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Experience Central California Like a Local

Explore local hotspots in Santa Barbara, Monterey, Mammoth, and more

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Posted a month agoby Jessica Sebor

From a neighborhood farmers market where you can score exceptional produce to a cozy wine bar perfect for whiling away an afternoon—sometimes it takes a local expert to recommend that one experience that can transform your whole trip.

The California Locals program gives travelers the opportunity to experience destinations through the eyes of resident experts. If you are planning a vacation to Central California, make sure to check out locals’ favorite spots around the High Sierra, the Central Valley, and the Central Coast.

“I feel like we live in a postcard,” says Cristi Quesada-Costa of Mammoth Lakes. The owner of Dos Alas CubaRican Cafe loves welcoming guests to her restaurant—and helping them make the most of a Mammoth vacation. She says, “I always tell summer visitors to put their bikes on the Lakes Basin Trolley and ride the shuttle up to Horseshoe Lake. Then they can ride their bikes back to The Village at Mammoth on the Lakes Basin Path.”

Central Valley local Enrique Meza grew up in Fresno, but he says it wasn’t until he returned to the area as an adult that he fully appreciated its beauty. Founder of the production company, Meza Films, he’s now a big supporter of Downtown Fresno and the surrounding area. Meza recommends getting a feel for Fresno’s agricultural bounty at the Vineyard Farmers Market. Taste what all that fresh produce can do at Taqueria El Premio Mayor, The Annex Kitchen, and Cracked Pepper Bistro.

Discover a different sort of agricultural hotspot in Monterey County. Evan Oakes leads farm tours and wine-tasting tours through his company Ag Venture Tours. Oakes says when in Monterey you shouldn’t miss the regional delicacy, fresh artichokes. Try deep-fried artichoke hearts at Pezzini Farms—then wash them down with world-class wine at Hahn Estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands or Bernardus Winery in Carmel Valley.

Soak up the Central Coast’s laid-back charm through the eyes of wedding photographer Renoda Campbell. “I love San Luis Obispo because it's just a little quirky,” she says. Campbell’s work is about feeling the love—so she enjoys uncovering her city’s most romantic escapes like the Madonna Inn, a sweet hidden back patio at Linnaea’s Cafe, or a horseback ride along ocean bluffs in Montaña de Oro State Park.

Katie Hayward, Paso Robles

Drive just 30 minutes from SLO and you’ll be in Katie Hayward’s favorite part of California: her hometown of Paso Robles. “I love all our open space,” says the founder of Uncorked Wine Tours who tells visitors to soak up the area’s natural beauty at one of the stunning wineries like Sculpterra, which features a large sculpture garden. In the evening, visit Field of Light at Sensorio, a light display covering 15 gorgeous acres.

When in Santa Barbara, take a page out of Tara Jones’ must-do playbook and spend an evening in the Funk Zone, starting with the octopus ceviche at Santo Mezcal and the apple pie liquor at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits. The founder of the food and photography tour company Eat This, Shoot That! enjoys relaxing in the Sunken Gardens next to the Santa Barbara Courthouse. “It’s filled with flowers and palm trees from more than 25 countries,” she says.

Find more recommendations from in-the-know Central California locals and plan your next trip at California Locals.

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