It’s easy to forget how spoiled we are in Southern California. I still have flashbacks from my days in Boston — trudging through the snow and (irrationally) imagining that I’d never be warm again! Besides the obvious upgrade in weather, Southern California has a lot of advantages including good wine. On our latest adventure, we’ll take you through the Central Coast wine country — just 3.5 hours north of LA — and all the cute little towns along the way.
While Napa gets most of the wine world’s attention, the Central Coast region near San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles is not to be missed. Over Easter weekend, Kevin and I decided to take a mini-trek. It’s been years since we’ve been up there. And even more idyllic than we remembered. Check out our 3 day itinerary below — perfect for a long weekend of wine tasting mixed with a lot of other non-wino activities!
FRIDAY – DAY 1:
Buellton, located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, is home to some of the area’s best eateries as well as one of my favorite quirky road trip stops — Ostrich Land! Here you can feed ostriches (aka the evil beasts!). Seriously, it is an experience not for the faint of heart. We didn’t stop on this trip, but have gone twice in the past. If you have the time, you gotta visit at least once. Just don’t blame us if you’re scarred for life!
- Next stop, just up the road, is Pea Soup Andersen’s. This classic, roadside America establishment feels frozen in time and best known for their split pea soup . But what did we like the most? The free cheese samples (obviously)! And I personally enjoyed the gift shop selling all sorts of useless items (that Kevin would kill me if I purchased). I mean, who doesn’t need ceramic wind mill pepper shakers? Or a set of dolls that definitely resemble the bride of Chucky?
- Just minutes away is Hitching Post II, the iconic restaurant featured in the 2004 cult wino movie Sideways. Reservations are essential at this classic, bare-bones steakhouse. Or try your luck grabbing open seating at the bar, which is normally several people deep.
Hitching Post II is best known for their filet mignon and of course their Sideways-branded Pinot Noir. But something tells me the bartender has heard the classic movie line more than once, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving!” We recommend getting the Pinot Noir flight ($18) that includes four 2 oz pours… Just because it’s fun!
- After dinner, head north 1 hour to your final destination in San Luis Obispo (nicknamed SLO for the town initials). We skipped dessert at the Hitching Post II, so headed straight for Batch in downtown San Luis Obispo to get some hand-scooped ice cream cookie sandwiches. They were about to close for the night at 10 PM (okay, maybe they were ALREADY closed), but were nice enough to let us in after hours!
- Finally, check into your hotel for the night at Petit Soleil, our new favorite boutique hotel. It is all-French themed, right down to the room decor and accordion music playing from our alarm clock/CD player. One thing to note – these beds are high! Not sure if that’s a French thing, but we got our cardio in for the night by leaping into the bed. At least, that’s what we told ourselves after eating all those ice cream sandwiches!
SATURDAY – DAY 2
- 9-10 AM, Breakfast at Petit Soleil. You won’t want to miss this. Besides the bowls of fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal, the staff goes all out preparing a variety of fully cooked meals like the cheesy egg bake, lemon ricotta pancakes and the cheese and tomato quiche.
- 10 AM, Walk a few steps from the hotel and peruse all the ethically-sourced, handcrafted chocolates at Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates. As you know, we can’t pass up a free sample — especially when it comes to dark chocolate! We may have bought a few bars and some peanut butter eggs. We clearly have no self-restraint!
- 10:30 AM, Depart for The Luffa Farm, just 20 minutes south of San Luis Opisbo in the town of Nipomo. You might feel like you’re trespassing at first as you drive into the driveway at this blink-and-you-miss-it farm!
- I could tell Kevin had his doubts! But we were soon greeted by the incredibly friendly luffa harvester, who gave us the low-down on all things luffa. Until visiting, I never knew these were actually plants – like a giant cucumber. In Asia, it’s even a delicacy they eat.
- After the 10-15 minute tour, you’ll end up in the gift shop. And clearly, I have no control. I’m ready to bring back the luffa like it’s 1990!
- 11:30 AM, Drive 10 minutes to the super quaint town of Arroyo Grande, known for their antiques and real-life roosters that wander around the town.
- 11:45 PM, After getting your fill of roosters, we recommend checking out the swinging bridge. Keep your expectations in check, okay. It’s a swinging bridge. But weirdly, we had a really fun time crossing it. If you time your trip to a Saturday (like we did), they even have a farmer’s market that begins at noon and located right at the foot of the bridge.
