What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Santa Cruz clamchowder3-55 Picmonkey


It's culinary competition for chefs from throughout Northern California, but more fun than formal as participants have cooked while dressed as scuba divers, mermaids and even as a "Clam Fairy."

The competition features two divisions: Individual and Professional. Plaques are awarded in each division for Best Clam Chowder in both Boston and Manhattan categories, as well as the People's Choice and Most Original Team.

Pubic is invited to the 36th annual event. No charge for admission, but Tasting Kits ($9) allow sampling of five different chowders.


Region: Central Coast     City: Santa Cruz    

Contact: www.beachboardwalk.com/clamchowder

Region: Central Coast     City: Monterey     Contact: www.steinbeck.org

Saturday, 05 January 2013 22:05

February 6-12 2017 AT&T National Pro Am

Region: Central Coast     City: Pebble Beach     Contact: www.attpbgolf.com

by Laura Ness

Back Roads of Monterey GregsTree Picmonkey

For those of you who haven’t consulted a map lately, Monterey County is one huge place. There’s nothing quite like a road trip that skirts the eastern edge of this vast county, dipping south of Hollister, through San Benito county on one of the world’s mot amazing roads: highway 25. It’s nothing short of stunning in its green grandeur this time of year, when its sumptuous verdant hues remind you of the Emerald Isle, and puffy silver-bellied clouds circle the horizon like a bunch of cows that have just seen the hay truck pull up at the edge of the ranch. Pretty much ranches, cows, hawks and prairie dogs are all you see along this stretch, now increasingly punctuated by vineyard rows.

And yet this is a place that most of time forgot. In fact, it’s a place where the hands fell off and the face is so faded you think you’re back in the 19th century, maybe the 18th. We’ve been riding these perilous strips of asphalt and macadam for decades now, my husband and I, in everything from BMW 3 series to sport bikes to touring bikes – even a van. But this past week was an excuse to take the Z06 ‘vette (2002) out for a romp. There are places along the long, smooth vineyard-guarded stretch just south of Tres Pinos past Bolado Park, where you can easily hit 100mph and still see a mile ahead of you. It’s effortless to obtain such speeds in a 400+hp road car like the ‘vette – your hair doesn’t stand on end, and your stomach does not find some other place of your anatomy to call home. Which is totally unlike the experience of doing so on a Kawasaki Ninja 600, my beloved black and red-wheeled steed that managed to hit 130mph before my eyes blurred over from the wind rushing through my helmet and I thought my hands would vibrate clean off. The exhilarating rush might not be quite the same in a wheeled vehicle, but the sensation of racing to meet the horizon with nothing but a sparrow hawk as an eyewitness is breathtaking.

Back Roads Monterey 100MphStretch Picmonkey

At such speeds, you must consciously slow the world down around you. Otherwise, you can’t focus. And I have a really slooowwww camera, so let’s just say I got lots of shots of big blurry things streaking by. Occasionally, I was able to snap a few Pulitzer prize winners, mostly when my husband deigned to slow down. Clearly, I need a better camera, ‘cause he’s not interested in going any kind of slow. What I did manage to capture, but only in my mind, was a series of back roads Americana Christmas décor, the kind you only find out on lonesome highways where the same people pass by daily. Along the stretch of 25 that runs between Bolado Park and the cutover to King City at Bitterwater, every mail box, most of them as decrepit as the fences that vaguely suggest property boundaries, was festooned, albeit modestly, with a small bough of long-needled pine and a bright red ribbon. At first, I thought this must be some kind of tradition out here in the boondocks. Then, as I spied more and more of them, I had to wonder, did the lone mail carrier who has this route put them on each box at the start of the holiday season, a gesture to provide delight both to him or herself on the daily route, as well as to add a touch of joy to each box holder as they stopped to collect their precious letters and not so precious bills? I don’t know the answer to this question that few people would care enough to ask, but I’m sure those who live along that lonely, desolation highway know the answer, and whatever it may be, it most surely warms their hearts each winter day. It’s the little things in life that make all the difference.

Laura Ness mug Picmonkey


Laura Ness, aka "Her VineNess," an accomplished wine and travel journalist, loves sharing stories of wines with character and the characters who make them. She blogs, unapologetically, at myvinespace.com.



Editor's note: Planning a visit to Monterey County? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory has links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options (there are also links to all of the County's wineries and many beer-oriented estabishments).

Friday, 04 January 2013 13:12

January 4, 2013 Beer Pick of the Week

Pale 31Firestone Pale 31 Picmonkey


Producer: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Location: Paso Robles, California

Style: California Style Pale Ale

Alcohol: 4.9%

IBUs: 38

Serving type: 12 oz. bottles and draft

Availability: Widely distributed in the Far West, also in Colorado, Arizona and in the Chicago area.



Appearance: Deep golden amber. Not many bubbles.

Aroma: floral, malty.

Taste: Easy-drinking, malty, refreshing.

Food Affinity: Split pea soup, topped with some crispy crumbled bacon and a slice of brown bread.

General Background: Firestone produces an array of beer styles. The “Pale 31” name of this one relates to California being the 31st state admitted to the Union.


mug of Dan  Picmonkey


--Pale 31 reviewed by Dan Clarke, a writer and editor in Sacramento, California who has happy memories of pale ales experienced in Britain years ago.

