What started as a humble cherry stand in 1908 is now a massive roadside attraction, welcoming more than 3 million visitors each year. Located 40 miles northeast of Monterey, Casa de Fruta in Hollister is a comforting spot to cool your heels or even spend the night. With a 10,000-square-foot market, 24-hour restaurant, sweetshop, RV park,14-room inn and playground, there’s something at Fruta for the whole family.
“My great-uncles came from Calabria, Italy, to plant the very first orchards in the Pacheco Valley”, says Casa de Fruta partner Gene Zanger. The Central Coast attraction has remained in the family’s hands since its inception. Zanger remembers laying brick in front of the shop when he was just 12 years old; now his own children play on the property. “There are peacocks that roam the property”, he says, “and there’s something in kids that makes them love to chase them around”.
The market, which Zanger calls “the soul of the operation”, sells dried fruit, nuts, wine, gourmet goods and fresh produce from all over the state. Visitors can try strawberries from Watsonville, pistachios from Fresno, garlic from Gilroy and more. The family’s wine is offered in the traditional white, red and blush—but Zanger says that visitors most often leave with a bottle of Casa de Fruta’s signature pomegranate wine.
The restaurant is open 24 hours a day. “In 1957, we put a sign up that said, ‘We never close’. And we haven’t since”, Zanger says. Diners can dig into hearty meals like meatloaf, pot roast and fish and chips. Zanger’s go-to? The prime rib, the fried chicken or the New York strip steak. End your meal with a warm slice of Fruit of the Forest Pie—or head across the way to the sweetshop for a cone filled with locally made ice cream.
With an inn and an RV park on the property, guests are invited to stay as long as they like. Parents can get some rest as the kids wear themselves out on the miniature train (lovingly named Casa de Choo Choo) and the double-decker carousel.
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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