SAN LUIS OBISPO

TAKING IT SLO

DURING A US ROAD TRIP, SAN LUIS OBISPO PROVIDES THE PERFECT OASIS AS CHARLIE BOND DISCOVERS

“Which is your favourite?” I peer at the wine list in front of me, hoping to reach a conclusion but I can’t – they’re all delicious. “Perhaps you’d like to try the gin too?” I certainly would, thank you. After all, when in California, as they probably say…

I’m in the midst of a somewhat full-on USA road trip. What began as relaxing honeymoon plans have quickly become a heady mix of furtive excitement and sightseeing – from Las Vegas to San Francisco and then down the West Coast of California, we’ve certainly been packing it in – but now I’m looking for a little respite, and I think I’ve found it in SLO County.

Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California’s Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County boasts beautiful beaches, stunning scenery – and, due to its unique microclimates it’s also a wine maker’s paradise
– which is how I’ve found myself sampling the drink delights at the Grey Wolf Cellars in Paso Robles.
Due to unusual weather conditions at the end of last year, the traditional Highway 1 route is closed south of Monterey County while urgent repairs are completed on Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, but it’s easy enough to get to the area. We’ve taken the alternative route via Highway 101, which conveniently brings us right into Wine Country and the tranquil rolling hills of Paso Robles.

From Grey Wolf, we visit another local winery – Ecluse  – where owner Steve invites us to taste straight from the tank, and then we’re merrily (well one of us is, the other is driving) on our way to our stop for the night – Little Sur Inn which is located in Cambria.
Our room has a stunning outlook over the seafront, a warming fire for chilly evenings and is the perfect location to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. Once the last slivers of light drop into the sea, we venture out to the town itself in search of dinner.

Cambria is a charming town, named one of the most beautiful in America by Forbes Magazine. We drive down to the village area for dinner and are met with an eclectic mix of boutiques, gift shops and restaurants, eventually finding ourselves in Las Cambritas, a Mexican eatery where we enjoy some amazing flavoursome dishes, including the delicious (but not diet friendly) avocado fritas. Happy and full, we return to our hotel and fall asleep to the sounds of the sea.

We awake to a cloudless morning, and set off for our first excursion of the day – a visit to Hearst Castle, which is set at an altitude of 1,600 feet and offers unparalleled views across the surrounding Californian scenery. I instantly fall in love with this Mediterranean-inspired architectural masterpiece, and teamed with the fascinating guided tour, this is a real SLO County gem worth spending a few hours visiting.

Once back at ground level, we drive along to the Elephant Seal Vista Point at San Simeon, where hundreds of the creatures lie basking in the sunshine and playing in the sea. We learn that amazingly, the seals spend eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, before migrating thousands of miles for birthing, breeding and to rest. It certainly puts our road trip into perspective!

Lunch is at 60 State Park restaurant in Morro Bay – around a 45 minute drive from San Simeon along Highway 1, and is in an idyllic setting overlooking the bay and the park. The menu is filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients, and we both tuck in to beer battered halibut with chips, which I can safely say gives our British fish and chips a run for their money.
We follow lunch with a stroll around Morro Bay waterfront, where we duck into quaint seaside shops, watch boats setting sail, and breathe in the fresh sea air. It’s a wonderful place to while away the hours, and with plenty of water sport and boat excursions available, there’s certainly plenty to see and do.

As the afternoon draws to a close, we continue our road trip adventure by making our way to San Luis Obispo city itself (or SLO Town as it’s affectionately known), and exploring what it has to offer. It’s early evening and the streets are buzzing – the sun may be setting but here, things are just beginning to heat up. As stylish boutiques in downtown close their doors, restaurants with al fresco patios and bars bedecked with festoon lighting are opening up.

Our fish and chips are long-forgotten, and we set out to find somewhere to dine for the evening. There are so many options, but in the end we choose The Flour House – an authentic Italian pizza restaurant where the pizzas are fresh, wood-fired and nothing short of amazing. There’s even the option of vegan cheese, and the drink menu proffers a strong selection of local wines. This is the kind of restaurant I’d love to have on my doorstep, but if they won’t make the move to Blighty then perhaps I’ll have to set my sights on relocating to SLO Town instead.

We’ve had a brilliant, but busy day, so it’s time to unwind – and there’s no better way than hiring a hot tub at Sycamore
Springs and spending an hour relaxing under the stars. Nestled within the Avila Valley, the tree-canopied hillside plays host to 23 open-air mineral spring hot tubs, each secluded and peaceful, with just the sound of the birds and the breeze. When our hour is up it’s almost impossible to peel ourselves from the cocoon of the warm water and to our hotel.

Thanks to a combination of sea air, soothing spring water and the softest super king bed at the Seacrest Hotel at Pismo Beach, I have the most restful night’s sleep. But, it’s almost bittersweet, because when I wake up I know our time in San Luis Obispo is soon to come to an end. However, there’s still time for one last attempt to take things slow, so we head down the steps directly from the hotel and sink our toes into the sand on the beach below.

Eventually though, it really is time to climb back into the car and continue on our American adventure. Just two days in SLO County has felt like a lifetime, but there’s so much still to explore. If I really can’t bottle it and take it home in my suitcase then perhaps I’ll just have to return, and next time for much, much, longer…

PLAN YOUR TRIP
www.bartonfamilywines.com  www.eclusewines.com www.littlesurinn.com  www.lascambritas.com
www.hearstcastle.org  www.innatmorrobay.com  www.flourhouseslo.com  www.sycamoresprings.com www.seacrestpismo.com

With thanks to: www.visitsanluisobispocounty.com  www.thebrandusa.com