Spring is here and now is the time to start thinking about and planning your Summer holidays with the kids or maybe that quick couples getaway weekend. If you are looking for a vacation that brings together majestic seascapes, plentiful outdoor activities, the arts, great food and great wine straight from the source then you really ought to be considering San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast of California.
I would not be telling you this if it were not for the occasion I had to attend the 3rd annual SAVOR the Central Coast, co-sponsored by Sunset magazine where I got to spend four jam-packed days exploring one of California’s hidden treasures.
The Central Coast you say? Hidden treasures? Actually, most Californians know all about the Central Coast. Many I spoke to on our visit out there called it the real authentic California. It’s the rest of us “out here”, who only think L.A., San Fran, Napa and Sonoma when we think of California, that need to be let in on the secret.
Where is it: My adventure started in the northern reaches of the Central Coast in the quaint but lively seaside town of Cambria (about 3 hrs by car south of San Francisco) and headed south all the way down through the famous Morro Bay, past Avila Beach to Pismo Beach (about 3 hours by car north of Los Angeles). In between and further inland lies the city of Paso Robles, which happens to be the heart of the region’s wine country, and the famous Santa Margarita Ranch which hosted the Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event.
How to Get There: If you plan to be in Los Angeles or San Francisco anyway and you are wondering what you to do after you hit all the main attractions and you think you reeeaaally need to chill out and decompress then rent a car and take the drive south down Highway 1 to Cambria or north up Highway 101 to Pismo Beach and get ready to enjoy SLO living.
Of course, if you’ve done the big city thing before and you just want to get straight to SLO living, you can always fly into San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport which is served by United and U.S. Airways. You can rent a car when you land at the airport or use one of the car services to whisk you from place to place if you plan on visiting some of the region’s many wineries or you’re just not good with directions. At this point I’ll give a shout out to good people at Gold Coast Limos for making sure I arrived on time and safely to each day’s events.
Where to stay: One of the interesting finds during my stay in the Central Coast was the strong presence of quality family-owned hotels and small to mid-size hotel chains. In this case it was the Pacifica Hotel Company and Martin Resorts.
In Cambria I stayed at the Pacifica’s Pelican Inn & Suites where a very short walk out to the end of the driveway put me on the beach with the Pacific Ocean and miles of awesome coastline to soothe the tired brain. It also didn’t hurt that the Pelican put on a wine, cheese and dessert tasting every evening and my room had a fireplace to help complete the decompression process.
The next morning I went a few doors over to sample breakfast and look around at Pacifica’s Fogcatcher Inn where they had introduced a concept they called Family Suites. These “rooms” are more like what you would find at a ski chalet with full kitchens, a dining area, a living room with fireplace and space to sleep six people. If you are traveling with the family, I don’t have to tell you how useful this option will be.
Over in Pismo Beach, I stayed at the Shore Cliff Lodge owned by Martin Resorts. The hotel has all the modern amenities you would expect with one very important distinction: it sits on a 90-foot cliff looking out across a brilliant Pacific Ocean panorama and each room has an ocean view from a private balcony or patio. I so enjoyed just sitting on my balcony (glass of wine in hand) and just soaking up the view that I missed my ride to that night’s Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event and had to sheepishly call for my hosts to come and get me.
Further inland in the historic city of Paso Robles, I stayed at the equally historic Paso Robles Inn which is another of the premier properties owned and run by the family-owned Martin Resorts. Staying here puts you right in the heart of the region’s wine country where you are surrounded by some 200 wineries and literally sit right atop the city’s famous hot springs. If you are looking to really indulge, you can get one of the rooms with a private hot springs mineral spa tub. My tub was on my private patio looking onto the courtyard garden.
What to do: The main purpose of my trip was to participate in the Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast events which I talk about in a follow-up piece. In between these events you can easily fill your time with activities like kayaking, surfing, ziplining, biking, horseback riding, fishing, whale watching, diving or golf at one of the region’s 14 courses.
For those who enjoy a more sedate experience, there are miles of oceanfront boardwalks all through the Central Coast and 16 state parks and nature preserves if what you want is a hiking fix. You can slow things down even further by parking yourself in one of several area spas or at one of the many public or private art galleries. Morro Bay actually has a Skateboard Museum and San Luis Obispo offers 36 pieces of public art commissioned throughout the downtown area if you feel like walking while you chill out.
The Central Coast has a few hundred wineries and a bunch of micro-breweries, where you can take a tour and sample the products, and countless shops that feature on-site production of such things as custom ice creams, donuts, olive oils and every sort of foodstuff you can imagine. You probably didn’t know that San Luis Obispo is one of the early birthplaces of Jamba Juice.
As you make your travel plans you may want to think about including the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival or the Central Coast Wine Classic and, of course, the 4-day Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event in your itinerary. Your taste buds will thank you.
For more on the Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event be sure to click over to my follow-up piece on this foodie cornucopia.