Head north from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles and you’ll encounter rolling hills, amazing food, and some of the best wine in the world.
Perfect architecture, and perfect setting. Santa Barbara, aka “The American Riviera” enjoys a dreamy Mediterranean climate, with plenty of sunny days and mild winters. Add wine country producing, award-winning vintages, outdoor adventures on land and sea, big-city arts and entertainment, and you have a city that’s a poster child for the California good life.
Stroll State Street for excellent shops and dining, launch a kayak from East Beach to paddle under Stearns Wharf, visit the classic Old Mission Santa Barbara, and tour the 1782 Presidio for a look at original adobes like El Cuartel, the second oldest surviving building in the state. Then explore the city’s forward-looking neighborhood—the rehabbed warehouses of The Funk Zone, now home to urban wine-tasting rooms, artist’s studios, and cool boutiques.
Best known as the gateway to the Santa Ynez Valley, Buellton has come into its own as a culinary destination. In what was formerly an anonymous industrial area, you can now hang with area winemakers and dig into such favorites as the beef meatballs and ricotta sandwich in the cavernous confines of the restaurant and butcher shop Industrial Eats. A couple doors down, sample the celebrated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of pioneering winemaker Richard Sanford in the rustic, modern Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards tasting room. And along Highway 246, catch a bit movie history and bite into succulent steaks grilled over oak at the landmark Hitching Post II, the steakhouse that played a starring role in the film Sideways.
In what was once an industrial area, you can now dig into wood-fired fare in the cavernous confines of Industrial Eats and sample celebrated wines at the modern Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards tasting room.
When it comes to food, most people associate Solvang with such traditional Danish fare as the aebleskivers at longtime favorites like the Solvang Restaurant. But this village of authentic Danish-style architecture is also very much a California wine country town, with numerous tasting rooms as well as the contemporary Sante Wine Bar & Lounge. You’ll also find a big assortment of California craft beers on tap at The Good Life Cellar, and for farm-to-table dining try Root 246, which creatively incorporates the seasonal bounty available from local growers.
Horses and wine share the spotlight in the western-style town of Santa Ynez, where horseshoes honoring local steeds are embedded in a crosswalk and you’ll find businesses serving the equestrian community. Central California Wine Tasting on Sagunto Street carries a big selection of boutique wines from the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles, and as far south as Malibu, while Carr Vineyards & Winery pours varietals produced from grapes grown in the valley and nearby Santa Rita Hills.
Santa Ynez has a Mediterranean side too, especially at S.Y. Kitchen, where chef Luca Crestanelli brings a creative touch to such delectable Italian dishes as spinach ricotta gnocchi in a duck ragu.
The once sleepy ranching town of Los Olivos, where a flagpole stands in the middle of its main street, now has perhaps the Central Coast’s highest concentration of tasting rooms. In addition to the must-visit Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop, you’ll also find tasting rooms for such leading Santa Barbara wine producers as Stolpman Vineyards and Epiphany, where you can sample its Rhone-based varietals in a colorful, contemporary setting or in a shaded garden.
Opened in 1987, the venerable Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop remains your best bet to discover varietals from small local wineries.
Not that long ago, Los Alamos was a slumbering agricultural community easily overlooked by travelers racing up and down Highway 101. But food and wine have transformed Los Alamos and now it’s a must-stop for tasting rooms and such dining destinations as Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. Helmed by a former entertainment executive, the bakery is the place to go for flakey chocolate almond croissants; get there early to score the popular pork-and-beef meatloaf sandwich that frequently sells out. Full of Life Flatbread helped pioneer the Los Alamos food scene all the way back in 2003, thanks to such inventive wood-fired creations as a flatbread made with dates, bacon, walnuts, and a smoked leek sauce.
The contemporary Presqu’ile Winery features a dramatic roofline and hand-laid sandstone walls. Ocean breezes flow in through floor-to-ceiling retractable windows, a sublime pairing with Presqu’ile’s wines.
With a central village of stalwart stone and brick buildings, as well as its famous swinging bridge, Arroyo Grande is one of the Central Coast’s most appealing small towns. It has also emerged as a wine destination, thanks to a growing collection of tasting rooms, including leading Central Coast winemaker Bob Lindquist’s Qupe. The town is the gateway to two nearby, mostly cool-weather San Luis Obispo County wine regions hidden from U.S. 101: the Arroyo Grande Valley and the Edna Valley. Stop into the low-key, farm-style Kynsi Winery for its acclaimed Pinot Noirs and Grenaches before taking in the sweeping panorama of vineyards and volcanic peaks from the impressive tasting room at Edna Valley Vineyard.
With 40,000 acres of vineyards growing more than 40 grape varietals in 11 distinct regions, the sprawling Paso Robles wine country is the giant of Central Coast wine regions. From the quaint town square of the city of Paso Robles to Epoch Wine Estate in the remote York Mountain AVA, the area is filled with discoveries for wine lovers. For a great one-stop destination just off U.S. 101, Tin City, an industrial-style complex with a collection of boutique wineries, proves that there’s more than wine in these parts, thanks to the craft beers at BarrelHouse Brewing Co. and ciders made from California apples at Tin City Cider Co.