Opolo Vineyards in California — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
What better way to see California's Central Coast region than by taking a scenic drive, roughly half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco?
On this Central California road trip route, experience both coastal and inland wineries and food pairings. An hour-long drive separates the two distinct wine areas: the inland Paso Robles terroir offers superb and tasty full-bodied reds, thanks to its hotter, drier climate and riverbeds, while the Highway 1 seaside (40 minutes west) produces excellent whites – a direct result of the cooler ocean temperatures and limestone soil.
New gourmet picnic options, cycling and hiking trails, golf courses and an aquarium and elephant seal viewing round out the California Central Coast experience.
Part 1: Inland wine route - Paso Robles area
1 hour (not including stops) via CA 46
Allegretto Vineyard Resort — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Start your Central California road trip with a stay at the 4.5-star Allegretto Vineyard Resort in Paso Robles, where U.S. 101 meets Highway 46. It's convenient to several inland wineries of note connected by scenic drives set against distant hills.
The excellent onsite Cello Ristorante is available for all-day dining. The resort also offers an upscale tasting room, spa services, steam room and an outdoor pool in peaceful surroundings of lush gardens and vineyards.
A 20-minute drive east along Highway 46 to 7110 Vineyard Drive brings you to Opolo Vineyards, which makes an excellent lunch stop too. Since 1999, owners Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols have produced merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and muscat canelli on 280 acres of vineyards. Our favorite? Opolo's fantastic tempranillo.
Brecon Estate Winery — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Just a few minutes away, stop by the Brecon Estate winery at 7450 Vineyard Drive, where we love their 2017 Forty Two –a red Rhone blend that scored 93 points from Wine Enthusiast. This was their first screw cap red wine, but, as they say, "the romance is in the glass, not in the cork."
For a different tasting experience, stop by Pasolivo – another few minutes further along at number 8530 – for a taste of palate-cleansing olive oils presented with a detailed tutoring session and lots of great recipes.
Pasolivo Ranch — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Road-trippers will appreciate dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, thanks to a menu of local fresh ingredients used in the imaginative and colorful dishes. The emphasis here is on organic, regionally-produced food: poultry, fish, grass-fed beef, lamb and exotic meats. Nearby farmers provide all the fruits and vegetables, and breads are baked locally.
On the next day, stop at the Eberle Winery for a tasting and cave tour. Private tastings can be booked in the cool underground cave setting.
Eberle Winery — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
In the 1990s, Gary Eberle, winemaker and proprietor, expanded underground, building the first wine caves in Paso Robles. Gary still greets guests daily with complimentary wine tastings, public tours of the production facility and 16,000 square feet of underground caves.
Cass Winery — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcel
From here, a 20-minute drive southeast takes you to Cass Winery – and a good lunch stop – at 7350 Linne Road. Along with excellent lunch and wine pairings, including a succulent burger, they also operate a bed and breakfast comprising cool tiny homes, fashioned from shipping containers, on the hill behind the winery.
Upgrade your next road trip with these 10 must-have items
Upgrade your next road trip with these 10 must-have items
Part 2: Coastal wine route: Paso Robles to Avila Beach
Around two hours, 90 miles via U.S. 101, CA 41 and CA 1
Saucelito Canyon Tasting Room — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
For the seaside part of the trip, continue west along a quiet twisty road to Highway 41 heading for the coast. While in the area, check out the wines from ambitious new vintners who have taken over former garbanzo bean farms and vacant lands. They're eager to showcase their products while offering educational tastings and food pairings in beautiful surroundings where, like their inland counterparts, no two wineries or vineyards look alike.
First up, the Saucelito Canyon tasting room represents the oldest commercial vineyard in San Luis Obispo County, with zinfandel vines first planted in 1880. In addition to these old-vine zins, sample their whites and roses, too.
The Tolosa Winery, located in the Edna Valley area of San Luis Obispo and the coolest appellation in California, produces complex cool-climate varietals, such as pinot noir and chardonnay.
Tolosa Winery — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
For a traditional mom-and-pop motel experience in the area, set on the pretty nine-hole golf course of the same name, check out (or into) the Sea Pines Resort. It's a wonderful family-friendly spot to play a few holes overlooking the ocean at the small town of Los Osos. The nearby Back Bay Cafe offers a popular waterside breakfast retreat on the edge of Morro Bay.
Sea Pines Resort golf course — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
A good dinner destination is the nearby Blue Heron Restaurant. The cozy spot is popular with seafood lovers who come from all over San Luis Obispo County to try the freshly caught seafood and farm-to-table produce, followed by a vanilla mascarpone panna cotta for dessert.
Blue Heron Restaurant — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Further south, Avila Beach is home to the "sea" portion of the "City to Sea" Bob Jones trail, part of the right-of-way of the Pacific Coast Railroad, suitable for cyclists, hikers and dog-walkers alike. Golfers will appreciate the bridge passing right over the pretty course, which is home to deer and other wildlife.
Bob Jones Trail — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Bike rentals are available near the trailhead at the Avila Hot Springs Resort at exit 195 off the 101, where you can also swim in the hot springs pool.
Avila Lighthouse Suites — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Another good overnight spot, right on Avila Beach, is the Avila Lighthouse Suites featuring contemporary beach design and a generous buffet breakfast. While in town, be sure to check out the Central Coast Aquarium near the Lighthouse Suites.
Part 3: Avila Beach to Point Piedras Blancas
1 hour, 56 miles via Highway 1
Farmhouse Corner Market — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Completing the route, take Highway 1, the coastal route north, to join up with Highway 46 at Cambria, heading back to Paso Robles. On the way, you can take a short detour to pick up lunch or picnic supplies at the Farmhouse Corner Market, outfitted with a bright yellow 1939 Ford pickup near the bakery and coffee bar. A contemporary menu (try the savory Dutch pancake) matches the interior design.
The more adventurous traveler will appreciate a seaweed foraging tour led by Marley Family Seaweeds, who will prepare your "catch" on the beach in the form of a miso-type soup – all while providing valuable information on local edible seaweeds.
Highway 46 in Central California — Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell
Other worthwhile stops off Highway 1 include the beach at Morro Bay – home of the famous volcanic plug, Morro Rock. Just a half-hour north of the turnoff to Highway 46 is Point Piedras Blancas – an excellent spot to view elephant seals year-round for free.