CENTR AL COAST
San Luis Obispo County Tucked between the coastal range and the Santa Lucia Mountains, the idyllic Edna Valley wine growing region—with its white-fenced horse farms and wind-ruffled grasslands—offers an ideal climate for Burgundian grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as a myriad of others. The town of San Luis Obispo is located to the west of the Edna Valley, close to the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101. While the historic brick storefronts and old-timey architecture lend it a quaint vibe, the youthful energy of the town’s college crowd provides a lively atmosphere and fuels an array of fun, ultra-trendy shops. Higuera Street is the epicenter of its thriving retail scene. Meander through the downtown arcades and tree-lined streets. For antiques and quirky gifts, duck into Ambrosia or Junk Girls, where you can find jewelry, art, and collectibles. EcoBambino has natural products and clothing for the little ones on your list, while Humankind Fair Trade offers unique gifts from around the world for grown-ups, like hand-woven baskets from Rwanda, hemp sun hats, and colorful felt crafts from Nepal. Stroll through the Farmer’s Market on Thursday nights, when fruit and vegetable stands, flower vendors, and musicians line six blocks of Higuera Street. For the inside scoop, local tour company, Taste of SLO, offers delicious downtown adventures with expert guides introducing visitors to Santa Maria–style BBQ, freshly baked breads, and an array of craft beers. If you’re still hungry, pop in to We Olive to sample a spectrum of olive oils, vinegars, and tapenades, or for an audio treat, check out the impressive collection of DVDs, CDs, and vinyl albums, at Boo Boo Records. And when you’re ready to refuel, pause for a coffee at a café overlooking the creek or an ice cream cone at the legendary Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab, where flavors like Merlot Raspberry Chocolate Truffle combine some of our favorite things.
espite often getting lumped into one region, the “Central Coast,” all it takes is traveling this 125mile stretch of highway to learn how different each mile between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara can be. That’s especially true if you’re interested in wine—Paso Robles itself is now divided into 11 sub-AVAs, each with unique soil, climate, and suitable grapes. So, as you cruise down the 101, get ready to stop, frequently to taste but also to shop. The range of varietals you’ll be able to enjoy, from Albariño to Zinfandel, will be matched by your retail-therapy options. Paso Robles All of those sub-AVAs are a hint that Paso is relatively spread out. From charming Cambria at the coast to the Creston District in the much hotter east with fine wineries like Chateau Margene but little shopping. Most of that is in Paso Robles the city itself, with its Downtown City Park, an old town square and leafy respite on warm summer sipping days. If you think candy is dandy, don’t miss SLO Sweets, replete with confections you didn’t think were manufactured anymore. Perhaps you like baked goods better. Then don’t miss Brown Butter Cookie Company, whose simple name belies their addictive, sea salt-powered delights. Right off the park is General Store Paso Robles, a treasure trove of local pantry and gift finds, including cheeses from nearby Central Coast Creamery. You could leave with anything from beloved Paso Robles Almonds to a Paso-labeled cowbell. Once you’ve had your fill of foodstuffs, check out the mother-daughter owned Firefly to pick up one-of-a-kind jewelry and vintage-inspired fashion. Right around the corner you have two more stops: Score some olive oil to take home at We Olive and Pasolivo (or at least taste their numerous flavored varieties) and then grab something more spiritual at EarthTones, where you can find the perfect crystal to center yourself. If you’d rather leave the center—of town at least—you can nibble cheeses at Vivant Fine Cheese, which specializes in matching up local wines with fromage.
ABOVE: Food vendors, flower growers, artisans, and musicians offer their wares at San Luis Obispo’s lively Farmer’s Market; LEFT: Paso Robles’ General Store provides plenty of inspiration for stylish entertaining