Rows of vineyards and green fields cover the land below as our plane nears San Luis Obispo Regional Airport. The fertile fields on California’s Central Coast produce a large variety of vegetables, flowers, and berries, but the region is best known for its vineyards.

San Luis Obispo from the air
San Luis Obispo from the air. Photo by Janna Graber

Slo Cal Way of Life

Nicknamed Slo Cal, referring to San Luis Obispo County, this laid-back region is located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Even from the air, you can feel this different side of the state. There’s no sign of congested highways or dense housing, which is what I usually see flying into California. All you see are signs of Mother Nature’s handiwork.

Slo Cal has many small beach towns along Highway 1. Photo by Highway 1 Discovery Route
Slo Cal has many small beach towns along Highway 1. Photo by Highway 1 Discovery Route

Slo Cal has more than 315 sunny days a year, and together with fertile soil, it’s the perfect spot for thriving farms and wineries. However, there are also 16 unique towns to discover in the region.  

You can spend your days enjoying sandy beaches, exploring unique galleries, and, of course, wine tasting.

There are more than 250 wineries spread across two different regions – San Luis Obispo wine country and Paso Robles wineries. With so many wineries, it’s not easy to choose which ones to visit, but my husband, Ben, and I are up for the challenge.

Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles. Photo by Allegretto Resort
Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles. Photo by Allegretto Resort

Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles

We head first to Paso Robles, a town about 28 miles inland with a population of 30,000 people. Cabernet is the most prevalent grape in the region; more than half of all wines produced here are Cabernet Sauvignon.

We decide to stay at the Allegretto Resort, which has a Mediterranean feel. The luxury resort is situated on 20 acres of wine grapes, fruit trees, and olives.

Allegretto Resort has 171 guest rooms, a beautiful pool with private cabanas, as well as an extraordinary art collection.

We sample several of their wines in the tasting room and enjoy a delicious meal at their onsite restaurant, Cello Ristorante & Bar.

Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, California. Photo by Benjamin Rader
Niner Wine Estates is a top winery in Paso Robles, California. Photo by Benjamin Rader

Paso Robles Wines

Now that we’re settled, we’re off on our winery tour. Niner Wine Estes cultivates wine at three different vineyards in Paso Robles and the Edna Valley. The winery, tasting room and restaurant are family owned.

While dining on the patio, we have a view of the Heart Hill Vineyard that looks like it stepped right out of Tuscany. Dining here and sipping one of Niner Wine Estate’s exquisite Grenache Blanc wines, I see why it’s been called one of the best winery restaurants in America.

Sextant Wines

Just down the street, you can find Sextant Wines owned by the Stoller family. They specialize in old-world varietals and produce some of the world’s finest grape stock. Their varietal selections include powerful Zinfandel and Petite Sirah Blends.

Their tasting room is a welcome stop, and I come away with a bottle of their 2017 Night Watch Proprietary Red.

Jeff Faber at Opolo Vineyards explains part of the winemaking process. Photo by Benjamin Rader
Jeff Faber at Opolo Vineyards explains part of the winemaking process. Photo by Benjamin Rader

Opolo Vineyards

Opolo Vineyards has a welcoming vibe and looks like something straight out of a movie. Jeff Faber, a longtime member of the Opolo team, greets us as we come in. Within minutes we are holding glasses of wine in our hands.

“It’s not how we make wine that’s important; it’s why,” Jeff explains. “Life is short, and it’s meant to be celebrated and enjoyed. Wine is a way to celebrate life.”

Jeff says that Opolo likes to show guests what happens behind the curtain of the wine-making process.

Wine blending parties are held three weekends each year, and Opolo also offers tours into the vineyards. The Opolo Grape Stomp is held in October, and there’s a small inn where guests can stay onsite.

The Highway 1 Discovery Route connects 16 unique communities. Photo by Highway 1 Discovery Route
The Highway 1 Discovery Route connects 16 unique communities. Photo by Highway 1 Discovery Route

Highway 1 Discovery Route

After our time in Paso Robles, we want to see a different side of the California Central Coast – the Highway 1 Discovery Route, an 80-mile section of Highway 1 that follows the scenic winding coast in Slo Cal. The highway connects 10 small artisan communities.

