california's central coast - detailed itinerary

Half Moon Bay Monterey Peninsula Big Sur Cambria San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara
  Half Moon Bay Monterey Peninsula Big Sur Cambria San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 1 - Half Moon Bay
Pick up your rental car in San Francisco. Take US101 South to I-380 West, then take I-280 (the Junipero Serra Freeway) and follow the signs to Half Moon Bay. The drive takes about 40 minutes.

With its rugged cliffs, wild beaches, and windswept cypress forests, the San Matteo County coast seems light years away from San Francisco. Half Moon Bay is the region?s largest town with a population around 10,000. Its main street has lots of cute shops, galleries, and cafes housed in turn-of-the-century Victorians.

Half Moon Bay is a laid-back place with an easy charm. Just outside town, there are produce stands, country stores, and nurseries just waiting to be explored. On the third Saturday of the month, there?s a colorful flower market.

Get checked into your inn and then head for the beach. The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in nearby Moss Beach is great for those who love beach-combing. One of the best inter-tidal areas in California, the reserve has tide pools filled with sea creatures like starfish, urchins, and anemones. And if you?d like to get some exercise, there are trails along the cliffs through the cypress forest. If you?re interested in marine life, visit at low tide when 30 acres of reef are exposed.

You can see harbor seals in the Reserve year ?round.

Half Moon Bay State Beach is a four-mile stretch of sandy shore comprised of Francis Beach, Venice Beach, and Dunes Beach. The Coastside Trail here runs all the way to Pillar Point Harbor and it?s great for a walk or bike ride. In spring, you?ll be surrounded by lupine and primroses. You can rent bikes at A Bicyclery on Main Street.

If antiquing and gallery-hopping are more your speed, take Highway 92 inland to Spanishtown. You?ll pass lots of nurseries, Christmas tree farms, and flower stands along the way. If you?re interested in wine, you can stop by the tasting room at Obester Winery to sample their award-winning Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese.

When you?re ready to knock off for the day, there are two great spots for a drink. If the weather?s fine, head for the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. They have a huge deck overlooking Pillar Point Harbor, the home of California?s second largest fishing fleet. It?s especially enjoyable on Sunday afternoons when they have live jazz.

If it?s chilly, you can snuggle up under sturdy wool blankets on the patio at the Moss Beach Distillery. The views of the Pacific here are endless and there?s a bar menu with yummy appetizers to tide you over until dinner.

Half Moon Bay is blessed with several good Italian restaurants. Pasta Moon and Mezza Luna both serve good pastas, interesting pizzas, and flavorful grilled meats.

Day 2 - Half Moon Bay
Have breakfast at your inn or hotel and then spend the day doing whatever you enjoy.

If you?re here between December and April, the non-profit Oceanic Society offers whale-watching cruises with expert naturalists. The three-hour trips leave from Pillar Point Harbor at 9AM and 1PM. Take binoculars and something warm to put on.

Fishers can take a sport fishing charter from Pillar Point. Depending on the time of year, you can fish for salmon, rockfish, or tuna. Or you can tour the harbor by sea kayak.

Golfers can play not one, but two outstanding -- albeit expensive -- courses at Half Moon Bay Golf Links. The Francis Duane and Arnold Palmer designed Links Courses has been named one of the best public courses in the country. And the links-style Ocean Course designed by Arthur Hills is one of Golf Digest?s "Top Ten" new courses.

A great way to start the day here is with a horseback ride along the beach. Sea Horse Ranch offers a variety of private and guided rides along the region?s miles of trails.

Those interested in gardens and stately homes can visit Filoli, a 654-acre estate run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Georgian-style mansion dates from 1915 and is beautifully furnished. If it looks familiar, it?s because the manor served as the Carrington home in the 1980s television series "Dynasty."

The highlight of a visit here is a stroll through the 16 acres of formal Italian- and French-style gardens. More than 20,000 plants are used to create garden rooms, parterres, and terraces. You can reserve a guided tour or take the self-guided tour on your own. The estate is just south of the intersection of Highway 92 and 280.

There?s a teahouse café in the gardens and jazz concerts are held here on Sunday afternoons.

