Weekend Escapes to the Central Coast

Desperate for a place to get out of town and leave behind the stresses of Los Angeles, I blessedly found California’s Mecca for food & wine lovers, wide-open space cravers, ocean worshippers, hikers walkers & cyclists, art junkies and just lovers: California’s Central Coast & Valley. Recently, I have had the good fortune of attending three food and wine festivals which has allowed me to get to know the Central Coast and enjoy all that it has to offer.  Just a short, scenic three hour drive out of Los Angeles, I was transported to a place that felt like I had traveled much farther. Without even noticing, my blood pressure had returned to a normal rate, my muscles had relaxed and an easy feeling of calm had replaced my previously tense demeanor. Enjoying a deep, cleansing breath, I was in a place I knew I would be spending a lot more time getting to know.

The first of these events was Sunset Magazine’s “Savor the Central Coast” at the beautiful and historical Santa Margarita Ranch. Here, I was delighted with the best wines and food tastings of the Central Coast’s finest chowders, bisques, wine tastings, olive oils, gelatos, preserves, cheeses, foccacias, ribs and the best, a Chocolate Pave, just to name a few. If you love food, wine and beautiful rolling hills, you have to come to “Savor the Central Coast” next year. Savor showcased just how much our Central Coast vintners and cuisine artisans are giving Napa Valley a run for their money because of their passionate craftsmanship.  The Central Coast is serious about food and wine but refreshingly, they still know how to enjoy it and welcome visitors — pretense is not welcome here.  Savor the Central Coast embraced the philosophy La Vita Fresca: it was an enjoyable, fresh and delicious feast for the senses.  They really fulfilled their promise: we truly savored the Central Coast with a passion! This food show undeniably earned a 5 Pear Review!(See http://www.lavitafresca.com a complete review of “Savor the Central Coast”)(http://www.savorcentralcoast.com) (http://www.historicsantamargaritaranch.com)

The next weekend getaway, Adriana and I attended was Sea Fare, a local fundraiser to support the Avila Beach Sea Life Center. (http://www.sealifecenter.org). This non-profit education center teaches hundreds of children the importance of environmental consciousness and relies entirely on private donations. This exclusive event was held at the waterfront Avila Beach Golf Club & Resort and showcased more of the Central Coast’s finest wines and restaurants. Sea Fare has grown to become one of the finest events of the season and is the largest fundraising event of the year for the Avila Beach Sea Life Center.  The Sea Life Center has expanded this year to open a public aquarium and continues to work hard to enhance the public’s appreciation and understanding of the ocean and sea life. This evening event was elegant, fun and delicious — a great way to start out a lovely weekend before exploring Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cambria or Cayucos; whatever you want  to do is just a few minutes away.  That night we stayed at the Mission Inn of Pismo Beach where the rooms were very comfortable and the service was extremely courteous and attentive. The next day we were able to take our time and explore more of Avila Beach, Morro Bay and Cayucos . In Cayucos, we had a delicious lunch of the most satisfying fish and chips at  the historic Sea Shanty (http://www.seashantycayucos.com). After lunch, we visited Schooner’s Wharf (www.schoonerswarf.com) a funky little bar with an amazing view of the ocean that was packed to the gills. As I had promised at Savor, we visited the Brown Butter Cookie Company down the street for these delectable, rich cookies sprinkled with sea salt — you can only get them from these darling women — they are the real deal — they are definitely “the” brown butter cookie ladies. So after a nice little walk on the pier, we decided to head back to Morro Bay for a refreshing glass of wine on the Embarcadero. It was a perfect one-night rendezvous. I came back refreshed and was much better prepared for my week after my getaway to this little secret region of the world.

