Great Getaways: A Different Kind of Wine Country in SLO CAL
Currently, San Luis Obispo County requires facial blankets (regardless of immunization status) indoors. For the county’s most recent pandemic regulations, Click here.
You have conquered Napa. You sipped by Sonoma. Now, it’s time to head further south to explore the seemingly endless wine and natural attraction of San Luis Obispo County, or SLO CAL.
Spanning 3,615 square miles, this central coast county is packed with experiences. And for a while, few people knew about his myriad secrets. Until now. Most of the county’s premier hotels, many of which have opened in the past two years, have been inundated with visitors and are often booked weeks, if not months, in advance. And Paso Robles wineries have had to introduce reservation systems to streamline tasting requests. Many of these customers come from the big cities of California – SLO is right between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but bookings from New York, Denver, Chicago and Florida are also pouring in.
And why not? SLO CAL’s wineries produce premium juices and their tasting rooms offer charming hospitality; there are countless options for exceptional meals in every corner of the county. But there is also a decidedly laid back and truly exciting vibe surrounding the wine scene.
And all of this is dynamically complemented by fantastic natural experiences. Beaches, surf spots, and hiking trails are within minutes of the vineyards, giving visitors a unique opportunity to create multi-faceted routes that go beyond reaching the bottom of the bottle. Although you can still participate if you wish.
The 65 rooms Cerro Hotel opened in downtown San Luis Obispo in January 2020, which means few people have had the chance to float around its rooftop pool; Pamper yourself in its 4000 square foot spa specializing in treatments using exclusively natural, vegan and paraben-free products; sip cocktails from its in-house distillery; or sample fruits from an edible garden that serves the on-site restaurant. There is also a wide range of accommodation options, such as 350-square-foot rooms with spacious balconies and larger suites with garden views and soaking tubs, where water runs from the ceiling.
Also new in the artistic seaside village of Cambria (right on Highway 1) is Living Water, an avant-garde lodge (formerly a motel) surrounded by pine trees on rugged Moonstone Beach. Neat interior decor includes macrame wall hangings, olive-green pewter outdoor bins, rattan chairs that look out over the water, and oversized lantern-style chandeliers.
For travelers who prefer to pamper themselves in the SLO CAL wine country, book one of the converted shipping crates on Geneseo Hostel, hidden by the hills of Cass Winery. The minimalist rooms include a homemade breakfast and stunning views over the vineyard. But the on-site activities (bundled together as part of the Camp Cass program) are all aimed at highlighting the region’s best agrarian adventures, including horseback riding, fresh cooking demonstrations, harvest retreats, wine pressing lessons. olive oil and a beekeeping session supervised by the president of the local beekeeping alliance.
The county’s expanse, which includes verdant farmland, rugged mountains, misty bays and winding coastlines, is often showcased in restaurant kitchens and then on your plate. In an elegant and intimate wine bar Park 1039, which joined the downtown San Luis Obispo dining scene in the spring of 2021, a sustainable philosophy informs the globally-inspired seasonal menu. The salads combine farmer’s market finds while a colorful plate of local sea bass is brightened up with dragon’s tongue beans, romesco and smoked butter. Lovers of dairy products should definitely leave room for dessert: the cheese box often contains up to 100 different varieties from all over the world.
On the main street of Paso Robles, it’s easy to have a gradual dinner between the small family of restaurants of owners Eric and Maggie Cameron: The hatch, a rotisserie and a whiskey bar, and its brand new little sister della, where it’s all about pizza and gin. Start the evening by making your own gin and tonic in the latter (there are even local gins to choose from); this should pair perfectly with one of the sweet and savory pies on the menu, which go through a four day fermentation. At The Hatch, continue to feast on dark spirit cocktails and finger-licking comfort foods, from crispy chicken fillets to homemade ketchup-glazed meatloaf.