Oceano, California

The tiny beach town of Oceano is our first stop. It’s at the edge of the largest sand dunes complex in California. Oceano Dunes State Park is one of the few beaches where you can drive and camp on the beach.

It’s also a playground for those who enjoy riding ATVs and dune buggies.

Dune buggy adventure at Oceano Dunes State Park. Photo by Janna Graber
Dune buggy adventure at Oceano Dunes State Park. Photo by Janna Graber

SunBuggy Fun Rentals rents dune buggies and ATVs. We want to give it a try, so after watching an instructional video, Ben and I don suits, helmets, and goggles and set off on this adventure.

After a couple of minutes, we end up surrounded by dunes, and no one else is around. This part of Slo Cal feels more like a dessert than coastal California. We take turns driving, and, of course, get the buggy stuck a few times.

We finish this exhilarating experience a little sunburned, but with big smiles on our faces.

Avila Beach, California. Photo by Janna Graber
Avila Beach, California. Photo by Janna Graber

Avila Beach, California

If you want to visit a beach town that is popular with locals, then Avila Beach is the place. This small beach town is located on San Luis Obispo Bay, which is rich with sea life.  

Avila Beach also has a small, but modern downtown. A comfortable room at Avila Lighthouse Suites, two minutes away from the beach, is our base for this visit. In the evening, we dine outside at Blue Moon Over Avila, watching the sun go down under strings of twinkling lights.

Avila Beach Paddlesports. Photo by Vince Shay Photography
Avila Beach Paddlesports. Photo by Vince Shay Photography

Avila Beach Paddlesports

The next morning, we head to Avila Beach Paddlesports. The place is run by Vince Shay and his wife, Emily. As he gives us tips on what to look for in the Bay, it’s evident that Vince loves the area.

He is a great photographer too. Stunning images of wildlife decorate the walls of the shop.

Playful otters along Avila Beach, California. Photo by Vince Shay Photography
Playful otters along Avila Beach, California. Photo by Vince Shay Photography

We paddle out into the bay, heading toward Point San Luis Lighthouse. A gaggle of snoring sea lions on a floating dock near the pier pay no attention to us.

On our distant left, two playful otters float in the water, and a stingray passes under my board. When we reach the tip of the bay where the lighthouse is, we hike to the top and admire the panoramic view of the bay.

Cambria, California

The town of Cambria is situated on hills overlooking the coast. With pine forests and crisp air, it has a mountain feel.

There are no big hotel chains here; instead, small inns and B&Bs are the norm. We choose Oceanpoint Ranch Hotel, which has comfortable rooms and even cozy campsites.

Cambria is home to several fine wineries. That next day, we pull off at Cutruzzola Vineyards, where, after tasting five wines, I choose their 2015 Pinot Noir Estate Gloria as my favorite.

Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill

In the evening, we go for a walk along the California Trail, the coastal path overlooking the sea. If you follow this trail, you can reach popular restaurant Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, known for its ocean views.

There, we enjoy fine seafood and a breathtaking sunset. Not far from there is a family-run restaurant called Robins, where we enjoy scrumptious international cuisine that next night.

The author and her husband riding at Covell's Clydesdales in Cambria, California
The author and her husband riding at Covell’s Clydesdales in Cambria, California

Covell’s California Clydesdales

Cambria is also home to Covell’s California Clydesdales, one of the most unique ranches I’ve ever visited. It offers horseback riding on Clydesdale horses through pine forests and woody trails.

Although they are large, these horses are gentle and easy to ride. Ben and I ride Pockets and Matthew, two draft horses that are also best friends.

Riding through the forested hills, all I hear is the sound of our horses’ hooves, their clip-clops softly padded by the pine-needle covered forest floor.

California’s Central Coast has provided many memorable moments, and I know that this is one of them.

If You Go

Highway One Discovery Route

Slo Cal

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