From the Road: Central Coast Circuit

Longing for a long weekend away? With three direct flights daily from Sky Harbor, sparkling ocean views and lush hillside vineyards, Santa Barbara awaits! The classic California mission-style city is quaint, with walkable ways to explore both downtown and the shore. Stay for a day or two to take in the cool ocean breeze, then rent a car to wander the backroads and country hillsides to the epicenter of the Central Coast wine region: Paso Robles. 

Stunning Santa Barbara

Luxury accommodations abound, each with distinct surroundings and experiences. If you want to be on the water with beach access, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara is the place to be. Tall palms surround its patios and the activity list includes an award-winning golf course, a spa like no other and eight California-inspired dining options. New Fireside Garden Rooms with private patio firepits make for the coziest of retreats. 

For a touch of history and a view from up high, El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel opened in 1918, attracting the era’s Hollywood elite. The property offers suites and bungalows as well as a 7-acre garden, zero-edge pool and cave diving as one of the signature activities. 

If you want a more Western experience, Alisal Ranch in Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara invented the term “luxury dude ranch” — think acres of private riding trails and a serene lake. The family-friendly property offers a vast array of complimentary activities, including bike rentals, fishing gear, kayak rentals and shuttles to Solvang, the town famous for its Danish traditions. Gourmet BBQ offerings and special culinary weekends make this unique property one you will not forget.

During your stay, set aside time to stroll through the downtown district’s myriad shops and boutiques. If you crave the Pacific, local outfitters of all types wait in the harbor with whale watching, dolphin chasing and cruising Channel Islands National Park. Touted as the “Galapagos of North America,” the chain of five islands is home to more than 2,000 plants and animals, many of which can only be found on the islands. Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to see California sea lions, cormorants and the world’s fastest-flying bird — the peregrine falcon — while keeping their eyes peeled for the endemic island fox.

As one of four host cities of the California Wine Festival, culinary adventures are everywhere. Plan ahead with reservations, but we also recommend exploring the breezy, casual cafes along the way. Before taking off for the day’s adventures, head to Helena Avenue Bakery for takeaway pastries, a full menu of decadent toasts or delicious breakfast tacos. You can even pre-order picnic items and pop into the Santa Barbara Wine Collective next door before taking off for the countryside or boating fun. 

Wandering downtown at lunchtime, happy hour or dinner? Check out La Paloma Café, the old-school Spanish- and Mexican-influenced establishment that recently reopened after a 37-year hiatus, serving up oak-grilled nopales, vegetable pozole verde and Santa Maria-style Angus tri-tip. For casual fare, try Lucky Penny for artisanal pizza, Loquita for Spanish tapas, wood-fired seafood and paella, or The Lark, named for the sleek overnight Pullman train of the Southern Pacific Railroad that serviced Santa Barbara from 1910-1968. All three restaurants are located in the arts district, now called the Funk Zone. 

Road-Trip Time

Ready to wine and dine? Paso Robles, the unofficial capital of Central Coast winery offerings, is a scenic two-hour drive from Santa Barbara. If you want to stretch out your tour, several historic spots are worth a stop or even an overnight stay. Swing into Cold Spring Tavern as you venture north for a peek into an 1868 stagecoach stop and some of their hearty food and charm. If something a little more elegant is your style, make a reservation at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. The children of the late actor Fess Parker have continued his fantastic 19-room inn, charming restaurant and wine-tasting experiences. From there, watch for wineries to pop into as you travel up the 101 to Paso Robles. If you’re looking for one more stop or stay on the coast, the Dolphin Bay Resort on the cliffs of Pismo Beach is worth a detour for the views alone. 

Precious Paso Robles

As with many wine-growing areas, the downtown square is the main hub for locals and visitors alike. Downtown Paso Robles is home to more than 20 tasting rooms, including outlets for nearby Justin Vineyards, Tudor Wines and a unique wine-tasting and spice-pairing experience at LXV Wine. Not-to-miss dining spots include TASTE! Craft Eatery for unique California bites, BL Brasserie for classic French fare or La Cosecha for small plates and creative pizza. Beer lovers will dig the sprawling California Coast Brewing Co., which offers great local beers with live music and food trucks. If you’re staying in the area, check out the cozy Hotel Cheval, which even has a S’mores Butler on staff!

The Paso Robles wine trails are organized into several sections, so getting yourself organized with a driver is highly advisable. Many of the wineries are packed with special events on the weekends, and reservations make a huge difference during peak season. Peachy Canyon has beautiful picnic grounds, the J. Lohr calendar is filled with foodie fun (events sell out fast) and THE place to wine and dine on your tour is DAOU Family Estates. Reserve your tasting experience online and get ready for the view, the wines and incredible California cuisine pairings (we’re talking caviar, oysters and steak au poivre).

Cheers to your next California adventure! 

About Andrea Evans

Andrea Tyler Evans is the Publisher of Frontdoors Media. She can be reached at
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