LOS GATOS, Calif., Dec. 6, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- "Yields normal to a bit above; quality very high" was the verdict at Testarossa Winery, following this year's wine grape harvest. Testarossa specializes in small lot, vineyard-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from some of California's best-known winegrowers. After twelve vintages at the winery, winemaker Bill Brosseau is well qualified to discuss the "state of the crush" in the fifteen vineyards and five separate appellations (Santa Lucia Highlands, Sta. Rita Hills, Russian River, Arroyo Grande Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Chalone) that the winery partners with.Bill Brosseau Winemaker at Testarossa PicmonkeyBill Brosseau

Bill comments, "Following the challenges of the 2011 growing season, many of us in the industry were overly prepared for weather events that might catch us off-guard, as they did last year. The forecast for a wet winter and wet spring never materialized. Spring frosts, late summer heat waves, or fall rains were pretty much non-existent. The 'weather pinball machine' was off this year and we had spectacular conditions throughout the coastal appellations. The weather stayed relatively consistent through September and October. We were able to pick, process, ferment, and barrel-down with a smooth cadence, which tends to lend itself to very high quality wines."

A case in point would be the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, whose vineyards supply about 80% of the grapes for Testarossa's vintages. The Los Gatos winery was one of the early "adopters" of the SLH; their first vintage from the AVA was in 1997. Testarossa has long-term partnerships with twelve vineyards in the appellation and produces single-vineyard releases from the Fogstone, Rosella's, Garys', Lone Oak, Doctor's, Dos Rubios, and Pisoni estates.

Bill Brosseau continues, "We started the harvest in the Highlands in southern end at Pisoni, where the farming and attention to detail is second to none. By the time we got to the heart of the SLH appellation and the cooler, northern end, we had honed in picking parameters. Overall, we found ourselves picking on the later side of other labels working with the same vineyards. With the extended hang-time, we did see the potential acidity balance to near perfect levels. As an added bonus, we saw an increase in silky tannins, resulting in a fuller mouthfeel for our Pinot Noir.  For our Chardonnays, we pressed to lower yields per ton to minimize phenolic extraction of tannins, thus allowing the natural acidity to be more apparent in the palate structure.

Dos Rubios Vnyd PicmonkeyDos Rubios Vineyard in picturesque Santa Lucia Highlands"We were also very pleased with the third vintage fruit coming off our new Dos Rubios Vineyard project in the Highlands. Here we have complete "dirt to bottle" quality control as we personally oversee every aspect of this estate's winegrowing operations. Overall, 2012 may prove to be the greatest vintage ever from the Santa Lucia Highlands. And the young wines from our other ranches and appellations are looking equally promising."

About Testarossa…

Testarossa (Italian for "red head") was the nickname given Rob Jensen as a young university student in Italy. Rob and Diana Jensen left their high-tech careers and started their brand in their garage in 1993 with just twenty-five cases of wine. Today, the winery works closely with top winegrowers in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, Arroyo Grande Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Russian River Valley, and Chalone appellations. The label has grown to national prominence among collectors and reviewers by cultivating long-term partnerships with passionate winegrowers and vineyards such as Garys', Pisoni, Rosella's, Bien Nacido, and Rincon.

The Jensens' winery occupies of site of the old Novitiate Winery in downtown Los Gatos. The tasting room is open daily, as is “107,” their patio wine bar.


Editor's note: Visiting the Los Gatos area or planning a trip south to the Santa Lucia Highlands? You'll find links to the website of hundreds of Lodging and Dining opportunities in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


Saturday, 10 November 2012 17:14

Beer Central Coast

Santa Cruz County

Cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall




Red Restaurant and Bar


Rosie McCann's


Santa Cruz Ale Works


Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing


Seabright Brewery


The Parish Public House


Sante Adairius Rustic Ales


Monterey County


Monterey Coast Brewing


XL Grindhouse



English Ales Brewery


Monterey Peninsula – Cities of Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove

Britannia Arms


Brophy's Tavern


Cannery Row Brewing Company, Monterey


London Bridge Pub


Peter Bs Brewpub, Monterey


The Crown and Anchor


The Mucky Duck


Trailside Cafe and Coffee House


Big Sur

Big Sur Taphouse


San Benito County


Hollister Brewing Company


Relax Grillin & Chillin


San Luis Obispo County

Paso Robles

Barrel House Brewing


Downtown Brewing


Firestone Walker Brewing Co.


The Pour House


City of San Luis Obispo

Central Coast Brewing


Creekside Brewing Company


SLO Brewing


Spike's Pub


Tap It Brewing Co.


Pismo Beach

Pismo Brewing Company


The Boardroom



Santa Maria Brewery



Cambria Ale House


Cambria Beer Company


Santa Barbara County


Taproom at Firestone Walker Brewing


Los Olivos

Firestone Walker Brewery www.firestonewalker.com


Solvang Brewing Company



Hollister Brewing Company


City of Santa Barbara



Dargan's Irish Pub and Restaurant


Santa Barbara Brewing Co


Telegraph Brewing Co


Union Ale Brewing Co



Island Brewing, Carpinteria



Orcutt Brew Company


Rooney's Irish Pub


Ventura County


Ojai Beverage Company



Institution Ale Co.



BJ's Pizza, Grill and Brewery


The Kitchen


The Yard House


City of Ventura

Anacapa Brewing Company


Barrelhouse 101


Dargan's Irish Pub and Restaurant


Poseidon Brewing Co.


Surf Brewery


Topa Topa Brewing Co.


Victoria Pub & Grill



Enegren Brewing Company


Wednesday, 12 September 2012 11:10

72 Hours in Carmel-by-the-Sea - An Insiders Guide

As visitors arrive in the quaint coastal Central California enclave of Carmel-by- the-Sea, a collective sigh of relief is carried on the cool ocean air. Park the car. You won’t need it for the next 72 hours. Welcome to the insiders guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. 

