All bad things must come to an end, and the time for safe regional travel is once again on the horizon.
Bookmark this Central Coast long weekend escape filled with adventure (seaweed foraging and zip lining), beauty (a butterfly grove), quirkiness (a loofah farm), deliciousness (beachside wine tasting), and cozy places to crash.
Day One: Sweeping Views + Beachside Stops Along Highway 1
Perfect Pit Stops: Monterey + Big Sur + San Simeon
Start your morning with a quick detour through Monterey for craft coffee and beautiful sweet and savory pastries at Alta Bakery Cafe. A cozy counter opens to the enchanting outdoor courtyard of the historic Cooper-Molera Adobe. Coast Big Sur serves creative bites, fresh salads, and slabs of sourdough focaccia pizza from chef Nick Balla, previously of SF's Bar Tartine. The place offers all the detail and care of a San Francisco hot spot but in a laid-back garden setting with an art gallery and fabulous view.
Continuing along the iconic stretch of Highway 1, stop for a photo op at the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon where the massive marine mammals lounge along the shoreline. You may catch a glimpse of males fighting, females birthing, or baby seals nursing. San Simeon is also famously home to the grand Hearst Castle, which remains temporarily closed to visitors during Covid-19.
Seaweed Foraging + Sunset in Cayucos
If you're headed down on a Saturday, book an afternoon seaweed foraging tour with Spencer Marley of Marley Family Seaweeds and get an education in the benefits and uses of wakame, kombu, and nori. A passionate forager and sustainability advocate, Marley will teach you how to identify, harvest, and use this oceanic plant. The 90-minute tours take place near the cowboy beach town of Cayucos and include beachside seaweed ramen. Book through Airbnb Experiences (from $105 per person). Once you've finished foraging, head to downtown Cayucos and snag one of the coveted window seats at Schooner's where the seafood restaurant offering and drinks are standard but the beachside views are some of the best in the region for watching the sun go down.
Beachside Wine Tasting in San Simeon + Global Comfort Food in Cambria
Alternatively, stop at San Simeon's Hearst Ranch Winery, the only Central Coast tasting room with an ocean view. Savor a crisp glass of Three Sisters White Cuvée or the deep intensity of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from beachside picnic tables. Reservations are recommended. For dinner, find socially distanced outdoor seating or takeout at Robin's, where small town hospitality meets comforting global cuisine in the form of Thai green chicken and the vegetarian specialty, Robin's Chow.
Stay at White Water in Cambria
When you're ready to call it a day, check in at Cambria's recently renovated White Water at Moonstone Beach, where a vintage-modern vibe and echos of 1970s bohemian culture make for a playful respite. Knit love beads on the doors signal "do not disturb," and the rooms are stocked with poetry books and bottled cocktails. Each room has a unique design and its own private entrance, and some have gas fireplaces and ocean views. Bikes are available for in-town exploration and the lobby lounge serves up strong drinks and tasty snacks.
Day Two: Brunch in Paso Robles + Zip Lining in Santa Margarita + Stay in SLO
Cambria Clydesdales + Brunch in Paso Robles
After a picnic basket breakfast at White Water Inn, take a morning ride at Cambria's Covell Ranch, one of the only places in the world where you can trail ride ($100-$120) a Clydesdale through pine forests and meadows, making your way to a hilltop view of the Pacific shoreline. The gentle giants of the horse world, Clydesdales are suitable for riders of all levels.
Grab a locally farmed brunch at Thomas Hill Organics, where you'll enjoy creative fresh dishes, sensuous desserts, and local wines on the bistro's backyard patio. If you're feeling more of a brewpub experience, the nearby Firestone Walker tap room and restaurant offers pizzas, burgers and barrel-aged anniversary ales that are a step above the 805.
Zip Line at Santa Margarita Ranch
Set your afternoon trajectory for Santa Margarita, a small town located within a 14,000-acre ranch. Here you can zip line over acres of cattle and some of the region's premium vines with Margarita Adventures. Six zip lines span a total of 7,500 feet with a suspension bridge and gentle hiking in between ($120). At the end of the tour, hop across the street for a discounted tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery, where you'll taste the nuanced influence of the region's five soil types.
Dinner + Drinks in Downtown San Luis Obispo
Head to the delightful Central Coast town of San Luis Obispo (SLO) for dinner on the terrace at Mistura, where chef Nicola Allegretta combines the influences of Peru's native Incan culinary heritage with Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese flavors; order up authentic and inventive versions of empanadas and ceviche, marinated lamb shanks, and paiche (an Amazonian white fish). Another fun but slightly more familiar option is Novo, where you'll find a globally inspired menu—spring rolls, samosas, Thai curry, lavender lamb chops—served on one of the best outdoor patios in town. A massive oak tree and twinkle lights bring a romantic touch to the creekside tables. Reservations are recommended.
Cap the evening with a cocktail at Sidecar, a brothers-run cocktail bar that's serious about giving you exactly what you want. The menu rotates quarterly-ish, but the bartenders are eager for special requests, whether you fancy an herbaceous tipple or a drink that resembles Katy Perry.
