California Road Trip
Santa Monica to Paso Robles Wine Country
Take the California Incline that leads from Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue to the Pacific Coast Highway. The sight of golden sands, an emerald blue ocean, and the purple Santa Monica Mountains, announces that you have left the city behind and are on vacation.
The drive meanders through Malibu. Stunning vistas of calm coves and sparsely populated beaches appear as you round each curve in the road. When the surf is up, the sea is dotted with surfers waiting patiently on their boards to catch the next wave as it curls and rolls towards the shoreline. Mega-mansions sit on the cliffs above and below the PCH, and RV parks offer spectacular oceanfront camping.
Take Las Posas Road inland past fields of strawberries and artichokes, to the US 101 North. Just past Santa Barbara – turn right onto Highway 154E towards Los Olivos/Lake Cachuma. Stay on 154E for approximately 15 miles. It’s a beautiful drive into the mountains around hairpin bends, where farms nestle in the valley, and the landscape opens up like a fan. The entrance to Lake Cachuma will be on your right.
Tell the guard at the gate that you want a half-hour pass to have a cup of coffee lakeside or better still – that you are going for breakfast to the lakeside cafe where you can linger over breakfast and soak up the peace and scenery that surrounds you.
Continue to Los Olivos, making a stop at Clairmont Lavender Farm: 2480 Roblar Ave., Los Olivos. It’s worth a visit even when the lavender fields are not in bloom. The farm produces an array of lavender products from body lotions, face creams, and bath products to Lavender White Chocolate Scone Mix.
Los Olivos is a small town choc-full of charm where many of the surrounding wineries have tasting rooms. The beautifully designed outdoor areas beckon one to sit awhile and sip a glass of wine. The town also boasts several boutiques and art galleries worth exploring. Pick up a picnic lunch and continue on to Morro Bay State Park – just over an hour’s drive away.
Take the Los Osos/Baywood Park exit off the freeway. Turn left onto South Bay Blvd and Right onto State Park Road. Park beneath the hanging trees across from the golf course. Open all the car windows to let in the fragrant bay breeze; enjoy a picnic lunch while taking in the panoramic view of the bay, the sandpipers, snow-white pelicans, kayaks and boats gliding by, and Morro Rock in the distance.
Choose the scenic route to Paso Robles via Old Creek Road and Route 46. To fully appreciate this magnificent wine-growing region’s unique beauty and tranquility, stay in an Airbnb or B&B located among the vineyards. The early mornings and evenings when the sun’s soft rays deepen the vines’ subtle palette of colors, is a glorious sight. I would suggest that one spend a minimum of two nights in Paso Robles.
If you have only one full day to visit the wineries, I recommend the route along Adelaida Road towards Tablas Creek winery, then take Vineyard Drive until it connects with the 46W. There is a fantastic array of wineries along this route, and the scenery is magical. Undulating hillsides are covered in row upon row of vines; massive old oak trees form umbrellas of shade along roads that snake past the vineyards, walnut, and olive groves; and grand homes rest on hilltops or snuggle among the giant oaks. It’s every bit as beautiful as driving through Tuscany.
Here are a few of our favorite wineries. Wild Coyote is a must for its setting, the views from its outdoor patio, its adobe-style B&B, and its excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t miss DAOU. From the road, there is nothing to see. Drive up to the tasting room, and you’ll fall in love. To soak up the breathtaking panoramas, reserve in advance for lunch or a picnic lunch. You won’t regret it. Oso Libre has a relaxed, outdoor tasting room that overlooks the vines and an interesting animal collection.
At Brecon – where the tasting room, outdoor terrace, garden, and picnic area are intimate and welcoming – we enjoyed our picnic lunch of tapas (mixed hors d’oeuvres) accompanied by glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec wines.
If you enjoy good olive oil or have never been treated to a variety of high-quality olive oils, visit Pasolivo Ranch on Vineyard Drive. (They also have a location in Downtown Paso Robles). The staff is welcoming and knowledgeable. Don’t pass up a tasting, which is both generous and well-priced. From classic olive oil (theirs is smooth, almost buttery in flavor) to the garlic, basil, rosemary, cilantro, citrus, lime, and tangerine oils, etc. it’s hard to resist purchasing one of each. The young woman who served us had an extraordinary appreciation of taste and flavor, and a knack for adding just the right herbs or spices to the oils. Served with crunchy fresh bread and a glass of wine, they make gourmet dips.
Continue along the winding oak-lined road to Jada Winery and Denner. (Call and make an appointment to visit Denner). There are many more beautiful and excellent wineries in the area, and the region is a joy to explore.
Downtown Paso Robles’ City Park is surrounded by restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors, and cafes, which spill into all the adjacent streets. It’s hopping in the evenings with plenty of outdoor dining. One can also get take out from any of the restaurants and dine in the park. A dining table in the park can be reserved online; alternatively, there are park benches, or one can bring a blanket and have a picnic dinner on the grass.
On the return drive to Santa Monica/Los Angeles – leave Paso Robles by mid-morning, take your beach chair, towel, bathing suit, and a good book, and stop at Avila Beach just South of Morro Bay for a few hours of relaxation on the beach before heading home. Avila Beach is a little gem of a town with secluded beaches, calm waters, and a picturesque boardwalk lined with restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, which entice one to sit awhile and enjoy a meal or relax over a cappuccino or an exotic drink while taking in the ocean views.
Other stops that you may want to make along the route:
Santa Barbara – Take a walk along the oceanfront. Visit the Funk Zone neighborhood – funkzone.net
Santa Ynez – A peaceful small town on the way to Los Olivos, has some terrific boutiques and restaurants.
Solvang – in the Santa Ynez Valley is famous for its Danish Style architecture and Danish pastries.
TIP: Plan your road trip for weekdays, if possible. Fall and spring – as well as the sunny Southern California winter days – are an ideal time to make this road trip. The weather is generally glorious, and you’ll avoid the crowds.