Day 1: Pop the cork and celebrate with a refreshing glass of sparkling wine at Caraccioli Cellars, just the way to ease into your stay. Before checking in to one of the 45+ inns or hotels,  check out the shopping – day 1 begins.

Stop in at the Carmel Plaza and welcome our newest neighbor Kate Spade to the village. A shot of color adds a bright cheery feel to the already flower lined promenade. Across the way visitors will find Blue Lemon, where jewelry-making classes can be scheduled and taken or hand crafted designs can be purchased. If visitors are lucky Pamplemousse on Ocean Avenue may be hosting one of their prominent trunk shows, displaying their eclectic wares. For the eco-conscious, Eco-Carmel on San Carlos between 7th Carmel Beach PickmonkeyCarmel Bay through the Cypress trees.& 8th offers unique, earth friendly products. With many more options lining the streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it may be time to stop in for lunch and a quick nip to settle into “vacation mode.”After working up an appetite from shopping, experience the latest expansion of David Fink’s empire, 400°’s Gourmet Burgers & Fries. Burgers, fries, hot dogs, and shakes as well as kids meals are all on the menu. For a more refined lunch, try any of the Firok Shield’s family restaurants (he has three in Carmel), or Portabella on Ocean, located within a quaint Comstock cottage, or Patisserie Boissiere.

Time to walk off lunch and prepare for the remaining hours ahead. Make your next stop the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center on San Carlos between 5th & 6th. Here you can pick up the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea wine tasting passport, which is good all weekend long and can be used at your leisure. Be sure to stop in at the newest tasting room, Manzoni Cellars.

Upon arrival at the hotel, you'll be welcomed by one of the friendly innkeepers in our city. One of the many unique aspects of the square mile of the Carmel-by-Sea is that the innkeepers staff a 24 hour reservation line. If visitors call and there is the proverbial “no room at the inn,” then they will continue down the list of properties until they find a property with a room available. It's not a matter of competition among inns, just a desire to please the guest on the end of the line.

As the evening ensues, be sure to check the schedule for one of the upcoming events in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Sunset Center (www.sunsetcenter.org) is spectacular and worthy of top national performances with an amazing cast of performers scheduled including Kenny Loggins, Bob Newhart, A Rock Tribute to Led Zeppelin, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ira Glass and many more. Though you won’t need your electric car for another 48 hours, there are four stations available at the Sunset Center offering free service if you would like to charge it.

And the sun sets on day 1.

Day 2: A morning stroll along Ocean Avenue leads to one of the most pristine beaches in America. If a four-legged friend is your travel companion, this beach is leash-free for dogs. If you would rather not get sand between your toes, turn left on Scenic Avenue for a gentle walk along a guided path. With Point Lobos to the South and Pebble Beach to the north, a more stunning landscape and stretch of coastline would be hard to find.

Stop off for breakfast or coffee at a local eatery. You won’t find any chain restaurants or fast food in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Em Lee’s has been open since 1955, so they have lots of practice serving up a fine breakfast. If coffee and a pastry is more your style, on Ocean Avenue you will find Carmel Bakery, Carmel Valley Roasting Company and Carmel Coffee House. And just off the beaten path, you will find Pastries & Petals.Carmel Courtyard PicmonkeyPath to courtyard has old world feel.

Before you get back to your inn, be sure to check out a few of the more than 40+ courtyards that grace the village. The newest mayor of Carmel, Jason Burnett, has been seen favoring El Paseo Courtyard, where visitors will see a sculpture done by Jo Mora in 1927, who also did the sarcophagus of Father Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission. Visitors and locals are often surprised by the public displays of art that are found in side courtyards as a little delight for taking a “road less traveled.” As a side note, it has been over 20 years since “Dirty Harry” was mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, but visitors continue to ask, “Is Clint Eastwood still the mayor?” We are not sure which courtyard is Clint’s favorite, but highly recommend are the Court of the Fountains, Piccadilly Courtyard and Cinderella Lane.

The community has been renowned as a mecca for artists, writers and musicians since the turn of the last century. American Style named Carmel one of its “Top 25 Art Destinations in the U.S.” in 2012. The remarkable artist enclave tucked between Big Sur and Pebble Beach has Bohemian roots reaching back over a hundred years. It has been a retreat for the likes of Salvador Dali and Ansel Adams and some of the over 100+ art galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea still display their work. The Carmel Art Association (www.carmelart.org), established in 1927, is celebrating an 85 year history. With 200 active members made up of local artists, the association also has the unique distinction of being the oldest gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Perhaps you'll be in town on one of the many days when an event is hosted. The fall lineups at the historic Golden Bough Playhouse, the intimate Circle theaters, and famous outdoor Forest Theater include Beauty & the Beast, Julius Ceasar, and Much Ado About Nothing. (www.pacrep.org). Carmel Authors & Ideas Festival arrives in town September 28-30, (www.carmelauthors.com/festival). The Carmel Chamber of Commerce hosts their 24th Annual Taste of Carmel Masquerade Ball Thursday, October 4th, 6pm-9pm(no mask necessary). (www.carmelcalifornia.org). The Carmel Art & Film Festival, October 10-14, (www.carmelartandfilm.com) was founded in 2008 by fine artist Tom Burns and Erin Clark. The festival gives artists a platform and voice to pursue their creative visions and share them with the world.

