Located in the cool, gently rolling hills of Santa Maria Valley, California is Cambria Estate Winery. Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are excellent. The 2011 Clone 76 Chardonnay and 2010 Clone 2A Pinot Noir were my favorites. Flavors of white peaches and vanilla graced the Chardonnay while dark cherries, plum and spice were apparent in the Pinot. Katherine, our server, was attentive and knowledgeable.
Cambria has a section of land named Julia’s where several local winemakers produce their own Pinot Noir. At the end of the growing season each winemaker chooses their harvest date. The grapes are delivered to the respectful winery and the winemaker creates their own wine. The goal is to illustrate the influences and contributions of terroir and winemaking technique.
Other wineries in the Central Coast include Justin Vineyards, J. Lohr, Cayucos, Robert Hall, Firestone and Bridlewood. Of course, there are hundreds of family owned and operated, small lot wineries whose wines are not available unless you’re a wine club member or visit the winery.
Sierra Madre is one of those smaller boutique wineries in operation for the past three decades. Their Pinot Noir is earthy, minerally, and spicy. Lane Tanner, the winemaker, is passionate about creating friendly, full-bodied wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes desire the cool foggy mornings and warm afternoons. The wines have received 92 point scores from International Wine Review, received gold medals from the San Francisco Chronicle and many other accolades. Be sure to call for an appointment before visiting.
If you’re more of a beer drinker than a wine snob, Firestone Walker Brewery in Paso Robles has a beer for you! Not only do they have an award-winning, beautiful brewery but they have a fantastic restaurant, Taproom! Founded in 1996 Firestone specializes in pale ales and vintage barrel-aged beers. Here you can sample flights and have a pint while checking out the bottling and brewing process.
Before visiting Firestone Walker Brewery, I had not heard of beer being fermented in tequila, bourbon or brandy barrels. But at Firestone they do this on a regular basis. Their blends and barrel fermentation create nuances that a standard steel barrel can’t touch.
Heading over to the Taproom you can pair up fantastic craft beer with award winning food. It’s a great stop! If you prefer wine the restaurant offers local Central Coast wines too.
Heading south from Paso Robles you’ll come to Atascadero. There’s a nice Holiday Inn Express right off the highway as you make your down to Santa Maria. Nearby there’s Margarita Adventures for ziplining and wine tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery. The zipline will get your heart thumping and the wine tasting is part of the tour – after you have braved the zipline! Zipping at 40 mph through oak trees and over plateaus you’ll see deer, flora, and get a great birds eye view of the valley.
Continuing south from Atascadero you’ll hit Orcutt, near Santa Maria. The Far Western Tavern is a gem, established in the 1950’s. Here you’ll find contemporary California ranch cuisine inspired by local traditions, including California BBQ. Sustainable local farming adds to the freshness of their inspired menu. The owners, the Righetti-Minetti family, have their own line of spices too – Susie Q Brand.
The Oak grilled seafood tacos were amazing! Red cabbage slaw, fresh seafood catch, chipotle crème, and guacamole blended to perfection. The steak sandwich is also a must try. It’s been on the menu since 1958 so it must be good! The dessert menu is equally as yummy and shouldn’t be missed.
The Central Coast of California has much to offer from small B&Bs, fine dining, wineries and craft beer. Adventure includes hiking, horseback riding, ziplines, boating and much more. It’s a perfect getaway for four to five days.
From San Diego you’ll head north on the 5 and connect to the 101N. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive to Santa Maria and then another 90 minutes north to Paso Robles.