Figueroa Mountain Brewery
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

Craft Breweries of the Central Coast

Craft Breweries of the Central Coast
Finding a home in wine country and college towns

If we believe (as we should) that San Luis Obispo (aka SLO) County has the correct ratio of breweries to population, then there should be at least 33,000 breweries across the United States (at last count, there were just over 6,000 or so). Clearly the rest of the country has some catching up to do. This is a beer-lover’s paradise: more than a dozen microbreweries now produce award-winning beers here.

But let’s begin this tour of Central Coast breweries 30 miles to the north, in Paso Robles. There, the enormous—and perennial medal-winner—Firestone Walker Brewing Company invites you to take a tour of its brewery, before relaxing with seasonal bistro fare in The Taproom restaurant.

Heading south, to the aforementioned brewing hotbed of San Luis Obispo, don't miss the first brewery to enter the field, way back in 1988: SLO Brew. Naturally popular in this youthful and lively university town, SLO Brew is still going strong, and among the best brewers to have joined it since then are Central Coast Brewing, as well as Tap It, Barrelhouse, 7Sisters  and Bang the Drum breweries.  

Less than 15 miles away, on the coast itself, at the dramatic meeting of earth and sea that is Morro Bay, gastropub brewer The Libertine Pub offers an eclectic menu and spirited beers. Heading south a bit, into the heart of the Central Coast’s wine country, you’ll find father-and-son run Figueroa Mountain Brewery, which has five tap rooms stretching from Arroyo Grande down to Westlake Village, just north of Los Angeles. Also further south, in Goleta, Hollister Brewing Company has up to 15 different creations on tap at any given time. And of course Santa Barbara, with its proximity to Isla Vista, home of UC Santa Barbara and over 20,000 university students, has a few breweries of its own too: Pure Order Brewing Company, Third Window Brewing and Telegraph Brewing Co. should all be on any beer lover’s must-visit list.

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Alex Farnum

Discover the Central Coast

Your next stop, San Luis Obispo, may just be the perfect embodiment of the Central Coast. With its nuanced food and wine scene, rich history, and a decidedly mellow vibe, SLO (as the locals call it) is a must-see. This college town also features a slice of ranch culture—thanks to the area’s Santa Maria-style barbecue—and has ranked in past surveys as one of the happiest cities in America.

The spirit of downtown SLO is captured in Mission Plaza and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which dates back to 1772 and overlooks the plaza. Explore the mission and its museum or show up on summer Friday nights for live music on the plaza. Year-round the first Friday of the month offers Art After Dark, with downtown SLO galleries opening their doors for wine tastings, snacks, and chats with local artists. A few blocks away, every Thursday evenings, you can find the city’s farmers market, a showcase for San Luis Obispo’s culinary landscape, including local tri-tip, tamales, craft beer (sample those at The Libertine Brewing Company), and the acclaimed clam chowder from Splash Café. Enjoy the locally sourced scene more intimately at Novo Restaurant & Lounge, which pairs a globally inspired menu with an idyllic creek-side setting.

Be sure to pay a visit to the 110-room Madonna Inn when you are in town. You can finish the day with a slice of the famed pink champagne cake and then retire in one of its quirky themed rooms, such as the Caveman, the Love Birds, and the Fox & Hound.

SLO delivers the goods on the wine-tasting front. Bottles bearing the world-renowned Paso Robles appellation can be found only about 30 miles away. But don’t miss the nearby Edna Valley region, in particular the Chardonnays of Edna Valley Vineyard and the Pinot Noirs of Tolosa. Then, check out the under-the-radar wineries of Arroyo Grande Valley, including the sparkling wines at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery.

San Luis Obispo County—a.k.a. SLO CAL—is home to an array of cool small towns, too. On your way into SLO, try the epic tri-tip at Jocko’s steak house in Nipomo, explore the dunes at Pismo Beach, and then say hi to the lounging sea lions off the coast of Avila Beach. Other essential stops as you then head north toward Hearst Castle include the harbour village Morro Bay, beachy Cayucos, and picturesque Cambria, set on beautiful seaside bluffs.

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