One of my favorite places to visit as you travel down the California Coast is San Luis Obispo County and one of my favorite stops in the county is the town of San Luis Obispo especially on Thursday night. You see on Thursday night the downtown is transformed into an incredible community festival with street by street full of vendors of every type from food ( anything you can think of) to produce to community groups and more. Couple that with live entertainment throughout the 6 blocks of the event and well you get the picture, it loads of fund for everyone who attends. The great thing about it is it happens every Thursday all year long and they have been doing it for years so that have it down pat.
Against this backdrop are a number of really excellent restaurants that offer a wide variety of great food and wine (many of the choices are local). San Luis Obispo County is well known for its family-owned wineries that produces hand-crafted bottles of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Zinfandel and more.
This night I had the opportunity to eat at a little place called Novo located on a creek running through though the downtown. The food has an emphasis on fresh local flavors from throughout the Central Coast. I had a wonderful dish of stir fried noodles with fresh vegetables, garlic, ginger and prawns. It was great the setting the food the wine list were all not to be missed.
Don’t feel you are limited by choices there are plenty of really great places for a bite places like Vieni Vai Trattoria if you like Italian or Luna Red Globas tapas and wine. Make no mistake there are lots of options from burgers to California fusion. Take your pick and enjoy.
(If you want on pass on dinner and just taste some of the areas great wine check out Wine and Ware located across from the historic Mission San Luis Obispo .There you will find some really specially selected Spanish and Portuguese wines as well as selected local wines. They open at least 9 wines regularly for tasting, flights or by the glass.)
But what I really enjoyed was after dinner walking the street faire which was still in full force with people walking all about, some lined up for food at their favorite vendor or just milling about having an ice cream cone or some tasty dessert. I often ride my motorcycle down to San Luis and every time I do I always wish I had an ice chest so I could bring back some of the incredible produce farmers put out. Fresh stuff all over onions, artichokes, tomatoes just about anything they grow and it all looks great. If you do ever go bring an ice chest and pack it full you won’t be disappointed.
What is really unique about San Luis Obispo County is the different personalities the region offers. In addition to Thursday night in San Luis Obispo some of my favorite places include Pismo Beach to the south which is home to Oceano Dunes State Park. If you get a chance it’s a don’t miss place especially if you enjoy off road vehicle riding. The Dunes offers visitors a unique place to actually ride an Off Road Vehicle (OHV) on the beach. Not sure there is any other place in California to ride and OHV on the beach do yourself a favor and rent one some afternoon.
Another great place is the unincorporated area of the County which includes San Simeon Cayucos and Cambria. This part of the County is also home to Hearst Castle which is a much visited attraction. (Over half a million annually.) If you take the Castle tour think about how this might have felt back in 1919 when the Castle was finished. Imagine the vision that William Randolph Hearst had we he conceived the place. The ornate architecture and excess was a reflection of Hearst himself and If you close your eyes you can imagine you can be transported to a different time and place. This part of the County also provides great access to some of the area’s best recreation including Kayaking, hiking and more.
If wine tasting is your interest well you can’t miss visiting Paso Robles which has become a real hub of wine production within the county. The Paso Robles AVA has approximately 29,000 acres of wine grapes planted with the top varietals including Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel.
Within the Paso Robles AVA the highest concentration of wineries can be found along Highway 46 that connects Paso Robles with Highway 1 and Cambria. This high density are produces a significant amount of wine that helps define the region. If you are looking for tastings in Paso Robles you might try Cass Winery where you can also enjoy a gourmet lunch from their restaurant or if you are looking for something really different Ebrle winery offers a cave tour and picnic area.
What is also terrific about San Luis Obispo County is the variety of different micro climates from the coast which can be quite a bit cooler but still very pleasant to the inland area which can be quite a bit warmer.
After taking in Thursday night in San Luis Obispo I headed back to my hotel the newly renovated Hotel Grenada located on Morro Street just a block away from the downtown Faire.
I get to travel a lot because of my job and this was one of the most comfortable places I have stayed in a while. The hotel has a great design, warm welcoming feel with a fireplace glowing throughout the night in my room, a perfect compliment to a great evening.
Visiting this area of California anytime is always a treat if you come during the summer is really a treat because all of the areas fresh produce makes it to the faire or if you travel in the winter it’s a more local experience with fewer visitors but no matter the time of year if your nearby and traveling through don’t miss Thursday night in San Luis Obispo, just don’t forget the rest of what the county has to offer.
Carl Ribaudo is a consultant and travel writer located in South Lake Tahoe and can be frequently found touring with his motorcycle throughout the west.