Carmel Cheese Shop PicmonkeyChoose cheese for your picnic.Ready to begin Happy Hour? By all means, go where the locals go: Terry’s Lounge (inside the famous Doris Day’s Cypress Inn) offers Yappy Hour and live music for you and well-leashed guests. Il Fornaio has the best deal in town with a $5 menu including select food, wine and cocktails, plus $3 beers. Or, if visitors like an atmosphere of see-and-be-seen, then Vesuvio is open, with expanded Starlight 65 lounge rooftop deck with a great happy hour. It serves an “Adult Happy Meal”—complete with gourmet cheese burger, fries and your choice of a Rum & Coke or Whiskey & Coke. If pubs and cheers for beers is more up your alley, than Brophy’s Tavern is the place for Monday Night Football, and Jack London’s has regular live music and sports TVs. A.W. Shucks on Ocean Avenue remains a locals and visitors favorite oyster bar and grill respite.

After a busy day, grab a picnic basket and a bottle of wine with delectables from Salumeria Luca, The Cheese Shop, Bruno’s Market, or Nielson Brothers Market and walk down to the beach. Watch the sun as it sinks into the Pacific, than cozy up and gaze at the stars while you enjoy your wine, listening to the sound of the surf on the sand.

If you still need something to nosh on after star gazing, Mundaka serves dinner until 11 with house music and old movies shot onto the wall; at Gabe Georis’ restaurant you now are able to get a mixed drink since they acquired the new liquor license. As you belly up to the bar, take note of the reclaimed wood from Big Sur. Demetra Café and the newly expanded Constance lounge are also a fantastic option, with spontaneous singing, and cork popping.When you are at Demetra, you’re part of the family, opa!

Day 3: Greet the morning with a soothing yoga class on the beach offered by Lululemon (www.lululemon.com/carmel). Or if the sirens of the water call your name, then learn to surf with Noah Greenberg of Carmel Surf Lessons (www.carmelsurflessons.com)/ He's been teaching surfing since 1986. Noah provides all the equipment and offers groups or private session. Work out the muscles and stop in at one of Carmel's day spas to primp and pamper yourself before you get on your way. Signature Day Spa (www.signature dayspa.com) is a full service salon ready to work out the kinks.

You’ve worked up an appetite now, and rest assured it can be assuaged with Carmel Food Tours. This newest tour in town offers tastings of foods and wines that help visitors become acquainted with the unique history and culture of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The food tour takes visitors through passageways and alleys before arrival at each culinary destination. A favorite stop among guests is La Bicyclette Restaurant. Walter Georis is best known for his famous Casanova Restaurant, but La Bicyclette is another of his success stories. All of the tour restaurants, tasting rooms and shops are pleased to spend time with the tourists and can explain in detail what they will be tasting.

Since you have enjoyed your stay and now are an insider, you shouldn't go without knowing some quirky laws to share with your friends when you get back home. By now you’ve become aware that there are no addresses on businesses or cottages. Carmel’s founding fathers rejected the practice of house-to-house mail delivery in favor of a central post office to encourage neighborly visits in town. Visitors will not find parking meters, streetlights, or sidewalks outside of Carmel’s downtown commercial area and permits are required for high heels. No hot dog stands are allowed and you can thank Former Mayor Clint Eastwood for repealing the law originally on the books for no ice cream eating permitted on city streets.

Carmel-by- the-Sea lives up to its reputation as one of America's top travel destinations with a host of exciting fall events during the best weather of the season.

Carmel-by-the-Sea's official travel website is www.carmelcalifornia.com.

TravMedia sources contributed to this article.

Editor's Note: If you are thinking about a visit to the Central Coast, visit the Resource Directory of Taste California Travel. There you will find links to the websites of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to nearby wineries and beer-centric establishments.

Travelers today seek more than a hot little hammock to tick away their vacation time. According to the Travel Industry of America, adventure pursuits are taking a front seat in travel planning, including activities such as kayaking, scuba diving and mountain climbing. The new breed of "experiential travelers" is also on the rise, according to TravelZoo's Gabe Saglie. This concept translates into less time "zoning out" and more time learning or experiencing a destination's assets from the ground up. According to Saglie, more than 50 percent of Americans are interested in this type of travel.

This new travel niche is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, largely driven by Baby Boomers who are no longer content being tourists, and would rather break out as adventurers. It's the "do" versus "see" mentality, the demand for "real" experiences that are putting companies like Mountain Travel/Sobek, National Geographic Expeditions and Mansour Travel Company into overdrive. According to Gary Mansour, "Experiential travel is the hot ticket these days and 'authentic' is the prevailing buzzword. These global nomads are not content sitting poolside; they want genuine experience, stunning natural surroundings and locally inspired activities."

Mapping Out Monterey CountySafari with sea lions, cavort with California condors or dive for monsters of the deep... the region's natural assets are a ready-to-wear adventure for travelers seeking the real deal, California-style. With 99 miles of pristine coastline, the 5,312 sq. mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, stunning string of California parklands and outback of Big Sur, this region is rich in rewards year round.

Liquid Assets – Kayak Surfing, Estuary Safaris and Scuba for Monsters of the DeepKayaking in Monterey BayDive in for an adrenalin-based escape fresh with bracing sea breezes and wide open spaces. New on the radar of ocean experiences is Kayak Surfing. For the ultimate challenge, dump the longboard and take to the waves in a kayak. Learn the art of carving, roll techniques and how to get in/out of the wave in a safe, serene environment. Lessons and a full line of specialty surf kayaks are available at Kayak Connection. Those hot on Laird Hamilton's new sport can hit the waves running with classes in S.U.P. - or stand-up paddling. This trend emanating from Hawaii combines surfing with canoe-style paddling in a stand up position, exercising the core and sense of balance. Learn to walk on water via classes covering the basics of balance, strokes and paddling techniques.

www.adventuresbythesea.com, www.kayakconnection.com, www.montereybaykayas.com.