For dinner tonight, try Moss Beach Distillery, which has views from every table, Sushi Main Street, San Benito House, or Barbara?s Fish Trap which is built on stilts out over the water.

If you?d like to do more in the evening than listen to the waves, the Coastal Repertory Theatre stage comedies, classics, and musicals throughout the year at the Mel Mello Center for the Performing Arts in Half Moon Bay.

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 3 - Monterey Peninsula
Have breakfast at your inn or hotel this morning and then drive south to San Gregorio, a tiny town with several 19th-century buildings. If you enjoy general stores, stop by the San Gregorio Store, which has been in business since 1889.

About 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay, you?ll reach Pigeon Point. The 115-foot tall lighthouse here, which dates from 1872, is one of the most photographed in the world. You can tour the grounds on your own during the week or take a 30-minute guided tour of the grounds 10AM to 4PM, Friday through Sunday.

A few miles down the road is Ano Nuevo State Reserve, the home of the world?s largest mainland breeding colony of northern elephant seals, some weighing as much as 5,000 pounds. If you come during breeding season -- from mid-December through March -- you?ll need to reserve a two-and-a-half hour walking tour through the reserve led by a naturalist. The rest of the year you can do the three-mile loop trail on your own. Seals are here year ?round.

During mating season, the huge males battle each other in spectacular displays of virility. You can hear them snorting for miles. Tour space is limited, so make your reservations as far in advance as possible. Otherwise, be at the ticket booth when it opens at 8:30AM and hope for a cancellation.

After your outdoor adventure, reward yourself with crab cakes or goat cheese tarts at the New Davenport Cash Store Restaurant. The Cash Store started as a pottery outlet for the owners and their students. Over the years, lots of exotic imports were added, and today, the Cash Store and its restaurant are both local landmarks. Save room for the bread pudding.

The other good stop for lunch is Santa Cruz, the favorite town of California surfers. If you?re in the mood for Mexican, try Tacos Morena on Beach Street or El Palomar in the Palomar Inn. If you?d like something with a view, head for the Crow?s Nest in the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor.

In 1989, Santa Cruz was devasted by the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake, whose epicenter was ten miles away . Nearly one third of the downtown businesses did not survive. But today, you?ll hardly notice.

After lunch, roller coaster fans can ride the Giant Dipper, one of the oldest remaining wooden coasters in America. The Dipper is part of the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the last oceanfront amusement park in California.

Santa Cruz is known for its beaches and you can absorb plenty of Santa Cruz culture with a stroll along the beach, where sun worshippers, hardbodies playing volleyball, and surfers all happily comingle.

If you?d like to get some exercise, you can rent a bike and take a ride along scenic West Cliff Drive to Lighthouse Point. The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is housed in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. It has lots of old photos, surfboards, and other items documenting the history of surfing. The views of Monterey Bay are great too.

Shoppers can head for Pacific Avenue. Though many of the Victorian structures here were destroyed by the earthquake, today the boulevard is jumping with sidewalk cafes, galleries, design shops, and antique stores. Bibliophiles will love Bookshop Santa Cruz.

The drive to Monterey from Santa Cruz takes about an hour, and it?s another half-hour to Carmel. Depending on your interests, you can base yourself in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, or Carmel-by-the-Sea. There?s lots to do in Monterey. Pacific Grove is good for bicyclists, walkers, and those who wish to avoid crowds. Pebble Beach is a golfer?s paradise. And Carmel appeals to those who want to be strolling distance to quaint galleries, shops, and restaurants.

You can explore the peninsula no matter where you stay. And since the local drives are spectacularly scenic, getting from here to there is all part of the fun.

Get settled into your inn, resort, or bed and breakfast and take a stroll to get oriented. For dinner, try Café Fina, Fresh Cream, or Montrio in Monterey; Passionfish, Fandango or Joe Rombi?s in Pacific Grove; or Anton & Michel, Casanova, or Flying Fish in Carmel.

There?s not a lot going on in the area after dark, so enjoy a leisurely dinner and turn in early. If you?re up for a few decibels, head for Clint Eastwood?s Hog?s Breath Inn in Carmel.

