With small towns dotting its coast and sloping Santa Lucia mountain range, SLO CAL’s fishing, agricultural, and wine-making communities make for farm-to-table abundance, all set among a scenic natural landscape. Here, you can delight your tastebuds as you wind—and wine—your way through the stunning beach community, discovering hidden gems and local all-stars along the way. Bonus: You’ll also be supporting the local economies while exploring one of the most breathtaking areas of the U.S.
Going the SLO CAL way (an acronym for San Luis Obispo County, CA) means taking a road less traveled and unearthing magnificent finds at every turn. More than 250 wineries and fabulous restaurants spread over two wine-growing regions in SLO CAL, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine country, make it an oenophile’s dream. And it’s easily accessible from either Los Angeles or the Bay Area, whether enjoying the famed views along Highway 1 or traveling from an interior road. This AFAR-curated selection of wineries with onsite restaurants, and local eateries that shine a light on SLO CAL wines, will guide you through immersive experiences in regions across the county.
Head to Hearst Winery for a rare chance to savor award-winning SLO CAL wine with water views and the sounds of the Pacific Ocean waves crashing nearby. Right beside Highway 1, and across from the famed Hearst Castle, stopping by the San Simeon tasting room for a wine tasting after touring the iconic Hearst estate once they reopen (check here to see if they have begun tours again) makes for a well-balanced afternoon. An onsite food truck offers “field-to-table” provisions like red wine-braised short ribs and lobster rolls Thursday through Sunday, and cheese and charcuterie is available throughout the week. Set in an historic adobe house, the porch patio at Robin’s is a spacious garden environment practically designed for whiling away the day, enjoying local wines and delicious bites including crispy brussels sprouts and fish tacos, and your leashed pup is welcome if you sit in the garden. (There’s a reason why it’s ranked among the top three restaurants in Cambria.) While in the area, you could also try the standouts Moonstone Cellars and Madeline’s Restaurant and Wine Cellar.
It doesn’t get any fresher than right off the boat and into the frying pan, the modus operandi at the family-run local favorite Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant in the picturesque fishing town of Morro Bay. Bonus points for their excellent and reasonably priced wine list comprised entirely of local pours. The area’s cold, nutrient-rich waters also produce a robust fresh oyster business with shops like Morro Bay Oyster Company (which also sells fresh uni) and Grassy Bar Oyster Company. Bring some home and get shucking to up your Omega-3 fatty acids intake (deliciously improving brain function along the way).
Paso Robles Wine Country
One of the most exclusive views in all of SLO CAL, DAOU Family Estates is the brainchild of two brothers and boasts panoramic mountaintop vistas, curated tastings, and culinary pairings you won’t soon forget. Another winery with spectacular surroundings is Niner Wine Estates, featuring a stunning hillside backdrop with beautiful gardens and gravel walking paths on which to amble along. Enjoy a picnic-style lunch with palette-pleasers such as sautéed scallops or grilled mushrooms with chestnuts and kale over wild rice. When in the region, also try Halter Ranch for another excellent and customizable experience, whether that’s a wine cave tour, wine pairing, or just lunch with a delicious pour of an award-winning variety, like Cabernet Sauvignon.
Take a seat at the intimate 14-seat counter and enjoy small bites expertly paired with local wines at Somms Kitchen, where Chef Ian Adamo shares his delightfully edible ideas with lucky diners. Also check out the seasonally focused menu using local ingredients at the 12-seat chef’s counter dining experience at Six Test Kitchen. Likewise, French farm-to-table bistro Les Petites Canailles uses local Central Coast provisions in all of its sophisticated but approachable creations. Bonus points: the place is a labor of love by the son of a local SLO CAL French winemaker and the daughter of a butcher, so they know what they are doing across the board.
San Luis Obispo
Among the top eateries in a town full of exceptional restaurants, San Luis Obispo’s Buona Tavola serves Italian specialties with local flair—try the risotto with fresh water shrimp and porcini mushrooms or the fresh catch of the day while enjoying an evening or afternoon on the covered garden patio. A robust wine list features Italian varietals and local SLO CAL favorites. For those wanting something more international, an exciting taste adventure is in store at Peruvian restaurant Mistura, which uses locally sourced free-range meats and sustainable seafood, and fresh, organic produce in its flavorful culinary creations. A charming spot with distinctive style, decadent pastries, and breakfast menu items served all day, The Madonna Inn, is located right off the Cabrillo Highway, making it an easy, whimsical pit stop on the way to or from the coast. (Or book a table in the evening for Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House and savor oak-pit barbecued steak, seafood, and vegetarian options.)
For a taste of the Old West, venture into San Miguel (just north of Paso Robles), an area that’s rife with vineyards, almond orchards, and cattle ranches. Heading further inland into San Miguel, the sprawling grounds of Villa San-Juliette vineyard and winery will feel like your very own oasis. Tour the 130-acre winery and stay for lunch with exquisite dishes like crab cakes or clams in white wine butter sauce, all paired with selections from the winery’s 12 varieties.
Don’t miss the estate wines at the family-owned and operated Talley Vineyards, where you can sample single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, paired with artisan charcuterie plates on sun-soaked patios, and learn about the cool-climate wines. Whether you’re prepared to get your boots dirty on a vineyard tour or simply enjoy bottle service on the Adobe lawn, this stop is what this wine region is all about.
Cap off your trip with spectacular ocean views while dining at Pismo Beach eateries like the Dolphin Bay Resort’s Lido Restaurant & Lounge, which boasts dishes made from locally sourced seafood, meats and grains that capture the spirit of the region, and an impressive 800-bottle wine cellar fully stocked with stellar local and international bottles. Another deservedly famed spot in Pismo Beach with killer views, Marisol at The Cliffs Hotel features artful plates composed with produce from local farmers, naturally raised meats and poultry, and seafood fresh off the boats of local fishermen—all paired with some of the buzziest local vintages available. Cheers!