Avid SCUBA divers can track the monsters of the deep -- reportedly sighted just off the Big Sur Coast -- or the bizarre giant squid with three hearts, blue blood and enormous brains spotted in the depths of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Novices can sleuth the seas via Monterey Bay Dive Center with a full day Discover SCUBA program. Instruction and dives at the Sanctuary (with an underwater canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), Point Lobos State Nature Preserve or San Carlos Beach offer insight into the region's rich diversity of sea life. www.montereybaydivecenter.com. For the smaller set, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Underwater Explorers program treats kids 8 - 13 years to an aquatic adventure with a surface SCUBA dive in the Great Tide Pool on Monterey Bay. www.mbayaq.org.

For a vivid postcard of this region's ecosystem and wealth of wildlife, naturalists can dial into the Elkhorn Slough Safari, a classic outback tour aboard a 27-foot pontoon. Spreading 1,400 acres and reaching inland nearly seven miles from the coast, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve steps up with some 400 plant species, 80 kinds of fish and 340 types of birds, including such rare species as the Peregrine Falcon and Snowy Plover. Photo safaris and birding workshops are also available. Kayaking the slough is another option. www.elkhornslough.com.

The enormous depths of Monterey Bay paired with a 99-mile stretch of coastline draw a rich and varied lineup of whales and wildlife. Among the most impressive are gray whales, some 7,000 behemoths, migrating from the Bering Sea to Mexico's Baja Peninsula between December and March. Also popular are humpbacks and blue whales, the largest animals in the world, which feed on the nutrient-rich waters from June through October-November. Visitors can tap into a whale watching tour, rent a sailboat or stay closer to shore with a naturalist-led kayak tour with Adventures by the Sea. www.chriswhalewatching.com, www.adventuresbythesea.com.

Call of the Wild – Condor Camp, Bat Tours, Bear Encounters and Wild Boar SausageClock the comeback of the California condor at Ventana Wildlife Society's newly-constructed (4/09) condor base camp. With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, North America's largest land bird and one of the largest flying birds in the world is truly a magnificent sight to see. Enthusiasts can overnight at the rustic rearing/release facility set 2,800 ft. above the Pacific in Big Sur and participate in tracking and feeding these giants of the sky. Happy hour includes watching the birds fly in to roost as the sun sets, followed by a hike to the feeding grounds. On the endangered species list since 1967, the California condor now thrives on Big Sur's rugged coastline and at Pinnacles National Monument in Soledad. Since 1998, Ventana Wildlife Society has re-established 42 condors to the wild. Other options include day trips to base camp and two-hour tracking tours led by a wildlife biologist using specialized equipment to monitor nesting, feeding and flying habits. www.ventanaws.org.

Seeking a rendezvous with a Townsend's Big Ear Bat or talusing under 23 million-year-old volcanic rock formations? Hightail it to the Pinnacles National Monument. Home of the California condor release program and a crazy collection of crimson conical spires marking the remnants of an ancient volcano along the San Andreas Rift Zone, this is ground zero for ranger-led bat walks, "experiential" night hikes and eyeing 20+ condors who reside on this lunar-scape. The Monument sports two "talus" caves - a system of passages snaking under and between house-size boulders- offering a natural habitat for bats. Visitors can strike out solo to the Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave, housing some 14 species of bats including the Townsend's Big Ear bat and Western Mastiff bat, with a wing span of 12 inches. Opened in 1908, the monument is a true character builder for hikers, climbers and nature lovers. Learn the ropes via Sanctuary Gym, which offers instructional rock climbing day-trips complete with gear.www.nps.gov www.rockgym.com.

"Monkeying around" is redefinied at Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility housing 100+ animals on 50 acres of rugged outback. Set in Steinbeck country just outside the city of Salinas, this working facility and rescue camp offers a deluxe seven-hour Walk with the Animals program. Sign up for a stint washing an African elephant, training session with Brandi (an American black bear of Grizzly Adams fame) or take the ultimate catwalk with an exotic cat or Elvis the kangaroo. Also allowed: monkey play dates or quality time fluffing up the lions. Guests can overnight in four safari-style suites on a remote savanna, with breakfast delivered by an elephant. www.wildthingsinc.com.

Pack those chaps and spurs for an authentic cattle drive at V6 Ranch in Parkfield, the self-proclaimed "Earthquake Capital of the World" where residents prefer their eggs scrambled and martinis shaken. Just 23 miles from Highway 101, this rustic town of lodge pole cabins and wide open spaces is officially the most studied spot on earth for earthquakes. Here, wannabe cowboys can saddle up for a real Western cattle drive on 50 miles of trails at the Varian family's 20,000 acre ranch. Rides include plenty of daytime cattle work, delicious ranch style fixin's and fireside sing-alongs once the suns sets. V6 also offers a "Ranch Life in California" program teaching traditional Vaquero horsemanship from a Hall of Fame Honoree, including the basics of team sorting, rope handling and working cattle by horseback. www.parkfield.com. True city slickers can opt for day rides at Holman Ranch, Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, Molera Horseback Tours and Marina Equestrian Center. www.holmanranch.com; www.ridepebblebeach.com; www.molerahorsebacktours.com.

Hunting for a little breakfast is harder than it sounds, especially if wild boar is on the menu. Hunters with an ancestral urge bag a boar and pack home a little homemade sausage can get their fix on 30,000 acres of fertile hunting grounds surrounding Fort Hunter Liggett and King City, often called the "Wild Boar Capitol of California." Weighing in at 200+ lbs., with two-inch tusks, wild boar are not an easy big game get and are usually tracked on private land requiring a qualified guide. Daily treks in Steinbeck Country's verdant rolling hills dotted with California oak and the meandering Salinas River are offered by a variety of outfitters. Pack a sense of adventure. www.edrothhunting.com.