Most recently I attended the SLO Vitners Rockin Harvest Festival.  Even though it was misting and the weather was cool, the atmosphere  at the Avila Beach Golf Club & Resort was beautiful and the fog created a special ambiance. Saturday started with a dazzling VIP reserve wine tasting from central coast winemakers such as Ancient Peaks, Laetitia, Salisbury, Baileyana, Chamisal and many more — they poured their very best wines — it was a sublime experience. So after that, we were ready to enjoy the rest of the festival. Under every tent, the table contained something new and delicious to try. Some of the participating restaurants included The Cracked Crab, Gardens of Avila, Mee Heng Low, SeaVenture Resort and of course, Windows on the Water in Morro Bay. As we thoroughly enjoyed all the delicacies imaginable, we were entertained by The Crushtones and Inga Swearingen. We longed for, but lost out on the high-end silent auction which contained many tempting entertainment packages. My very favorite was a Cowboy Wine Dinner with Ancient Peaks Winery which included a tour and dinner “amongst the oaks trees” at one of my new favorite places, The Santa Margarita Ranch (which hosted Savor)  valued at $2,000. Well, I didn’t get it — it was ripped from me by some person that was way out of my bidding league. Another intriguing item was “A day of eating & drinking with the Stars” which included VIP passes to the 2011 L.A.Times Food & Wine Festival with special care by Salisbury Vineyards and Celebrity Chefs.  It was donated by L.A.Times Food & Wine Festival, Andaz West Hollywood, Chef Nathan Lyon and Salisbury Vineyards; it was valued at $750. It would have been very cool to have landed that one for so many reasons like it’s in my hometown and I had, let’s say, an interesting time last September. These were only two of the truly unique and decadent experiences offered at the silent auction but there were plenty more to be had. (for more on our L.A.Times Food and Wine Festival  review go to lavitafresca.com).

So after my liver was thoroughly saturated and my belly-dancing belly was full of the tastiest fare, I took a short and scenic drive to Morro Bay. I had the pleasure of staying in the Bay Room of the waterfront Estero Inn located on the Embarcadero – an intimate room furnished with a fluffy down bed, a lovely fireplace and a breathtaking 180 degree ocean view (www.esteroinn.com) (www.morrobay.org). Taking in the awesome pink sun setting over the famous Morro Bay Rock, I enjoyed a glass of Margerum M5 2005, Santa Barbara County, a blend of five of the principal Rhone Valley grapes: 55% Syrah, 18% Grenache, 14% Mouvedre, 7% Cinsault, 2% Counoise, 4% Genesis, 2% Uber; only 1,200 cases were made. M5 is bright and fruity with some black pepper notes that livens up the palate and so is very easy and pleasurable to drink. (www.margerumwinecompany.com). We were smitten by this wine when it was introduced to us by the proprietor of Taste of the Valleys (www.tastesofthevalleys.com) in Pismo Beach (www.pismobeach.org), which is arguably the coolest wine bar, tasting room and wine shop in the area.  I now make it our first and last stop when visiting Pismo or the surrounding cities. Enjoying the balcony of our room, I eagerly anticipated dinner and being wowed by esteemed chef Neil Smith of Windows on the Water (www.windowsonthewater.net).  I started our indulgent dinner with the fresh, crispy, perfectly dressed roasted beet salad and ordered the signature buttery, succulent Morro Bay Black Cod.  Finishing with tiramisu served in a chocolate cappuccino cup with an espresso reduction sauce, my satisfaction level was at a 10.  After dinner I looked forward to what the rest of the night had in store: sleeping in that big fluffy bed with the fireplace going.  I was ecstatic — the whole day was decadent and easy.

The next day, I awakened and went straight to Salisbury Vineyard in the Avila Valley (salisburyvineyards.com)  for their annual “Hair of the Dog Breakfast” in an attempt to gladly euthanize – well – my dog.  It’s a tradition after the SLO Vintners’ Rockin Harvest Festival (www.slowine.com) to  wear your wristband and go from vineyard to vineyard for a meal.  But after all of that Salisburian hospitality and, moreover, those mimosas, my dog needed a little grooming and he wasn’t going down so easily, so I stopped for a quick lunch at Big Sky Cafe in SLO (www.bigskycafe.com) for their tasty and comforting Vegetarian Black Bean Huevos Rancheros made with blue and red corn tortillas topped with black bean chili, eggs, quasi fresco, salsa fresco, and cilantro. Ode le pues! It was delicious and I felt so much better. Needless to say, I was happy but a bit crest-fallen when I realized that my weekend escape was coming to a close.  So, the sporty little Swede (no – not the exchange student that was hitting on me earlier that day — my volvo S40) and I jumped on the 101 South for a relaxing drive back into Los Angeles. The majority of the drive is beautiful but believe me, you’ll know when you’re not in the “SLO” lane anymore!  But, I don’t’ lament for more than five days because I’m going back next week and the week after that, and the week after that…

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