California’s beautiful wine regions offer a wide variety of wines and experiences to enjoy and are a key reason that many travelers choose the Golden State as a vacation destination. To help visitors learn more, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights different wine country destinations. This month take a trip to San Luis Obispo County, home to the renowned Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine regions, which continue to garner accolades, particularly for blends of Rhône, Bordeaux, and heritage Zinfandels, as well as Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and aromatic whites.
Located on California’s iconic Central Coast and home to the world-famous Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo County contains 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)—11 in Paso Robles to the north and two in San Luis Obispo to the south. These regions are part of the Central Coast AVA, half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
SIP: Well over 230 wineries call San Luis Obispo County home, like most California wineries, a majority are family-owned, small producers. This means that the owner is often the winemaker, and can be found in the tasting room pouring for visitors. Browse this list of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wineries or use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, picnic areas, food for purchase, concerts, art and more. A wonderful way to explore these regions is through their wine trails. Paso Robles boasts nine wine trails while San Luis Obispo offers six to explore. Visitors looking for ocean views can check out the wine trails of Pacific Coast, Avila Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley, while urbanites can savor wineries along downtown Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Many wine festivals take place throughout the year, including Harvest Wine Weekend (Oct. 14-16) and the Harvest on the Coast Festival (Nov. 4-6).
STAY: Wine enthusiasts can sleep among the vines at several Paso Robles wineries, offering an unusually immersive experience. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance recommends various accommodations. The historic Paso Robles Inn offers winery-themed spa rooms. For those looking to stay in Edna Valley or Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association recommends these hotels.
PLAY: Visitors can enjoy a variety of wine and beach towns, such as Paso Robles—named the 2016 Best Wine Country Town by Sunset magazine and featuring a variety of wine and olive oil tasting rooms, sophisticated eateries and fun boutiques. Heading west out of town is the enjoyable Highway 46 West wine trail, which runs to the coast and lies just south of the world-famous Hearst Castle, where the Kitchen & Cottages Tour includes an insider’s peek at William Randolph Hearst’s expansive wine cellar. Further south on the coast is Avila Beach and its wine tasting rooms and Pismo Beach, both known for their beautiful beaches, surfing and seafood restaurants. Pismo Beach also has a celebrated farmer’s market, one of many in the county. Just 10 minutes inland from Pismo is the college town of San Luis Obispo, home to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Bubblegum Alley and hip cafes.
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MAKE: Agritourism is a big part of San Luis Obispo County’s appeal. FARMstead ED promotes locally grown and made products through pop-up events, getting people out to the farms, ranches and production facilities where food is produced. Guests can take part in hands-on classes in a variety of locations, as well as tours and demonstrations. Pop-up stores sell the goods necessary for guests to do-it-themselves at home. Learn how to make infused oils, vinegar, beverages and salts at the Holiday Infusions workshop Nov. 20. Chef Brigit Binns, author of 28 best-selling cookbooks, teaches guests cooking and entertaining skills with local products along with wine tasting at her Refugio Kitchen classes.
GROW: The region’s diverse soil types (30 in Paso Robles alone), varying topography and microclimates produce nearly 50 winegrape varieties. With clear sunny days and cool ocean breezes filtering through the coastal range, Paso Robles has one of the widest day-night temperature swings of any region in California. While many varieties are grown in Paso, the conditions are particularly ideal for growing bold red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and heritage Zinfandel. The San Luis Obispo wine region occupies the cooler south county—the seafront side of the coastal mountain range—with vineyards on average just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. The focus here is on cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and aromatic whites.
EAT: No visit to San Luis Obispo County would be complete without enjoying the Central Coast’s signature food—Santa Maria Style Barbecue—where tri-tip is seasoned with a dry rub and cooked over red oak for a uniquely delicious experience. With so many miles of coastline, seafood abounds, which is celebrated at the Annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival each October, scheduled this year for Oct. 21-23. Another regional delicacy is olives, enjoyed in olive oil tasting rooms and the Annual Paso Robles Olive Festival held each June.
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wine regions, wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country.