Terra Firma – Musing Monarchs, Agricultural Treks and Lost LimekilnsMonarch Butterflies SMALL 3068 mo00079 rgb lIf tracking migration patterns of tropical insects is on the agenda, the Monarch Grove Sanctuary is the call for an up close peek at thousands of butterflies. Tucked into a residential enclave in Pacific Grove, this free frolic is a top winter spot for Monarchs who flutter as far as 2,000 miles at a height of 10,000 feet. Led by the earth's magnetic field and position of the sun, each year new butterflies arrive en masse to cluster in the pine and eucalyptus trees from October to February. Docents are available for informal tours. www.pgmuseum.org.

What better way to learn you're ABC's than a hands-on tour of the "Salad Bowl of the World"? Ag Venture Tours hit the fields running with an exploratory look at planting, harvesting, new farming techniques and the wonders of the region's artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. This is a full sensory experience from walking through the row crops to sniffing the salad greens and in-depth look at America's top greens producer. www.agventuretours.com.

Pounding the pavement in Monterey County is sheer bliss; just ask any athlete who has crossed the finish line at the annual Big Sur International Marathon, Sea Otter Classic or Seagate Triathlon in Pacific Grove. The Monterey Recreation Trail is a solid start for pairing pavement with unsurpassed scenery. This path traverses the Monterey Bay coastline past Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf. The trail also gives riders a view of surfers tackling frothy waves at Seaside State Beach, as well as hang gliders catching a breeze over the dunes of Marina State Beach.

Pebble Beach's 17-Mile Drive is a must-see for every cyclist. Rated as one of the top 100 routes to pedal in America, this ride is an excellent way to experience the 5,300-acre Pebble Beach community. Riders can start at any of the three main Pebble Beach gates and follow the signs past manicured lawns, emerald greens and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific coast. www.pebblebeach.com.

For off-road enthusiasts, Fort Ord steps up with a massive network of 86 miles of trails on 7,200 acres of biking nirvana. Experts can head for the Hurl Hill Trail or Staircase Trail, often compared to the great rocky trails in Moab, Utah. The Oil Well Road route is an excellent introduction to the single-track wonders of Fort Ord. The 11-mile loop delivers riders through beautiful wooded areas in the northeast corner of the park. For a bigger burn, tackle the Guidotti/Goat Trail Loop, a 13-mile, clockwise ride with a mixed bag of terrain including high ridges, maritime chaparral, grasslands, oak woodlands and wetlands. Another off-road option is the Old Coast Road in Big Sur, an 18.5-mile loop including steep climbs through towering redwoods and babbling brooks before reaching the ocean at Bixby Landing. http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/content/ca/en/fo/hollister/fort_ord/index.html.

Hikers and trail runners can slip into a variety of venues spanning Point Lobos State Nature Reserve to the outback of Big Sur as well as the hillside trails of Toro Park and Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley. For a true Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure, Big Sur Hiking Guides lead visitors to a magical site cutting deep through towering redwoods along several lush creeks to 100-year old lost limekilms. Other top picks include the strenuous hike to Sykes Hot Springs or moderate Ewoldsen Trail, a 4.5-mile loop tucked deep in the redwood forest along McWay Creek. The Pfeiffer Falls Trail and McWay Waterfall Trail both culminate with spectacular waterfalls. For top views, the Andrew Molera State Park/Creamery-Ridge Trail features a 7.3-mile loop with a moderately strenuous climb gaining over 1,200 feet in just over two miles. www.SeeMonterey.com.

Concrete Dreams – Pulling G's and Bouldering Land RoversNeed a tune up on technical driving skills? Check out the Land Rover Experience Driving School in Carmel Valley where signing on the dotted line will deliver a sweat-inducing spin through 80 acres of rugged terrain in a plush$76,000 Range Rover. Rev things up on the off-road obstacle course with one-on-one training on advanced techniques like winching and vehicle recovery. Not for the timid, the school puts drivers through the paces of maneuvering over sand traps, boulders, tricky wooded trails and descents steep enough challenge a veteran Everest climber. www.landroverusa.com

 Foiling urban idiots just got easier with one-day courses at Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Cut loose and pull some "g's" in a 150 h.p. formula racecar for the true testosterone test. The "One Day Combo" puts the pedal to the metal with instruction on high performance defensive driving skills including slide and recovery techniques, trailbraking and race-style heel-and-toe downshifting. Strap into a high-octane Dodge Viper on the world-famous 2.24-mile, 11-turn track and approach the Corkscrew Turn at 100 m.p.h., practicing braking, downshifting and cornering in split second intervals. www.skipbarber.com.

Alive is the Air – Freefall at 120 M.P.H., Get Air and GlidePush the automatic "Rush" button and take the plunge via the "world's highest tandem jump" at 18,000 feet with Skydive Monterey Bay. A quick 20-minute training and safety briefing, paired with an instructor and dual harness, is all that's required for the tandem skydive, one of the safest and certainly surreal experiences for first time divers. Get a condor's-eye view of the Monterey peninsula and Marine National Sanctuary following a throat-choking one-minute freefall clocking in at 120 miles per hour. www.skydivemontereybay.com. For a more sedate experience, strap in for an aerial sightseeing tour aboard a beautiful Cessna 172 at Monterey Bay Aviation. Soar over the Salinas Valley, Carmel and Big Sur in a climate controlled cabin with a direct ear to the pilot. www.montereybayaviation.com.

