrival, visitors are greeted with a taste of Sparkling Brut (NV). Like many winemakers in the area, Folktale focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but its wines stand out for their bright acidic style and the minerality of the terroir. Daily tasting hours run into the early evening, and individual glasses and bottles are available, as well as flights of Folktale and reserve wines from single vineyards. The restaurant serves such seasonally inspired small plates as brie and pear bruschetta, shared plates (the crispy octopus is a local favorite), salads, and cheese or charcuterie boards. Pro tips: Save room to sample wine ice cream pops, made of rosé or grenache. Tours (which require reservations) include visits to the vineyards, cellar, and barrel room. And check the winery’s events calendar for yoga classes in the vines, special workshops, and concerts.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

There’s a bit of the Wild West at this luxurious wine country inn. Vintner Fess Parker, of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone TV fame, opened the inn in 1998. Today it’s still run by his family, and you can wade in the nostalgia by visiting the gallery off the lobby, which displays black-and-white images of Parker from his Hollywood days. Each of the 19 spacious rooms and suites is slightly different. Grand Garden rooms have cozy gas fireplaces and views of Los Olivos, while suites with living rooms are expansive enough to spread out and relax. At the Bear and Star restaurant, ingredients for the “refined ranch cuisine” are sourced from the Fess Parker Home Ranch, just seven miles from the inn. Wagyu specialties abound—from carpaccio to burgers, meatloaf to steaks—while the Fess Parker Winery supplies the restaurant with estate-grown Rhône varietals. Lounge by the pool, or drop in at the spa for a massage or facial (a highlight: the Heaven on Earth package, which blends the Unwind massage with a customized Elemis facial). Pro tip: End the evening on a nostalgic note, borrowing a Fess Parker movie from the library for guests.

Carmel Valley Ranch

Those who have only dipped a toe into the Carmel region may think it’s all about the charming coastal community, Carmel-by-the-Sea. But there’s an entire area of Carmel that’s missing from that experience: Carmel Valley. There, the 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch is like a sophisticated summer camp for all ages—a place where you can fill your day with workshops, hilltop yoga, and golf (on an 18-hole course designed by Pete Dye). Nights are for stargazing and making s’mores. The 181 spacious ranch suites are scattered across three neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality—guests can choose views of the valley, the golf course, or small courtyards that attract local wildlife. The ranch grows 7,000 lavender plants, which make their way into treatments at the Spa Aiyana. And because Carmel Valley Ranch is in the heart of one of California’s most fertile growing regions, the area’s wealth of wine and sustainable, organic food is the highlight of the menu at Valley Kitchen. Pro tip: Reserve far in advance for the Wine Dinner Series, hosted by the hotel’s executive chef and sommelier, who match the wines and spirits of Monterey County with locally sourced ingredients.

Tipple & Ramble

This playful picnic and wine shop is quintessentially Ojai. Set in an old Spanish house, Tipple & Ramble sells indoor/outdoor decor, vintage and new barware, retro games, coolers, and small-batch specialty food items. Stock up on artisanal s’mores kits for your next campout; cocktail mixers and trays for entertaining; or cheese knives and handmade cutting boards for a stylish picnic. Then step onto the patio, which feels like entering a neighbor’s bohemian backyard, a lush landscape of palms, cacti, and hammocks. On Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 7 p.m., the patio becomes a wine bar. Try a cheese and charcuterie board or hummus and seasonal vegetables, paired with wine, beer, or Mexican Coke from the bar, which is built into a vintage trailer. Pro tip: The patio faces east, the essential direction to enjoy Ojai’s Pink Moment—the famous sunset that turns everything a glowing pink. Plan to arrive early enough to get a glass of Rosé and snag the table in the front of the yard for the best end-of-day view.

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