Historic ranchlands, a romantic coast, country roads, stay-a-while towns, and grapes—lots and lots of grapes—make the Central Coast an outstanding wine country destination. Top vintners have transformed the Central Coast into one of the state’s premier wine regions, with hundreds of wineries to visit in the rolling hills and sunny valleys. Near Monterey, River Road Wine Trail winds into the Santa Lucia Highlands, overlooking expansive farmlands and reminding you that more than grapes grow in this fertile region. Cowboy-friendly Paso Robles has well over 200 wineries and 26,000 acres of vineyards. Here, rural charm mixes it up with contemporary wine country cuisine, not to mention some of the state’s best Rhône-style vintages. Near the college-friendly town of San Luis Obispo, sip wine and take pictures of the elegant, wind-swept Edna Valley at Tolosa and other wineries.
Continue south toward Santa Barbara County to discover Pinot Noir paradise, as coastal fog filters through the east-west oriented Santa Ynez Valley to create one of the state’s most diverse winegrowing regions. Some 42 varietals reflect the rich diversity of growing conditions here. On the north end in Santa Maria Valley, you’ll discover historic ranching traditions and a unique style of barbecue. Taste the best of the area along the Santa Maria Wine Trail—the Santa Maria Wine Trolley gives you hop-on, hop-off access to some of the region’s top tasting rooms. Head south along Highway 246 to visit vineyards and relaxed towns, like Los Olivos and the Danish-settlement town of Solvang. Or take a walk through Santa Barbara’s burgeoning Funk Zone, where urban tasting rooms fill former industrial warehouses, intermixed with art galleries and hip eateries.
If you’re continuing on to Los Angeles and aren’t done tasting yet, stop by the small, laid-back wineries in Ventura County or Oxnard. Or explore the Conejo Valley Wine Trail to visit smaller wineries from Malibu to Thousand Oaks.