Day 4 - Monterey Peninsula
Have breakfast at your inn and then head for Monterey. If you?re a history buff, start your day at the Monterey State Historic Park which features several well-preserved adobe structures including Casa Soberanes, the Cooper-Molera Adobe, and three historic houses.

A two-mile, self-guided walking tour called the "Path of History" will show you the historic heart of town. You can pick up a map at the Custom House and Garden next to Fisherman?s Wharf. Built in 1827 by the Mexican government, the Custom House is the oldest public building in California.

On the same plaza, the Maritime Museum of Monterey has model ships, prints, documents, whaling tools, and the gigantic lens from the old Point Sur Lighthouse -- it?s nearly two stories tall.

These days, Fisherman?s Wharf is filled with tacky souvenir shops and so-so restaurants, with the exception of Café Fina. If you can overlook the commercialism, there are some great views, and you?ll often hear sea lions barking on the rocks.

You?ll find better shopping and more ambience with a stroll along Alvarado Street, particularly on Tuesday afternoons when the Old Monterey Farmer?s Market and Marketplace attracts more than 100 vendors.

Lovers of fine photography should visit the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art which has important photographs by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The museum also has an international collection of folk art.

Monterey?s world-class attraction is the Monterey Bay Aquarium -- a must-see even for those with no particular interest in marine life. This is one of the most popular attractions in the area, so avoid visiting on the weekend if you can. And purchase your tickets in advance so you won?t have to wait in line. You can buy them online or by phone.

What?s the big attraction? Exhibits like Saving Seahorses, the one-million gallon Outer Bay where you?ll see open-ocean creatures like sharks, sea turtles, and tuna, and the three-story kelp forest. Among the 350,000 marine plants and animals you?ll see here are penguins, otters -- in their own 55,000-gallon playroom -- rays (which you can pat), jellyfish, and octopus. Don?t miss it.

If you?d like some exercise, you can rent bikes or in-line skates and hit the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail which runs along the coast for 18 miles to Lover?s Point in Pacific Grove. Or rent kayaks and explore the coast.

For dinner tonight, try Tarpy?s Roadhouse outside Monterey, Fishwife in Pacific Grove, or the Rio Grill in Carmel.

Day 5 - Monterey Peninsula
After breakfast, spend the day exploring the area however you please.

For a unique view of the Monterey Peninsula, consider a three-hour kayak tour of Monterey Bay. Monterey Bay Kayaks offers naturalist-led trips that pass kelp beds, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and a variety of birds. Trips leave at 9:30AM and 1:30PM.

Birders will enjoy a kayak trip through the Elkhorn Slough. Half- and full-day tours through the tidal flats and salt marshes are available. The complex ecosystem here is home to more than 200 species of birds.

In 1880, the Hotel Del Monte opened on a beautiful piece of property in the Del Monte Forest. They built a 17-mile horse path along the coast, and today the drive is one of the most beautiful in the world.

You can enter the 17-Mile Drive at any of five guarded entrances between Pacific Grove and Carmel. With a cost of $8.50 per vehicle, this is the only private toll road west of the Mississippi. The views in both directions are breathtaking. En route, you?ll pass Point Joe, Bird Rock, China Rock, Fanshell Overlook, Cypress Point Overlook, Crocker Grove where the oldest Monterey Cypress grow, and the Lone Cypress which has stood alone on the cliffs for 300 years. You?ll also pass magnificent multi-million dollar estates.

To make the most of the drive, plan on spending about three hours.

When you?re ready for lunch, try the Clubhouse Bar & Grill or Roy?s at the Inn at Spanish Bay or the Stillwater Bar & Grill overlooking the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

Golfers can choose from a number of beautiful courses in addition to legendary Pebble Beach. If your heart?s set on playing it -- and the $450 greens fees aren?t a deterrent -- your best bet is to stay at The Lodge at Pebble Beach or the Inn at Spanish Bay. Guests have first dibs at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey. You can reserve your tee times when you reserve your room.

