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Laura Flippen

Central Coast Wine Country

Central Coast Wine Country
Miles of coastline, sunny hills, relaxing wineries

Historic ranch lands, 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 towards Santa Barbara 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 wine growing regions. Some 42 varietals reflect the rich diversity of growing conditions here. Head south along Highway 246 to visit vineyards and relaxed towns, like Los Olivos, Santa Maria 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. 

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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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Courtesy of Ventana Big Sur

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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

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Casa de Fruta Courtesy of Casa De Fruta

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