In the cold water intertidal zone of Morro Bay, natural mudflats serve as breeding ground for Grassy Bar Oyster Companyplump bivalves. George Trevelyan has been harvesting oysters here since 2009 and while much of what he grows is sent to some of the best bars and restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, there is no better way to savor a dozen or two of his brackish mineral oysters. that fresh from the fillet with just a squeeze of lemon juice. The action on the dock and the iconic giant rock formation of Morro Bay rising from the water gives every sip a sense of belonging.
Ask anyone who works in SLO CAL’s growing wine industry what sets it apart from Napa and Sonoma, and almost anyone will tell you that the best part is its almost unknown reputation. Because very few foreigners really know what’s going on in Paso Robles or Edna Valley, there are no expectations or restrictions on what farmers should grow in the vineyards or what oenologists should. do in the cellars – you know, apart from good wine. But this is not the Wild West of the wine world; there is a sophisticated and robust hotel infrastructure that shows the best of what the county produces. Want to slip into a big red? There are plenty. Want to savor an unexpected California chard? You have come to the right place. Fancy a rosÃ© that will give you the impression that summer will never end? They’ve got you covered.
Quaint, minimalist design and an eco-friendly lifestyle, for example, converge on owner-winemaker Eric Jensen and his wife Lisa’s new solar-powered cellar, Booker Wines. On the winding slopes of the Willow Creek District west of Paso, this organic vineyard is truly meant to be savored. And the Jensens and their team designed tasting activities that would make for unforgettable languid afternoons of wine, whether you gushed for a music-filled experience in their new cave living room; enjoy their Booker Fracture 2018, the brand’s flagship Syrah, while playing pÃ©tanque; or celebrate a special occasion with a tasting on the terrace, which opens to spectacular views of the voluptuous vineyards of Paso.
To learn more about the region’s largest community of food and beverage makers, spend a few hours visiting wineries, distillers, brewers and foodies at Tin city, a revitalized warehouse district a few miles south of downtown Paso in Templeton. Make tasting reservations at both Benom and ONX, run by young winegrowers who are gaining popularity in the region. The rosÃ© de Benom, helmed by the brothers Arnaud and Guillaume Fabre, is a particularly delicious blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and could very well compete with the best of Provence. At ONX, consider stocking up on Drew Nenow’s whimsical collection of bottled wine. There are a lot of red varieties, but the white mixes are surprising, juicy, and addicting. Example: the aromatic L’Autre Femme, a blend of RhÃ´ne grapes, is beautifully balanced with fruit and a subtle creaminess.
On leaving Tin City, enter And to, an Italian-obsessed gourmet market that makes its own pasta. Pick up a few packs of dried radiators and fido before heading to the wine selection to grab a bottle or two from the owner’s label, Giornata. Montepulciano is the perfect warm-weather red â solid acidity, a little jammy, and best served slightly chilled.
Balance all wines and meals with a hike around Pismo reserve, a lush 800-acre ecological expanse perched above the Pacific Ocean. Its 18 km of trails (for walking, cycling or horseback riding) crisscross oak forests and coastal ridges overlooking the water. Occasionally you may encounter wild animals and from many lookouts it is sometimes possible to spot whales.
Or, between December and February, you can take a dedicated sail to watch the gray whales migrate to Mexico. You can combine this with another migratory phenomenon at Pismo Beach from November to February, when more than 10,000 orange and black monarch butterflies cover the stems and branches of eucalyptus trees overlooking the ocean.
And for a culinary touch on an educational nature tour, sign up for a picking session with Marley family algae. Owner Spencer Marley, who has worked with the area’s seafood for years, takes patrons through tidal pools to learn about and track down the edible seaweed that bloom along the central coast. Foraging tours at sea could also include history lessons about the Asian-American community that founded this harvesting industry in California, as well as a cooking tip or two.
And when SLO CAL has you exhausted, take a walk to the beaches of San Simeon, Cayucos, and Pismo. You are in California after all.