Ready to relax after a week (or a more) of sitting in traffic, waiting in lines, dialing into video calls, and tending to everyone else? Centered around the city of San Luis Obispo (SLO), California's Central Coast is the perfect middle ground between city and country and activity and rest, (not to mention a midpoint between LA and SF). Whether you're looking for hilltop hikes or streetside cafes, you'll find a way to unwind in the Central Coast.
If you're coming from Monterey or the Bay Area, consider driving inland and stopping through Paso Robles for the casual luxury of a winery lunch. The restaurant at JUSTIN serves gorgeous cheese boards, a generous strawberry salad, hearty chili and other kitchen classics along with glasses of their award-winning wines, such as the iconic JUSTIN Isosceles, which pairs perfectly with their famous burger and truffle fries. The simple and straightforward rosé works best on a warm summer afternoon, while cooler weather welcomes silky sexy cabernets and deep Bordeaux blends, like the Justification.
If you're coming from the south, consider stopping through the charming small town of Old Orcutt (just south of Santa Maria) and ordering a wood-fired pizza from Pizzeria Bello Forno. Choose from options like the elegant pear and prosciutto, the spicy 3 beer Naughty Oak (named for the nearby microbrewery), or the seasonal special. Get it to go for a picnic lunch, or enjoy each oozing piece right on site.
Do: Try all the wine at Park 1039
Once you make your way to San Luis Obispo, it's sure to be five o'clock somewhere and Park 1039 will be ready for your arrival. Pull up a table on the streetside patio of this new sexy-ass wine bar and learn fascinating facts about lesser-known wines from fine folks with the deep knowledge and an authentic passion for hospitiality. The wine bar-cum-market place boasts roughly 1500 bottles from over 20 different countries, many of them natural and organic, all made ridiculously approachable by pedigreed yet personable staff. Add a tasty cheese or charcuterie platter, artisinal snacks, or a decadent slice of fresh Basque-style cheesecake. Don't forget to grab a bottle to go.
Stay: Boutique hotel Hotel Cerro
Despite opening in the midst of the pandemic, Hotel Cerro has maintained all of the contemporary style and local charm they set out to offer. Enjoy casual luxury and thoughtful design, from pour over in-room coffee, edible gardens, and filtered water stations to plush bedding and sleek work stations. Be sure to take advantage of private balconies and the rooftop pool. If you're up for activity, hit the 24-hour gym or borrow a hotel bike, or if you'd rather unwind, book a massage or luxurious spa treatment. The hotel offers several dining options, including Brasserie SLO, which blends French-style cuisine with Central Coast bounty.
Do: Visit Morro Bay
After a leisurely morning in San Luis Obispo, make your way to nearby Morro Bay and take a stroll down Strand State Beach, a protected beach with breathtaking views, most notably of Morro Rock, the iconic volcanic peak for which the beach is best known. There are designated walking trails, though you're welcome to kick off your sandals and make your own way across the three-mile stretch of beach. Enjoy observing the Western Snowy Plover and other marine birdlife or watching local surfers catch a wave.
Drink: The spoils of Edna Valley wineries
Spend the afternoon exploring the wines of Edna Valley, where cool air and mild temperatures provide the ideal climate to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Start on the patio of Chamisal Wines, and sample elegant sustainably crafted wines that showcase the property's soil just as much as the winemaker's skill. The outdoor venue brings a casual air to a tasting experience that's as refined as the property's wines.
Next take a short drive to nearby Malene, Chamisal's sister winery, which specializes in Provence-style rosés. Malene offers a light-hearted atmosphere and serves its wine from customized airstream surrounded by picnic tables, a green lawn, and gardens.
For a refined and informative experience, stop by Tolosa Winery for a tasting under umbrellas and olive trees of the property's patio. Knowledgeable staff share stories as they guide you through each glass, whether you choose the Signature 1772 flight or the Single Vineyard flight. For an additional European flair, ask about the deep and robust wines from Perinet, Tolosa's sister winery in the Priorate region of Spain.
Eat: Pop back into SLO for dinner on the outdoor terrace or in the gorgeous dining rooms at Mistura, where chef Nicola Allegretta blends the influences of Peru's native Incan culinary heritage with Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese flavors. The restuarant takes its name from the Portugues word for "mix", and offers a robust and blended menu that features dishes that are both authentic and inventive, such as octopus and king crab causa (a Peruvian dish of cold whipped potatoes), chicken and beef empanadas accented with raisins and pecans, tuna and daikon ceviche, Peruvian sashimi, and carapulcra, an ancient Andean pork stew.
Stay: Call it a night at Edna Valley's La Lomita Ranch, a rustic bed and breakfast marked by Spanish-inspired luxury. The La Posada building features eight suites, each with a private entranc, elegant furnishings, and beautiful bathrooms. Your stay includes a homemade breakfast served in the lounge amongst the fountains and trees of the outdoor courtyard. Take a stroll through the grounds, where you may find emus, goats, kittens, and horses, or relax beside the property's private pond.
Do: Spend the morning Avila Beach
When you're ready to move on, make your way to the tranquill shoreline of Avila Beach. Pick up a coffee or sweet treat from Avila Market, then watch sea otters and sea lions play by the pier, or rent a kayak or paddleboard from Avila Beach Paddlesports and get up close and personal with the marine wildlife. Consdier paddling out to an historic lighthouse just down the shore, which can only be reached by water, then make your way back in time to pack up the car.
Eat: A picnic lunch from Farmhouse
Before you head home, stop by SLO's Farmhouse Corner Market for high-quality snacks and staples, from decadent marcona almonds and artisinal olilves to pre-made salads and and sandwiches, a selection of fine cheeses, and an array of craft beverages ranging from beer and kombucha to CBD sparkling water. Don't forget a scoop of hand-dipped ice cream if you're in the mood for something sweet.
Enjoy: A scenic drive on Highway 1
Whether you're headed up the coast or down, you're sure to see magnificent views and stunning scenery along California's historic and iconic Highway 1. Stop to view the elephant seals in San Simeon or the butterfly groves in Pismo Beach. For more ideas on pitstops and scenic overlooks, check out Highway 1 Discovery Route.
(Photos courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, Hotel Cerro, Park 1039, Chamisal Wines, and Mistura)