- 12–1 PM, Lunch time! Though honestly, we were still so full from breakfast. And okay, maybe the 3 bars of dark chocolate and all those free samples. If you are hungry, you won’t be disappointed in the Alaska-themed Klondike Pizza. This place is so much fun. Kevin and i just enjoyed looking around it. And maybe got a little competitive on their Ghostbusters pinball machine.
- 1-2 PM, take the time to peruse downtown Arroyo Grande. Check out the antiques stores, cute coffee shops like Cafe Andreini, ice cream at Doc Burnstein’s or the wine tasting rooms scattered all along Branch Street. Kevin enjoyed some time lounging in the coffee shop, while I checked out the town and did all this research!
- 2 PM, Depart Arroyo Grande and drive 45 minutes to Cambria for a tour of Nitt Witt Ridge. Cambria is well-known for it’s much more famous landmark, Hearst Castle. But we’ve done this tour about 3 times now. Don’t get us wrong, it’s incredible! But we were ready to try a little more quirky spot.
- 3 PM, take the 30 minute tour of Nitt Witt Ridge. The story of Nitt Witt Ridge goes that reclusive artist Arthur “Art” Harold Beal bought this hillside lot in 1928 and spent most of the next 50 years carving out the terraces creating his own “castle on a hill.” Or to his neighbors — a pile of garbage. And it became known as the “Poor man’s Hearst Castle.”
- Tours of Nitt Witt Ridge run every day on the hour from 10 AM – 4 PM. Just show up and wait for Mike to come down the stairs. The cost is $10 per person and worth every dollar to step inside the mind of a clearly eccentric person!
- 4 PM, Drive back towards San Luis Obispo, but make a quick detour to Jack Creek Farms in Templeton where you can pet farm animals, walk through a maze and pick up some snacks (if you aren’t fully stuffed at this point!).
- 5:00 PM, Time your trip just right to arrive back at Petit Soleil for their wine and appetizers at night (running from 5-6:30 PM). They sample nothing but the best — quality local wines from the San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles area.
- 6:30 PM, spend some quality time wandering around downtown San Luis Obispo, one of the most picturesque college towns in America. We ended up chilling at the hipster Kreuzberg Coffee Company.
- 8 PM, the night is young! Wrap your night in style in the cushioned recliner seats at The Movie Experience. The theater also serves a variety of beer, wine and snacks. We recommend the chicken nuggets, which weren’t that good. But honestly, so much better than the thing they called “pizza.” Better yet, get dinner before the movie and your drinks here!
SUNDAY – DAY 3
- 8:30 AM, Enjoy another delicious breakfast at Petit Soleil
- 9:30 AM, Get some good exercise in by tackling the Bishop Peak Trail, a short 10 minute drive from the hotel. This rigorous hike took us about 2.5 hours to complete round trip. Much of the trail is shaded, but we still think it would be better in the cooler months (or early morning).
- 11:30 AM, After a quick refresh/shower at Petit Soleil, drive 30 minutes north to Paso Robles. The downtown has a number of cute little shops, but we recommend perusing the local goods at the General Store and the cinnamon cookies at Brown Butter Cookies.
- 12:30 PM, Drive into the gorgeous wine countryside. We suggest starting it off with some food to lessen the strength of California’s wine (with it’s high alcohol percentage) and visit Pasolivo Ranch.
- 1-2 PM, Pasolivo Ranch offers olive oil tastings for free, and paired with some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever had. This stop was surprisingly one of my favorite highlights of the weekend. The olive oil is delicious and the shop has a variety of other products that pair well with it like the truffle salt (which I also bought!).
- 2-4:30 PM, visit some wineries! I know you were all thinking it — finally! There are so many fabulous wineries in Paso Robles, but this trip we hit up Halter Ranch (tasting fee: $20/pp waived with two bottle purchase) and Kukkula (tasting fee: $15/pp waived with two bottle purchase). Both places came highly recommended by the ladies at Pasolivo Ranch and didn’t disappoint!
- 4:30 PM, Reluctantly, we head back to LA (3.5 hours drive). We had such an incredible time that we’ve already booked another trip for the July 4th week, staying at Petit Soleil in San Luis Obispo once again! This trip will be paired with a journey through Carmel-By-The-Sea and Santa Barbara. And in case you’re wondering, no I don’t miss Boston!