San Luis Obispo County has all the ingredients for a delicious culinary adventure. Area farms and orchards produce 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!
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 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)
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
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)
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.
Spring in The Napa Valley is the perfect time for getting outdoors and up-close-and-personal with blooming wild mustard and budding vines. Conservation organizations, nature-minded hotels and sporty tasting rooms serve up exciting adventures in the great outdoors with treks that include biking, kayaking, art and yoga.
Connecting to the LandDedicated to the preservation of the Napa Valley, the Land Trust of Napa County has successfully protected 26,000 acres of pristine wilderness, designating these spaces as public parks and recreational areas featuring fabulous vistas and wildlife corridors.
Throughout the year, the Land Trust offers unique and invigorating field trips, from hikes to wildlife sanctuary explorations or jeep-led tours. On April 29, 2012, the Land Trust began offering a free six-mile "Maggie's Peak Trail Run." The new hike features a trek up the mountainside to the dramatic Devil's Well waterfall and into a serene redwood grove. And this spring and summer, the Land Trust kicks off its new MemberSeries program focused on new ways to connect with the Napa Valley's protected lands, including a 90-minute yoga/meditation session at Archer Taylor Preserve, a century-old redwood forest, and field trips involving lessons in outdoor art and photography. For a schedule of events, brochure and hike sign-up, please visit www.napalandtrust.org.
Tasting the TrailsCycling enthusiasts can pedal over to Velo Vino, a St. Helena tasting room celebrating both cycling and wine, for the sportiest wine tasting in the Napa Valley. Serving Clif Family wines alongside group or custom biking excursions, Velo Vino offers monthly, complimentary cycling adventures suitable for both moderate and advanced riders, ranging in distance from 35-50 miles. Recent rides included cycling along the 40-mile Franz Valley loop on March 24, and on April 21, participating riders biked the 38-mile Old Toll Road route.
Art Inspired Hikes at di RosaSpring is the perfect time for art and nature lovers to visit the di Rosa museum and explore its significant collection of Northern California art. Beginning in April, di Rosa is offering a series of Spring Nature Hikes (April 28, May 5, May 19 and June 9), where guests join experienced guides for the rare opportunity to hike to the top of Milliken Peak at di Rosa, the highest summit in Napa Valley's Carneros region. In addition to sweeping views of the North Bay, hikers' gazes will be entranced with sculptures along the trek to the peak. The hike is moderately strenuous and children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Also offered at di Rosa, every Saturday at 10:00 a.m., April through September, is the two and a half hour "Art and Meadow" tour, which includes a tour of di Rosa's Main Gallery, Historic Residence, and Sculpture Meadow rich in flora and fauna, including resident peacocks. Highlights include the wildly colorful outdoor art populating the meadow, courtyard and 100 year-old olive grove, featuring sculptures by Viola Frey, Mark di Suvero, Gordon Huether, Ray Beldner and the world's tallest file cabinet (Minuet in MG) by Sam Yates. Hikes are free to members, all others $15. For more information about the hikes and tours visit: www.dirosaart.org.
Stay and Hike the Day Away PackageAt the eco-friendly Bardessono hotel in Yountville, a LEED Platinum certified property, the "Hike the Day Away" package includes annual membership for two with the Land Trust of Napa County, which provides access for hiking on private lands and opportunities to enjoy unique members-only excursions. The Bardessono also offers amenities that encourage environmentally friendly adventure, such as complimentary bike rentals for guests and an electric car recharging station. For information and reservations visit http://www.bardessono.com.
(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)
Editor's note: Links to the websites of Napa Valley wineries, as well as websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options will be found in the North Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.
Located 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island is accessible by boat from three southern California ports; San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. It's better known to most as just Catalina Island. Most residents live in the town of Avalon and some in the coastal village of Two Harbors. Avalon is clean and safe and offers the quintessential beach town and island adventure.
Blessed with clear blue waters and Greek-isle scenery, Catalina Island is a Shangri-La. This laid back island town is chock full of places to eat, drink shop. Catalina has a wealth of natural and cultural resources, unique animals and plants found nowhere else on earth. Sightseeing opportunities are numerous and varied from escorted tours around town, adventure rides into the interior, jeep eco tours, hummer rides, to ziplines, rock climbing and undersea adventures. Independent activities are plentiful, camping, hiking, snuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, spa treatments, beach lounging, golf, motor boating, parasailing, fishing boat rides down the coastline and more.
Weather on Catalina Island is temperate, and average annual precipitation is low. Summers are dry and warm. With weather seldom an issue in Southern California, Catalina is an attractive destination year round, with alluring special events. Many of Catalina's annual visits travel in summer, but others select other seasons for special events, promotions and the best travel deals.
With its population of 3,696, Avalon is reminiscent of the villages that hug hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean. The town is great for strolling with a broad beachfront walkway that stretches from the Catalina Express mooring dock to Descanso Beach a mile away. In this easy atmosphere, Catalina offers the overnight visitor everything from tent-site camping to cozy beachfront hotels and bed and breakfasts, from family friendly inns to well-appointed condos, from charming cottage vacation rentals to an elegant four-star country Inn. There are luxurious oceanview suites and comfortable beach bungalows. Catalina Express packages with 21 properties that together offer a variety of lodging options coupled with boat tansportation, tours, meals and more.
Special events are held throughout the year on Catalina Island. The Catalina Chamber of Commerce keeps an updated calendar on its website (www.CatalinaChamber.com): Film Festival, Flying Fish Festival, Art Festival, Wine Festival, Jazz Trax Festival, Big Band Dances, Swing Dance in the Casino Ballroom, Concert Series, Golf Cart Parades, Museum displays. Sporting Events: Marathons, Triathalon, 50 mile Run, Billfish Tournaments, Scuba Dive Events, Motocross Race.
In its 30-year history, Catalina Express has ferried over 22 million passengers to and from Catalina. The fleet of eight high-speed boats carries passengers over the 22 miles in just about an hour, with up to 30 scheduled departures per day.
Catalina Express offers frequent departures from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. The Express goes direct from the mainland to Avalon and Two Harbors at the Isthmus.
The Commodore Lounge upgrade is available on the high-speed catamarans. Lounge passengers enjoy priority boarding, comfortable seating in a more intimate lounge environment and a complimentary beverage with packaged snack served by cabin attendants.
The Captain's Lounge upgrade for up to eight passengers is available for private bookings; located on the top deck directly behind the captain, it includes a complimentary bottle of champagne.
Boat reservations can be booked online at www.CatalinaExpress.com or by calling 800 429-4601.
(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)
Editor's note: Links to the websites of some Catalina Island lodging and dining options, and hundreds more for Los Angeles/mainland options, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.