If you?d like to play a round but don?t want to spend a lot, Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course is a great buy. The back nine was laid out by Pebble Beach designer Jack Neville in 1960 and it features views of the ocean and the Point Pinos Lighthouse.

Old Del Monte is another bargain, particularly if you take advantage of their twilight rates. Bayonet and Black Horse are in the $70 range.

Literary buffs can drive to Salinas, 20 miles northeast of Monterey to visit the National Steinbeck Center, an $11 million museum dedicated to the life and work of the author who made Monterey?s Cannery Row famous.

Those interested in architecture will enjoy a stroll past the Victorian cottages and mansions of Pacific Grove. The San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission -- the Carmel Mission -- founded in 1770, is also worth a visit. The second Franciscan mission built in California, it is the most beautiful.

With 14 acres of landscaped grounds, the mission is of interest to garden lovers too.

The village of Carmel has drawn artists and authors for decades, and today it attracts hordes of tourists as well. You?ll enjoy it most mid-week or, better yet, off season. The architecture is a little Tudor, a little Mediterranean, and a little fairy tale. And a walk past the storybook cottages designed by Hugh Comstock, gnarled cypress trees, and flowering courtyards is a true pleasure.

Shoppers will find many temptations in the galleries and boutiques along Ocean Avenue and lining Carmel Plaza. And there are lots of restaurants to revive you when you tire. It?s hard to believe the city limits enclose just one square mile.

Two of the most interesting buildings in Carmel are Tor House, the home of poet Robinson Jeffers, and Hawk Tower, which contains stones from all over the world, including the Great Wall of China. Tours of both are available on Fridays and Saturdays with reservations.

If you just want to enjoy the spectacular scenery, there are several good parks in the area. At the end of Ocean Avenue, Carmel Beach City Park has a beautiful white sand beach. Carmel River State Park has fewer tourists and more birds. But if you?re really serious about enjoy the outdoors, head for Point Lobos State Reserve where there are dozens of trails leading through Cypress groves and overlooking sea otter, harbor seal, and sea lion colonies.

From December through April, it?s a great place to spot gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja, Mexico.

Wine lovers can visit the tasting rooms at Estancia Estates and Hahn Estates in Soledad, Galante Vineyards and Heller Estates in Carmel Valley, or Robert Mondavi Coastal or Ventana Vineyards in Monterey.

Dine tonight at The Old Bath House Restaurant in Pacific Grove. In a 19th-century building that was originally a bath house for Methodists on retreat, the restaurant overlooks the ocean from Lover?s Point Park.

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 6 - Big Sur
Cross your fingers for good weather this morning as you make one of the most spectacular drives in the world.

If the weather?s bad, you?ll be less miserable if you travel inland from Carmel Valley to Cambria on Highway 101. If it?s a fine day, head south on California Highway 1 for Big Sur, a 90-mile stretch of mist-enshrouded coastline that?s absolutely stunning.

The road twists and winds its way along the cliffs, demanding your full attention. But there are lots of turn-outs and viewpoints en route.

Thirteen miles south of Carmel, you?ll reach the Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as the "rainbow bridge." The 268-foot tall arc is one of the most photographed in the country and you can park at the north end and walk out on the bridge for great photos.

Those who enjoy lighthouses can stop at Point Sur Lightstation which is a National Historic Landmark. It?s the only complete turn-of-the-century lightstation in California that?s open to the public. Tours are available on Saturday and Sundays, with additional tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays in summer.

Hikers will find lots of trails with gorgeous views in Andrew Molera State Park. A wide, one-mile path will take you to a sandy beach with great tide pools. Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park has trails through madrona and oak forests. The paved road that branches off Highway 1 between the Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park will take you to Pfeiffer Beach, where you can explore gigantic sea caves.

The best stop for sustenance along the way is the legendary Nepenthe. Orson Wells bought the property for Rita Hayworth in 1944. The view from their terrace 800 feet above the Pacific is arguably the best on the coast. Enjoy an overpriced broiled swordfish sandwich or "Ambrosia" burger there, or have Mexican food on the terrace of the Café Kevah below. On clear days, you can see 40 miles of coastline.