On the waterfront, Marina State Beach has become the tipping point for hang-gliders and kite boarders, thanks to its infusion of powerful afternoon and early evening winds. Visitors can set up and launch just south of the parking lot. Punctuated with surfers silently riding the horizon and a scenic boardwalk threading through the Marina Dunes Preserve, this area celebrates its qiomtessemce with an annual Festival of Winds and Steeple Chase Event every May.


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to all the websites of Monterey County wineries, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.


San Luis Obispo County has all the ingredients for a delicious culinary adventure. Area farms and orchards SLO Snacks and Wine SMALLproduce fresh, seasonal fruits, nuts and vegetables. Ranches raise natural beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, while coastal Pacific waters offers more fresh choices for discerning palates. A gourmand's playground, the dining scene has exploded with new restaurants showcasing innovative dishes prepared by chefs choosing local, organic and sustainable food available in San Luis Obispo County. Complementing the culinary experience are award-winning vintages produced by the many wineries dotting the Paso Robles wine country and San Luis Obispo County landscape.

Fastest Growing Wine Region

San Luis Obispo County is the third largest and fastest growing fine wine region in California.  There are two distinct wine grape growing areas - Paso Robles and Edna Valley/Arroyo Grande - with over 200 wineries and 125 tasting rooms featuring award-winning vintages and innovative varietal blends.  It is the ideal destination for wine lovers.

The long, hot summers and cool nights, and chalk/limestone hillsides of Paso Robles wine country yield award-winning reds, especially superb Zinfandels and Rhône varietals.  The cool climate and marine sediment of San Luis Obispo's Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande wine regions combine to produce some of the most highly regarded rich, buttery Chardonnay grapes in California wine country.

Annual wine celebrations include: Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival (March); Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles (April), the world's largest celebration of Rhône variety wines; Paso Robles Wine Festival (May), the largest outdoor wine tasting in California; Roll Out the Barrels Weekend in San Luis Obispo (June); Pinot and Paella Festival in Templeton (June); and Harvest Wine Weekend in Paso Robles (November), featuring winery open houses. (Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance www.pasowine.com; San Luis Obispo Vintners www.slowine.com)

If time is limited and one prefers wine touring on foot rather than by car, the Paso Robles Inn offers a one-night Taste Around package pointing visitors to six of the town's City Park wine tasting rooms with complimentary taste certificates, as well as tastes and a gift from a local olive company and artesian cheese maker. Including breakfast for two, the package starts at $205 based on date of stay. (www.pasoroblesinn.com)

Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast - a Foodie's Disneyland! SLO savor logo cmyk  SMALL

Sunset magazine and the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau will partner for the third annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast celebration of food, wine and good living September 27-30, 2012. The event showcases area winemakers, chefs and artisanal food producers and Sunset magazine's expert editors guide attendees through outdoor adventures and farm excursions. Over 7,000 visitors are expected to attend this year's event and enjoy the beauty, bounty and flavor of this largely unspoiled region. Special evening events, like Paso Robles' Paso Glow will be complemented by culinary seminars by celebrity chefs on cooking with local, seasonal ingredients during the Main Event at the Santa Margarita Ranch on September 29 and 30. The four-day foodie delight kicks off with a special food and wine extravaganza at the Central Coast's crown jewel, Hearst Castle, and also includes the Sunset 2012 International Wine Competition in Pismo Beach. (www.savorcentralcoast.com)

Wine Country Cuisine

With so many wineries, farms, ranches, and two fishing ports in San Luis Obispo County, it's only natural that country dining. With local bounty to point to, the farm-to-table movement is alive and well, as local chefs support local farmers to make sustainable culinary masterpieces available. Leaders of the movement in Paso Robles include Thomas Hill Organics, Artisan, Il Cortile, Villa Creek and Farmstand 46.

During the month of January, more than 30 restaurants prepare special menus at appetizing prices during Restaurant Month.  For 30 days, participating restaurants feature three-course prix fixe menus for only $30, plus tax, per person.  Meals can be paired with award-winning wines from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine country for an additional charge. (www.sanluisobispocounty.com)

Straight from the Farm

Farmer's markets can be found throughout San Luis Obispo Country almost every day of the week. The one that set the standard for all others in California, however, is the Farmer's Market in downtown San Luis Obispo on Thursday night from 6-9 p.m. Six blocks on Higuera Street (between Osos and Nipomo Streets) are closed SLO vegetables Stock 3501073 SMALL to traffic and feature booths lining both sides of the street selling produce, fresh flowers, barbecue ribs, chicken and sausages, sandwiches, pizza, arts and crafts. Music and dancers often add to the ambiance, and shops and restaurants along Higuera Street stay open late. Another notable farmer's market to check out is on Saturdays in the quaint city park in Templeton.

For the foodie wanting to discover the source of the fresh ingredients that make up their San Luis Obispo County dining experience, take an Ag Adventures tour. From chickens and eggs, fresh seasonally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs (pick your own in many cases), wine, olive oil, and lavender (yes, lavender is edible), San Luis Obispo County farms, ranches, orchards, nurseries, wineries and farm stays offer something for everyone. (www.agadventures.org) Also check out Mt. Olive Organic Farm (Paso Robles), Jack Creek Farms (Templeton), Stoltey's Bee Farm (Atascadero) and Central Coast Lavender Farms (Paso Robles).

What is an Olallieberry?