Two Unique Stays in (and Around) SLO
Call it a night at Edna Valley's La Lomita Ranch, where rustic Spanish-inspired luxury awaits. Eight rooms all have private entrances and stays include homemade breakfasts served in the lounge or outdoor courtyard. Wander the grounds to mingle with emus, goats, kittens, and horses; there's also a peaceful pond and acres of space. If you prefer something more urban, Hotel SLO's bright, playful rooms beg to be Instagramed. The newish hotel is full of local artistic treasures and each room has a balcony or terrace. The hotel's garden courtyard and rooftop bar (both equipped with heat lamps) offer plenty of space to stretch out.
Day 3: Wine Down from Edna Valley to Santa Maria Valley
Snack and Sip in Edna Valley
Grab some snacks from SLO Provisions, then spend the morning exploring the wines of Edna Valley, where cool air and mild temperatures the provide ideal climate to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Start on the patio of Chamisal Wines, where tranquil settings blend with polished hospitality. Sample elegant wines that are sustainably crafted to showcase the property's soil, as well as the first vines to be planted in Edna Valley.
Take a short drive down the road to see the customized airstream that serves as a portable tasting room for Malene, Chamisal's sister winery, which specializes in Provence-style rosés and features picnic tables and a lush green lawn. (Reservations are required for both Chamisal and Malene.)
Also consider nearby Tolosa Winery where award-winning estate wines offer a complex and nuanced expression of the soil. Choose from the Signature 1772 flight or the Single Vineyard flight, then sip at a safe distance under umbrellas and olive trees on the property's sprawling patio. Knowledgeable staff share intimate insights as they guide you through each glass. Also ask about Perinet, Tolosa's sister winery in the Priorate region of Spain. Tolosa offers a selection of their deep and robust collection of wines. (Reservations recommended.)
Afternoon Wine Tasting in Santa Maria Valley
Take a short trip south to Santa Maria Valley, where a transverse geography creates a Mediterranean-esque climate that produces one of California's longest grape growing seasons. You'll find more than 34 tasting rooms, 14 of which lay along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Make reservations at Rancho Sisquoc Winery, a 37,000-acre cattle ranch with 300 acres of vineyards and an idyllic picnic ground. Try a glass of the fan-favorite Sisquoc River Red or the rare and refreshing sylvaner beneath the shade of tall trees and in the company of winery kittens. If you need some sustenance, grab fresh grub to-go nearby at Woody's Butcher Block or Moxie Cafe.
Avoiding alcohol? Stop by Piper's in downtown Orcutt (an incorporated town in the Santa Maria Valley) for tastes of small-batch organic kombuchas made with local fruits, often foraged from the backyards of Orcutt residents. The Pipers say the secret to their booch is the loving energy and healing kirtan music with which it's made. Try a flight at the booch bar or take a bottle to go.
Pizzeria Bello Forno is all old-school Italian charm spilling out into the street in downtown Orcutt. Heat lamps and checkered table cloths make for a pleasant enough outdoor dining experience, though the seasonal hand-tossed pizzas are just as good enjoyed from your hotel room.
Stay at Orcutt's Winestone Inn
You'll find luxury treatment and small town hospitality at Winestone Inn, a 12-room boutique hotel that recently opened in Old Town Orcutt. Amenities include fresh morning pastries and balcony views. Have a glass in the Vintage Room, the inn's swanky bar that serves a good representation of award-winning Central Coast wines along with small bites and cozy outdoor seating. Across the road you'll find original brews and free popcorn at Naughty Oak Brewing Company.
Day Four: Sand Dunes + A Butterfly Grove + Avila Beach
Hike to Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes
Birdwatching isn't just for older folks. Park your car at the trailhead to Oso Flaco Lake and leave urban life behind as you enter this serene slice of nature. Pass through a forest wooded with arroyo willows and wax myrtles where you may catch sight of deer, rabbits, and other critters. Carry on to the end of the causeway and step onto a bridge which will carry you over the long narrow lake where ducks, egrets, ospreys, and pelicans make their homes. End your mile-long hike on the beach with views of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes.
Nipomo's Luffa Farm + A Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach
Pop over to the small town of Nipomo where the Luffa Farm has been growing heirloom luffa (aka loofah) gourds have for more than 20 years. You'll learn how the quirky farm got its start, and all about how the cucumber-like plant makes its journey to become the natural, high-quality sponge we all know. Visit the gift shop to pick up organic home-grown luffas and natural bath products made onsite.
Pick up sandwiches or tasty fish tacos at Willow Nipomo on your way to Pismo Beach, where thousands of monarch butterflies overwinter October through February in the Monarch Butterfly Grove. In the grove's tall eucalyptus trees, butterflies shelter from northern winds by forming dense stacked clusters that are all but invisible until they flutter their wings. Docent tours aren't currently running, but the grove is open, with trails that easily lead you right to the beach.
Afternoon Kayaking in Avila
If you're not quite ready to make your way back up the coast, take a quick trip to Avila Beach where you can get up close and personal with sea lions and otters by renting a kayak or stand-up paddle board through Avila Beach Paddlesports. You may not be butting heads with a humpback (which has been known to happen in the area), but you will have the freedom of paddling through the open water, beaching your kayak, and making your way to Avila's historic Point San Luis Lighthouse (the $25 tours are temporarily suspended due to Covid-19).