Just past Nepenthe, The Henry Miller Library occupies the former home of Emil White, Miller?s personal secretary and close friend. Miller lived in Big Sur for 18 years and the museum contains many of the author?s books and art. You can see Miller?s watercolors -- and paintings and crafts by local artists -- at the Coast Gallery, four miles down the road.

At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you can take the quarter-mile Waterfall Trail that overlooks McWay Falls as it tumbles 80 feet from the cliffs into the ocean. If you?re lucky, you?ll spot the sea otters who like to hang out in McWay Cove.

Continue along the Pacific Coast Highway through the towns of Lucia, Pacific Valley, Gorda, and San Simeon until you reach the charming artist?s colony of Cambria, Get settled into your inn, and if time permits, explore the antique stores, galleries, and boutiques of the "Village," Cambria?s Victorian heart.

For dinner this evening, try The Sow?s Ear, which was voted best restaurant in San Luis Obispo County. Other good choices in Cambria include the Brambles Dinner House, or Robin?s.

Turn in early this evening so you can head to Hearst Castle bright and early.

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 7 - San Simeon/San Luis Obispo
William Randolph Hearst spent twenty-eight years and $10 million building his castle above San Simeon and it?s California?s second most popular attraction. Only Disneyland draws more visitors. It would cost around $400 million today.

It?s easy to understand why. Hearst Castle is amazing. Crowning 127 acres overlooking the Pacific, the castle was designed by Julia Morgan incorporating Moorish, Italian, French, and Spanish elements. Guests are driven from the visitor?s center up the hill to the Main House: La Casa Grande. The complex also contains several guest "cottages" and gardens.

Hearst was an insatiable -- and well-funded -- collector, and San Simeon is filled with treasures from all over the world. On his tours of Europe, Hearst picked up Greek and Roman Statuary, priceless tapestries, and countless works of art. Anyone who?s seen "Citizen Kane"will see the similarity between Hearst Castle and the fictional Xanadu.

There are several tours available -- Tour 1 is best for first-time visitors. Whatever you do, don?t miss the incredible indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Many visitors believe they are the highlights here. Make your reservations well in advance for early in the morning. That way, you?ll beat the crowds.

There are two ways to get from Cambria to San Luis Obispo, depending on your interests. If you enjoy wine tasting and antiquing, take 46 east to Paso Robles. There are dozens of antique dealers downtown and in the Antique Emporium Mall and the Great American Antiques Mall.

Oenophiles will find many appealing wineries in the Paso Roble?s area, with none of the crowds common in Napa and Sonoma. In fact, Wine Spectator calls this "the next red-hot wine region."

The climate here is virtually identical to that of the Alexander Valley outside Mendocino, and most of the 50 wineries in the appellation are still family owned. Particularly delicious are the Zinfandels, Cabs, and Merlots produced here.

Stop by the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce for a map and wine-tasting and touring information.

Opened in 1983, Eberle is in many ways the granddaddy of Paso Robles wineries. You can tour their aging caves, sample their Chardonnay, Rhone, and Syrah blends in their attractive tasting room, and picnic on their deck overlooking the vineyards.

White wine fans will enjoy a visit to Adelaida Cellars, which Wine Enthusiast magazine named one of America?s great Chardonnay producers. But don?t overlook their Zinfandel either.

Justin Vineyards and Winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Nebbiolo, as well as a couple of white wines. Their Bordeaux-style Isosceles was named one of the Top Ten wines of the year by Wine Spectator.

Arciero Estate Winery is one of the largest family-owned wineries in the region. In addition to tasting EOS Estate Winery and Arciero Estate wines, you can check out former driver Frank Arciero?s Race Car Exhibit, wander the gardens, and pick up gourmet goodies and picnic supplies at their Mediterranean Marketplace. Their Merlot won the Gold Medal at the New World International Wine Competition 2000.

The largest producer in the Paso Robles appellation, Meridian Vineyards has a lovely stone winery with beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards. You can sample classic, reserve, and small-lot wines in their beautiful tasting room, stroll the manicured herb gardens, and buy everything you need for an al fresco lunch under their 200-year-old oaks.