Resembling a blackberry, the Olallieberry is about two-thirds blackberry and one-third European Red Raspberry. It is the primary fruit grown by the Linns and is featured in Olallieberry products that are popular items at their Fruit Bin Restaurant and Original Farm Store in Cambria, including Olallieberry pies, preserves, dessert wine, oat bar, curd and syrup. (www.linnsfruitbin.com)

Olive Oil

San Luis Obispo County has become a major producer of award-winning premium olive oils featuring a wide variety of olives, styles and oils infused with lemon, orange, tangerine and lime. A large festival dedicated to all things olive (plus a rich selection of gourmet vinegars to complement the oils) is held annually in the downtown City Park in Paso Robles in August. (www.olivefestival.com)

For an instructive olive oil tasting experience, visit We Olive gourmet shops in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, (www.weolive.com) or scenic Pasolivo (Willow Creek Olive Ranch), long-time producer of local award-winning extra virgin olive oils in Paso Robles that has a tasting room and boasts the largest and newest olive press of its kind on the Central Coast. (www.pasolivo.com) Other local olive oil producers to check out include Tiber Canyon Ranch (SLO), Mt. Olive Organics and Olea Farms (Paso Robles).

For another nutty twist, taste walnut oil produced by Limerock Orchards at their stunning walnut orchard in Paso Robles. (www.limerockorchards.com)

Catch of the Day

Commercial fishing boats moored in San Luis and Morro Bays provide local restaurants with fresh seasonal local seafood, including halibut, sanddabs, sole, crabs and albacore.

Located in Cayucos, The Abalone Farm is the largest and oldest producer of California Red Abalone in the United States. The aquaculture facility, a proud participant in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, offers a legal and sustainable source for this prized seafood.  The Abalone Farm's Ocean Rose Abalone is freshly harvested, cleaned, tenderized and vacuum packed for weekly shipments to customers. (www.abalonefarm.com)

Authentic Flavor of the American West SLO Hearst Pool IMG 0472 SMALLWilliam Randolph Hearst's pool.

San Luis Obispo County has a history tied to the American West, including vast rolling hills populated by cattle and cowboys. For natural beef with an extraordinary flavor, foodies should try Hearst Ranch Beef. Raised on the Hearst Ranch surrounding Hearst Castle and the Jack Ranch in Cholame, the cattle are grass-fed, grass finished, humanely raised and never given growth hormones or antibiotics. Hearst Ranch products include aged steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs, beef jerky, plus sauces and olive oils. (www.hearstranch.com)

Speaking of Hearst, Friends of Hearst Castle offer two very special evening food and wine events on the Enchanted Hill: Twilight on the Terrace on June 2, 2012 and Enchanted Evening on September 22, 2012. (http://www.friendsofhearstcastle.org/special_events.asp)

Feel Good Chocolate

Sweet Earth Chocolates, based in San Luis Obispo, is one of a handful of Organic and Fair Trade chocolate makers in the United States. The company was founded by Tom Neuhaus, a California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo Food Sciences professor, trained French chef, chocolatier and humanitarian, who also teaches the only university level class on chocolate in the United States. What makes Sweet Earth Chocolates different from other chocolate makers is their advocacy for Fair Trade and the West African cocoa farmer; Neuhaus visits West Africa every year to help out the farmers who live in poverty despite supplying America with 75 percent of its cocoa. The benefits of Organic and Fair Trade are the all-natural ingredients used to produce the chocolate - no slave labor, no chemicals, no pesticides. (www.sweetearthchocolates.com)

Say Cheese

Visitors to Paso Robles can taste a unique selection of exceptional handcrafted cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses from around the world at the Vivant Fine Cheese tasting room. They offer nearly 200 kinds of cheese that can be paired with Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County wines and beers. An added incentive to visit, Vivant's building basement houses aging caves, the first of their kind on the West Coast. (www.vivantfinecheese.com)

Happy Acres Family Farm is a California state licensed working goat dairy that is new and unique to the Central Coast. Happy Acres started with one special goat named Stella, whom owner Stephanie Simonin got to help feed orphan calves her husband brought home. Stella still leads the ever expanding herd of goats, today made up of four unique breeds totaling over 200 head. Happy Acres' goat milk is all natural and hormone-free. Stop by the farm in Templeton to taste the cheese or pick up some goat milk products from the Happy Acres farm stand. (www.happyacresfamilyfarm.net)


San Luis Obispo County is known as wine country, but beer enthusiasts can please their palates here too with distinctive beers and ales produced and poured locally. Breweries to explore include Firestone Walker (Paso Robles),Tap It Brewing (San Luis Obispo), Pismo Brewing (Pismo Beach) and Dunbar Brewing (Santa Margarita Ranch). A brew pub not to miss is The Pour House in Paso Robles. (www.pasopourhouse.com)

The county hosts two beer festivals. The California Festival of Beers on Memorial Day weekend in San Luis Obispo benefits the volunteer Hospice of San Luis Obispo (www.californiafestivalofbeers.com) and is now in its 27th year, while the new Firestone Walker International Beer Festival takes place during Pioneer Day Festival in Paso Robles in June (www.firestonebeerfest.com).

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The 11-acre Cal Poly Organic Farm on the campus of California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) San Luis Obispo has as its primary mission to provide undergraduate students a place to experience hands-on learning in organic and sustainable farming and gardening practices. Vegetable production includes dozens of varieties of produce that are marketed in several direct sales events like farmer's markets, a campus farm market and to local vendors and restaurants. Produce that is not sold is donated to the Food Bank. In addition to produce, various organic products (honey, chocolate bars) plus cheeses and meats are marketed under the Cal Poly brand. Members of the Cal Poly Organic Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) receive a weekly "harvest box" of fresh seasonal produce. (www.aeps.calpoly.edu/organics)


(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)


Editor's note: Links to the websites of San Luis Obispo County, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options there, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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