Connoisseur's Heaven

If all you know about San Luis Obispo County is that it’s halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’re missing much of the story about California’s Central Coast. And that story has much to do with the culinary and vintage landscapes that border Highway 101 and the Pacific beaches that hug the famously picturesque Highway 1. For a one-stop feast on the best of the region’s freshly picked agricultural treasures (and barbecued ribs), just attend the six-block-long Farmers’ Market held Thursday evenings year-round in

downtown San Luis Obispo.

This thriving city and college community (California Polytechnic is based here) is located near a dozen inland communities and beach towns, each possessing distinctive charm. On the southern end, the time-warp town of Pismo Beach has miles of unspoiled beaches, visible from an oceanfront room balcony at the Pismo Lighthouse Suites on the Pacific bluffs.  The north end is home to the quaint village of Cambria, where the seaside hotels in a row along Moonstone Beach have seductive names like FogCatcher Inn and aqua-tainment is provided December to March by sea otters and gray whales right outside your front door.

The most cherished output of the local economy comes from fertile soil recognized in the late 19th century by California missionaries as ideal terra firma for growing wine grapes. Modern-day visionaries have transformed this diverse topography with distinct microclimates into the third-largest wine-producing region in the state.

Of the area’s nearly 200 wineries, the majority are in the Paso Robles region along Highway 46, including many with welcoming and unpretentious tasting rooms. At the Windward Vineyard, owners Marc Goldberg (aka the “wine shepherd”—he says the vineyard is the winemaker) and Maggie D’Ambrosia are producing exceptional Burgundy-style Pinot Noir.

The southern corner of San Luis Obispo County is ground zero for the cool-climate Edna Valley and contiguous Arroyo Grande Valley. Here I got a sense of the cooperative spirit of pioneering area winemakers at the shared tasting room of 25-year-old Ortman Family Vineyards and Saucelito Canyon Vineyard, the latter producing Zinfandel from its 125-year-old vines. Also epitomizing the local passion for local bounty is Jack Creek Farms on Highway 46, where owners Becky and Mandy Barlogio, two sisters from a farming family in the town of Templeton, rejected full culinary college scholarships in favor of cultivating the land and business that’s been in the family for five generations.

So next time you’re driving through the Central Coast area, slow down. Savor the fruits of the labor and the neighborly hospitality of those who work and live in San Luis Obispo County. As mama Joy Barlogio says, “It’s all about the food we grow.” And the wine.

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