J. Lohr Winery has been in Paso Robles since 1988, but opened their reception center and tasting room in the summer of 2001. Their Cabernet Sauvignon was one of only three California cabs to win a Gold Medal at the 1999 International Wine Challenge.

If you?re more interested in coastal splendor than wine tasting, you can continue on Highway 1 to Morro Bay, which is named for the huge volcanic rock that sits just offshore. The rock is now a protected nesting ground for peregrine falcons.

You can stroll the town?s main drag -- the Embarcadero -- rent a kayak or a canoe and paddle around the bay, or visit the Museum of Natural History at Morro Bay State Park.

South of town, Montana de Oro State Park has more than 8,000 acres of dunes, coastal plains, and steep cliffs to explore. There are good hiking, biking, and bridal trails and sandy stretches for beach combing or tide pooling.

It?s less than half an hour from Morro Bay or Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo, one of the Central Coast?s most likable towns. SLO?s inland location has helped to preserve it, and the culture today combines farmers, technology workers, and Cal-Poly students and faculty.

The mission here, founded in 1772, was the fifth in California. San Luis Obispo grew up around the mission and Mission Plaza is still the heart of the city. The Visitor?s Center is on the Plaza and you can pick up walking tour maps and information about area attractions there. The SLO Art Center at the south end of the Plaza has three galleries exhibiting California arts and crafts, and the County Historical Museum is just across from the Mission.

Art Deco fans should stroll by the historic Fremont Theater, one of the last of the old movie palaces.

For a quick orientation, hop on the free downtown San Luis Obispo trolley. It makes a 15-minute loop around town, Thursday through Sunday. Or do a little shopping on Higuera Street between Nipomo and Osos. If it?s Thursday, you?re in luck. The weekly Farmer?s Market on Higuera Street is SLO?s main event, and you can feast on barbecued ribs and other treats from the grill.

If it?s not Thursday, the SLO Brewing Company is good for microbrews and pub grub. Big Sky Café has appetizers and entrees from all over the world. The Cajun and Southwestern dishes are especially good. If you?re in the mood for Italian, try Buona Tavola.

Thanks to Cal-Poly, there?s more nightlife in San Luis Obispo than you?ll find in other Central Coast cities. The SLO Symphony and Vocal Arts Ensemble perform throughout the year, and there are several theater groups.

If you want to dance or hear some music after dinner, try the Madonna Inn, Tortilla Flats, or the SLO Brewing Company on weekends.

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 8 - San Luis Obispo
If you have a sweet tooth, pick up pastries from the bakery at the legendary Madonna Inn. The over-the-top kitsch palace in pink is one of SLO?s must-sees, or rather must see to believe. But the European style pastries are very good.

There?s lots to see and do in and around San Luis Obispo, so after breakfast spend the day doing whatever you enjoy.

Golfers can play Dairy Creek, Chalk Mountain, or Avila Beach. Kayakers can explore the caves near Shell Beach. And mountain bikers can cycle the Cuesta Ridge Trail.

Beach lovers can drive to Pismo Beach in order to drive on Pismo Beach at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. There are fabulous sand dunes at Pismo State Beach and if you?re in the area between October and March, the Monarch Butterfly Preserve is filled with the brilliant orange and black beauties.

You can rent boogie boards, surfboards, beach cruisers, banana bikes, and even ATVs for exploring the dunes.

Those who prefer fresh water can windsurf, water-ski, or paddle around Laguna Lake.

The village of Arroyo Grande, fifteen minutes south of SLO, appeals to antiquers and wine tasters alike. Branch Street, Arroyo?s main drag, is lined with dozens of historic buildings and antique shops.

Known for it?s buttery Chardonnay and smooth Pinot Noir, the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys are polar opposites of Napa and Sonoma. Many of the wineries here are mom and pop concerns, producing just 5,000 cases a year -- or less.

Those who enjoy Alsatian wines should visit Claiborne & Churchill which produces award-winning Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat. The actual winery was the first straw-bale structure in California.

Edna Valley Vineyards is the product of the Paragon Vineyard Company and the Chalone Wine Group of Napa. With production around 100,000 cases a year, it?s one of the biggest wineries in the region. Edna Valley uses traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques including fermenting the wine in French oak barrels. Their tasting room, which has lovely views of the vineyards, was named "Best in SLO County" by the local paper.

