San Luis Obispo is a four-hour trip south down Highway 101 or a stunning drive down Highway 1. Either way, once you arrive, the SLO lifestyle kicks in – laid back, down to earth, and just plain easy. Find rolling hills, a Mediterranean climate, and endless vistas.
Junipero Serra founded SLO in 1772. Known for its lawlessness in the early days of the 1830s when everyone was grabbing for land, today’s SLO is a vibrant city with a focus on food, wine, its proximity to the ocean, and an abundance of outdoor activities.
Within walking distance of downtown, the Apple Farm Inn offers wine country accommodations in a relaxed environment. Choose a spacious, comfortable room in the main inn or one of the surrounding buildings and find a fireplace, extra seating area, modern amenities, and colorful fabrics adorning the furniture. Enjoy warm cookies at check-in and a complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres reception each evening. Beverages are available in the lobby throughout the day. A grist mill and gardens enhance the property (800-544-2040, applefarm.com/).
SHOP & PLAY
Stroll the streets of downtown — a combination of Art Deco architecture, converted Old West buildings (now cafes, antique stores, galleries, and wine tasting bars), and Victorian painted ladies.
You can’t miss Mission San Luis Obispo in the middle of town. Celebrate the history of the region, visit the gift shop, tour the church, and enjoy concerts, events, and other cultural activities held on the plaza throughout the year (805-781-8220, missionsanluisobispo.org/).
On Thursday evenings, it’s all about the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market that takes over Higuera Street. It’s one big party with an energetic crowd. The produce is sensational as are the aromas from fresh-cut flowers and smoky barbeque pits (downtownslo.com/farmers-market/).
Even though SLO is close to many wine regions, why drive when you can simply walk around downtown to the many tasting rooms? It’s great to taste wine without a designated driver.
My husband and I began our wine odyssey at Central Coast Wines, offering wines from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria, and Edna Valley. There’s a cozy tasting area in the back of the store, where on Thursday evenings, a local winemaker pours. The night we visited, Calcareous Vineyard poured their Twisted Paso label: the 2013 Pinot Noir, 2013 Zinfandel, and the 2015 Lily Blanc, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc (805-784-9463, ccwines.com).
The Station is housed in a converted 1920s gas station with roll-up doors that bring in a great outdoor vibe. The Station specializes in international selections and only those local wines produced in small quantities. Sit at the bar or at a communal table. The day we visited, tasting included these 2012s: E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage White (Marsanne/Roussanne) and the Ecker Zweigelt Brillant. In addition to the wines, find an assortment of specialty items (805-706-0711, thestationslo.com/).
Wine, beer, or small bites? It’s all there at Luis Wine Bar. This casual gathering place used to be a Mercury dealership. The modern interior boasts a polished concrete bar, various seating arrangements, and large windows that open to the busy street scene. (On Thursday nights, customers can bring in farmers’ market treats to enjoy with their selections.) With its emphasis on Central Coast wines, we tried the 2014 Last Summer Grenache and the 2013 ONX Mad Crush, a Grenache, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Mourvedre blend. The AleSmith Hawaiian Speedway Stout is a good beer choice (805-762-4747, luiswinebar.com/).
For something a little more energetic, hiking and biking are always popular on the many scenic trails in the area. Favorites include the Valencia Peak Trail and Bishop Peak (alltrails.com/us/California). In town, follow the SLO Creek Walk and take in the public art. At the Apple Farm Inn, there’s a pool and bocce ball court. For something offbeat, visit Bubblegum Alley with its walls stuck with more than two million pieces of chewing gum.
Downtown is full of restaurants like the stylish eatery Granada Bistro. On nice days, the indoor seating expands with large open windows and a spacious patio. French bistro food is prepared with California flair. We began with the luscious diver scallop crudo with Thai chili and steak tartare with cucumber, pine nuts, and Korean-style dressing. The bistro bento box features the chef’s selection from the daily menu. We chose the Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Brut NV from the international wine list. The luscious Meyer lemon budino was a sweet ending (805-544-9100, granadahotelandbistro.com/).
Also downtown, Foremost Wine Company is a high-energy restaurant serving creative cuisine made from whatever the local farmers are growing. Past the cocktail lounge, the industrial-chic restaurant opens up to a choice of seating areas, including space at the popular Burrata Bar. To start, we opted for crispy pig temples served with a Sriracha caramel and creamy burrata with Moroccan-spiced tomato sugo. Then it was a grilled octopus salad kicked up with chipotle aioli and PEI black mussels with fresh ramen noodles. We stayed locally with wine and chose the 2013 Stasis Murmur Vineyards Pinot Noir. Dessert that night was a decadent Valrhona chocolate brownie (805-439-3410, foremostslo.com/).
A country-style breakfast is in store at the Apple Farm Restaurant & Bakery. The menu includes favorites like bacon and eggs, omelets, country fried steak, corned beef hash, and the popular cinnamon pull apart — warm, dripping with icing and extra large in size. The egg dishes are all served with house-made muffins, scones or biscuits, and jam (805-544-2040, applefarm.com/).