The two poles of California have long reigned as the state’s main attractions. San Francisco and Los Angeles — both dueling cultural capitals (though neither are really the state’s capital) — have plenty to offer nearly any type of traveler. But there is a section of California’s coast that is home to some of the state’s most charming, down-to-earth, food-loving locales not bound by a major metropolitan city.
California’s Central Coast, bordered to the south by Santa Barbara and to the north by rugged, beautiful coastline, is reason enough for San Franciscans, Los Angelenos, and the visitors that love them to hit the road. From handmade cheeses to small, modern wine tasting rooms and from one woman’s mouth-watering chocolate peanut butter cups to a family selling honey made on their property, this small region is full of people dedicated to honoring organic, fresh ingredients. And with the ever expanding view of the deep, blue sea, it is like a little hidden paradise. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/islandlife)
Starting from the south and traveling north, here is our ultimate Central California Coast road trip.
Pull in to the driveway of the Upham Hotel and book a room. It was built in 1871 and is a true bed-and-breakfast with a soft, welcoming appeal, surrounded by redwood trees and greenery. Drop your bags and head to the unfortunately named “Funk Zone.” The “Funk Zone” is made up of mostly wineries, but also shops, and a surfing museum that line its small side streets. Make your way to Municipal Winemakers’ tasting room where, for $10, you can sample five of their exemplary wines made locally. Then, head to Santa Barbara Winery’s tasting room before heading to dinner at Olio e Limone for delectable pizzas. (Photo courtesy of Municipal Winemakers)
You’ll be familiar with Solvang if you’ve seen Sideways, but there is a long list of places to see that the film missed out on. Driving into the very Danish town of Solvang on the 101 highway, stop at the Lily Bee Lavender Farm and take a long, deep breath. Looking out over the soft purple fields and smelling the calming aroma should prepare you to go horseback riding at Rancho Oso.
An appetite squarely in place, stop for lunch at the California-Nordic Greenhouse Café for a Copenhagen omelette, a Nordic burger, or open-faced Danish meatballs.
Back on the road, head toward Los Olivos. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/collinsericksons83)
Enjoy one of California’s best prime ribs at Mattei’s Tavern for dinner, a fine dining room run by two brothers originally from Iowa. Their prime rib is legendary and comes in 12 oz., 16 oz., and 20 oz. sizes. Set in a white house with plenty of Western accents, the restaurant and its dark wine cellar gives the air of the South, rather than California.
Rest your head for the night at the much loved Santa Ynez Inn — a luxuriously outfitted Victorian home with a small spa and a concierge who will plan local wine tastings for you just outside the hotel.