Specializing in premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, Laetitia Vineyards ages their wine in French oak for nine to ten months. Laetitia also produces award-winning sparkling wines. Their tasting room has gourmet foods and the grounds here are the best picnic spot around.

Housed in an adobe house dating from the 1860s, Talley Vineyards tasting room is one of the most attractive in the Edna/Arroyo Grande region. Talley takes great care producing estate-bottled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which usually sell out quickly. They also produce several wines under the Bishop?s Peak label. Lovers of Zinfandel can taste Saucelito Canyon wines at the Talley tasting room.

Barbecue is an integral part of San Luis Obispo County. If you didn?t have it last night, head for Mo?s Smokehouse tonight. What it lacks in ambience, it makes up for in food. If you?d like a more romantic option, make reservations for dinner at the Gardens of Avila and an after-dinner hot tub at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort. The resort has twenty private redwood tubs tucked in the wooded hillsides, and they?re available 24 hours a day.

USA Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 9 - Santa Barbara
Have breakfast in San Luis Obispo and then head south on Highway 101 for Santa Maria, the largest town in the region. Santa Maria is famous for its barbecue in which a seasoned, tri-tip sirloin is cooked over red oak.

If you?re interested in California history, head out on Highway 1 to Mission La Purisima Concepcion, the best restored mission in the state. Built in 1787, the mission has displays showing how traditional mission crafts were practiced. And the setting is lovely.

The Santa Ynez Valley is known for its Rhone-style wines. And there are two wine trails worth exploring. The Foxen Canyon Trail outside Los Olivos links the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys and passes a dozen wineries, including Curtis Winery, Firestone Winery and Vineyard, Fess Parker Winery, Zaca Mesa Winery, and Foxen Vineyard.

You can sample a variety of wines from the region at Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. They also have maps for self-guided tours. There are several nice galleries and shops in the town. And Panino is good for picnic supplies.

The Santa Ynez Valley Trail travels several roads forming a triangle between Los Olivos, Solvang, and Santa Ynez. Rideau Vineyard, Foley Estates, LinCourt Vineyards, and the mission-style Sunstone Winery are all appealing stops.

The Danish town of Solvang is a major tourist draw. Though the town?s Danish heritage is genuine, today Solvang is slightly surreal -- its windmills and maidens seem stolen from Disneyland.

You can wander the cobblestone streets or rent a bike and pedal around town. If you enjoy a good smorgasbord, or if you?ve never had one, Solvang?s the place. The most popular -- and consequently crowded -- choice is Bit O? Denmark. But you?ll find Scandinavian food anywhere you go.

Make sure you sample the pastries from one of Solvang?s many bakeries -- Birkholm?s is arguably the best in town.

Santa Barbara, 45 miles south of Solvang, is the cornerstone of the "American Riviera." With its Spanish tile roofs, stately palm trees, and lovely plazas, it takes the best that California has to offer and wraps it up in a neat, stylish package. Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the sparkling Pacific, Santa Barbara is gorgeous.

For a nice orientation, head for the superb Spanish-Moorish Courthouse. Surrounded by lawns and tropical gardens, the Courthouse was built in 1929 and it offers 360-degree views from its clock tower. If time permits, you can take the 12-block "Red Tile Walking Tour" that leaves from in front of the Courthouse.

When you?re ready to call it a day, take the shuttle to Stearns Wharf for a drink. Built in 1872, the Wharf has nearly 4 acres of decking. There are several good restaurants here. Or head next door to the breakwater. The outdoor tables at Brophy Bros. have smashing views. If you can?t force yourself to leave, don?t worry. Brophy?s is a great spot for dinner.

Otherwise, try the Palace Grill for Cajun food or La Super-Rica for Mexican food that?s garnered praise from everyone.

Santa Barbara has a symphony orchestra, a light opera company, and several professional theater groups. Check the local paper for performance schedules. Or just head for Old Town, where there are a number of bars and clubs along State Street.

