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The Inquisitive Traveler
Roll out the barrels in San Luis Obispo
By Patty Burness

( Photo Caption: Art Deco SLO)

It’s a four-hour drive south down Highway 101, but once you arrive in San Luis Obispo (SLO), the SLO lifestyle makes it all worthwhile — relaxed, down to earth and just plain easy. If you time your trip right, you’ll be there when the local wine celebration called Roll Out The Barrels is in full swing. The 2009 event happens at the end of April. Here’s what I discovered in 2008 while exploring the “SLO life.”

Roll Out the Barrels is an organized weekend of great wine and food. Choose from winery visits, winemaker dinners, and the delicious pairing of SLO vintners and local food producers. In addition, stroll the streets of downtown — a combination of Art Deco architecture, converted Old West buildings (now cafes, antique stores, galleries, and places to taste wine), and Victorian painted ladies. Hike and bike if you’re so inclined — parks and trails are everywhere. The green hills and Mediterranean climate of the Central Coast are alluring. Vistas are endless. There’s a weekly bash at the Thursday night farmers’ market. And don’t forget Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

Quality Suites was the economical choice that offered everything I needed — complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi and DVDs and within walking distance of downtown. After settling into a two-room suite, I set out to discover SLO. Passing numerous bakeries and coffee houses, I went straight for the wine-tasting rooms.

(Photo Caption: Sample up to 72 wines from the enomatic wine-dispensing system at Taste)

You can do a walk-around tasting in downtown SLO without a designated driver. Taste, a wine shop operated by the SLO Vintner’s Association, offers more than 70 local wines from around the county (Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, Avila Beach, and Nipomo). If you haven’t tried an enomatic wine dispensing system yet, this is a fun place to start. Central Coast Wines has a cozy tasting area in the back of the store. It takes it name from the regions it encompasses — San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties as well as Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria, and Edna Valley. If you’re looking for a single winery, try Shadow Canyon Cellars. Their estate Syrah from York Mountain should definitely be on your “must try” list.

It’s hard not to work up an appetite after all of that walking and tasting. Novo, housed in an old cigar factory situated alongside San Luis Creek, has five patios perfect for outdoor dining. Its name is Portuguese for new — an accurate description of the Brazilian, Mediterranean, and Asian tapas and flavors. Together with an eclectic interior, it is a hip place (much of the decor comes from owner Robin Covey’s antiquing jaunts).

(Photo: Creekside dining at Novo)

Novo is known for making its own curry pastes as well as roasting and grinding its peanuts and spices. Try the Singapore chicken satay, the roast duck breast with penang curry, Malaysian chicken with a luxurious coconut milk curry, and the green beans with pancetta and chilies. If something milder is what you crave, order the salmon bisque and seared scallops with blood orange and lemongrass beurre blanc. Paired with various local Sexten, Wild Wood, and Baileyana wines, it was a delicious evening. The Belgian dark chocolate truffles and port for dessert made for a decadent finish.

Edna Valley (part of SLO wine country) is literally minutes from the center of town, so it’s easy to plan a trip that encompasses many of the wineries in the burgeoning region. You’ll be greeted by lush rolling hills, acres of vines and many family-owned wineries. Claiborne & Churchill, Baileyana, Tangent, Wolff, and Edna Valley offer all the best of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Zinfandel, and more.

(Photo: Old Edna townsite)

Before heading back downtown, stop at the Old Edna Townsite. This SLO county landmark is over 100 years old, and is home to a gourmet deli, antique shop and gallery, and a bed and breakfast. Picnics and box lunches are their specialty — eat in the Breakfast Cottage, a little gem onsite. It’s an experience to meet owner, Pattea Torrence, also known as the “mayor” of Old Edna. She’ll regale you with stories about the history of the area as well as her preservation efforts.

Time to roll out the barrels. This annual event is held in the plaza of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (founded by Father Juniper Serra in 1772 and the fifth of California’s 21 missions). “Grown here, made here” is featured as more than 40 local vintners, food producers and purveyors offer the best of what SLO has to offer. Enjoy the delicious taste treats, wine samples, and watch a demonstration of how to build a handcrafted French oak barrel.

In the evening, choose a winemaker dinner or party on Higuera Street at the Thursday night farmers’ market. The crowd is overflowing, the produce is sensational, and the aromas from fresh-cut flowers and smoky barbeque pits are enticing. If ribs and corn-on-the-cob are what you want, head right for McLintock’s — where you’ll surely need lots of napkins.

(Photo: Enjoy lunch in the Breakfast Cottage at Old Edna)

On the way back to the Northside, I visited San Simeon for a tour of Hearst Castle. Designed by the legendary Julia Morgan in the early 1900s, the Castle of Dreams sits 1,600 feet above sea level and five miles up a winding road off Highway 1. The celebrated William Randolph Hearst was always working on his magnificent estate where he spent endless days entertaining Hollywood royalty in the 1930s. The architecture, decor, landscape, pools, and views are breathtaking.

SLO offers a laid-back vibe in a time of uncertainty. Unwind, enjoy great wine and food, and take in the sites. It’s worth the drive knowing you won’t use your car much while there.


Getting There
San Luis Obispo is 220 miles (about a four-hour drive) south of San Francisco on Highway 101 (at the intersection of Highway 1). Fly direct from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport,,,

Tourist Information:,

(Photo: Barrelmaking demonstration)

Where to Stay

Quality Suites: 1631 Monterey Street, 800-424-6423, 805-541-5001;; rooms from $145

What to do
Roll Out the Barrels: April 30–May 3; 805-541-5868,

Where to Eat
Novo Restaurant & Lounge
: 726 Higuera Street, 805-543-3986,; soups, salads, tapas, appetizers, vegetables, and desserts from $8, tapas/dinner from $15, curries from $16, wines by the bottle from $18

Old Edna
: 1655 Old Price Canyon Road, 805-544-8062,; sandwiches from $7.50

F. McLintock’s Saloon
: 686 Higuera Street, 805-54-.0686,; ribs from $17.95

Don’t Miss
: 1003 Osos Street, 805-269-8278,

Central Coast Wines
: 712 Higuera Street, 805-784-9463,

(Photo: Roll Out the Barrels food & wine event in the Mission’s plaza)

Shadow Canyon Cellars
: 846 Higuera Street, 805-748-6358,

Claiborne & Chruchill Vintners
: 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road, 805-544-4066,

and Tangent: 5828 Orcutt Road, 805-269-8200,

Wolff Vineyards
: 6238 Orcutt Road, 805-781-0448,

Edna Valley
Vineyard: 2585 Biddle Ranch Road, 805-544-5855,

Hearst Castle:
750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, 805-927-2020,; tours (reservations recommended) $20 adults, $10 children

(Photo: Hearst Castle’s lush gardens)

(Photo: The Neptune Pool is adorned with marble sculptures by French artist Charles Cassou)

Photos by Patty Barnes “Hearst Castle/California State Parks has agreed to allow the publishing of the images taken at the Castle.”

Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco.

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