Day 10 - Santa Barbara
Have breakfast at your hotel and then head downtown to explore some of Santa Barbara?s museums. Chances are, you?ll be tempted by the stylish shops along the way.

The Karpeles Library owns many of the world?s most significant documents. The Karpeles?s Santa Barbara museum displays manuscripts related to Edison, the Civil War, Mark Twain, and the Spanish-American War; original scores by Mozart and Verdi; and old cartoons from the Disney Studio.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art shows interesting traveling exhibits and a permanent collection that includes work by Matisse, Braque, Bonnard, Chagall, John Singer Sargent, and William Merritt Chase. The museum also has important antiquities from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Sumeria.

Occupying a recreated hacienda, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum has all sorts of interesting objects documenting the city?s 200-year history. You?ll see everything from a Pony Express saddle to a Chinese altar, as well as temporary exhibits.

El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park contains El Presidio Chapel, the Commandant?s Office, and El Cuartel adobe. Dating from 1788, it?s the second-oldest building in California.

Santa Barbara?s other attractions are outside the downtown area, so it?s best to drive. Lunch at El Encanto is another great reason to hop in the car. The views from the terrace here will absolutely take your breath away. And the romantic ambience of this historic hotel makes any meal here special.

After lunch, you can visit the Mission Santa Barbara, established in 1786. Rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1812, Santa Barbara?s Mission is one of the loveliest in California. It?s been continuously operated by the Franciscans since its founding.

The Botanical Gardens nearby are spectacular. More then five miles of paths lead through the 65 acres of gardens representing eight distinct habitats. There are more than 1,300 species of plants here and it?s beautiful any time of year.

Also in the area, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has interactive exhibits pertaining to geology, paleontology, anthropology, and the flora and fauna of the region. Skeletons on display include a Pygmy Mammoth and a 72-foot Blue Whale. And there are nature trails through eleven acres of Live Oak woods.

When you?re worn out, head for the beach. At Arroyo Burro County Beach Park -- known as Hendry?s Beach to the locals -- you can enjoy a margarita right on the beach at the Brown Pelican. It?s a great place at sunset.

For dinner, try Bouchon for California-style French or Emilio?s for Northern Italian.

Day 11 - Santa Barbara
The day is yours to enjoy the area as you please.

Garden lovers should make reservations in advance to visit Lotusland, the 37-acre estate of Polish opera singer Ganna Walska. Many of the exotic plants you?ll see here were planted in 1882, and the gardens include pools, fountains, topiary, and ponds. Two-hour tours are given at 10:30AM and 1:30PM Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations are a must.

Golfers will enjoy Sandpiper -- one of the Top 75 Public Courses in the country -- Rancho San Marcos, or Santa Barbara Golf Course. Bicyclists can rent bikes and explore a number of trails in and around Santa Barbara. The coastal path from Stearns Wharf to Montecito is especially enjoyable. If you dress reasonably, you can have tea at the luxurious Four Season Biltmore, built in 1927.

Nature lovers can cruise to Channel Islands National Park for a day of diving, hiking, or kayaking. Birders will enjoy Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Water sports enthusiasts can rent sailboats or jet skis at Santa Barbara Harbour. And there are beaches for every persuasion. East Beach and Butterfly Beach are two of the most popular.

Santa Barbara has great shopping. Antique lovers should drive down to Summerland, a beach town with several good dealers.

Downtown, State Street, El Paseo and La Arcada are attractive and appealing with chic boutiques, sidewalk cafes, and atmospheric courtyards. For the area?s most up-market shopping, walk along Coast Village Road in Montecito. And if you find Nordstrom irresistible, head for Paseo Nuevo, an open-air mall with a Mediterranean feel.

For dinner the last night of your trip, splurge at Citronelle or the Wine Cask. The dining room, which opens onto a courtyard, has been named the most beautiful in town. The wine cellar features more than 2,000 labels -- more than 40 are available by the glass. And the food is terrific.

If the weather?s fine -- and it nearly always is -- take an after-dinner stroll and drink in the wonderful ambience of America?s loveliest resort.

Day 12 - Homeward bound
Drive to Los Angeles for your flight home.