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The grass is as high as an elephant's eye, and the vineyards buds are just now busting into flavor! There are THREE Central Coast Wine Tours. Two in San Luis Obispo County, and One in Santa Barbara County. So be sure to pick up three wine maps.
For over 50 years this landmark (moved across the street about 30 years ago) has been serving the finest cuts of beef on the central coast. It started as a small bar, "Jocko's Monkey Cage" with a slogan, "Come on in and Monkey Around". This might be where "Santa Maria Barbeque" (Sliced Tri-Tip steak) got its name. Two dinning rooms are separated by a sometime noisy bar. Don't expect covered table cloths, they just use placemats. But for beef lovers, nothing beats the oak pit barbecued beef from Jocko's, just east of Hwy 101 off Teff Road in old town Nipomo.
Casmalia is made famous by the Hitching Post. At night your guest will wonder where in the devil you are taking them, as Casmalia is southeast of Santa Maria. (yes, where Michael Jackson's trial was held). It's off Hwy 1 on the way south to Vandenburg Missel Base, northwest of the Santa Ynez Valley. The newer Hitching Post in Buelton was made famous in the movie "Sideways". Both serve very good oak pit barbecue, but we prefer the original location which is located the remote (for Santa Maria Valley) one-street town of Casmalia. No matter what night you show up, you'll find a waiting line of people from Santa Maria and the Lompoc area backed up at the bar waiting for one of the Orsini family's tasty steaks. You can watch the barbecue crew work behind a glass wall in the dinning room. I recommend the Orsini family wines.
Ian McPhee is a Cal Poly grad who has been serving up gourmet food in the funky little western town of Templeton (north of San Luis Obispo, between Atascadero and Paso Robles). We just took newcomers to lunch there in April. You'll enjoy the old California town named for Temple Crocker, son of one of San Francisco's "Big Four" railroad barons. McPhee's is just across the street from Templeton Feed and Grain, so bring your camera. The wine list is what you'd expect in this the oldest part of San Luis Obispo's wine country. Would you believe that in the late 1960's there were only three wineries in all of San Luis Obispo County? All three were in this west Paso Robles region of Templeton. Zinfandel was the only grape being bottled at that time. It's still one of the signature wines of the Central Coast. Oh, be sure to arrive before 2 PM, as McPhee's closes then to prepare for dinner.
Wilhelm Hoppe first started his Hoppe's Bistro on Morro Bay Embarcadero. When Marina Square was built, the owner tried to get a chain restaurant to take the top floor, but everyone wanted Hoppe to move up into a larger space. But that meant he had to have additional "partners", and everyone knows that too many cooks can spoil a dinner. So Hoppe found an old wooden western building 8-minutes north on Hwy 1 in the last funky, cowboy-surfer town--Cayucos. Here locals actually dress for dinner. But he does serve a casual lunch in a lush outdoor patio in back. This is California Cuisine at it's finest. I have always told him that he should offer his appetizer of Pheasant Ravioli as an entree. An exceptional wine list.
The owners of the restaurant across from the County Court House in downtown San Luis Obispo were originally brought in to run the dinning room in the new Carleton Hotel in Atascadero, but they didn't hit it off with the owner. So instead of continuing to move around the country with their children working for different owners, they decided to put down roots in this historic Mission town. (Founded in 1772 by Fr. Junipero Serra. The city of San Luis Obispo is celebrating its Sesquicentennial in 2006.) The Koberl's moved into the former Blue restaurant and remodeled the bar and dinning room. It is located in the historic Andrews Bank building on the corner of Monterey and Osos streets, just a half block from the Art Deco Fremont Theatre (1942) which still shows first run movies in an un-cutup, high ceiling theater without a balcony. The Koberls offer no-corkage any bottle of Edna Valley wine bought across the street at "TASTE" in the new Court Street shopping project. The gourmet menu at Koberl at Blue compliments any wine you might taste by the ounce at the self-serve "Taste". Mrs. Koberl is your hostess. Service is exceptional both here and across Monterey street at the new Plazzo Giuseppe Itailian restaurant, and that's saying a lot in a college town. Both restaurants offer the no corkage fee with bottles bought at Taste. Bring your receipt please.
Located just a mile or so off Hwy 101/Hwy 1 about 7 miles south of San Luis Obispo, the Gardens of Avila is located in the historic Sycamore Hot Springs Resort which was remodeled in the past decade. Tucked away from the traffic to Avila Beach on Avila Drive, The Gardens of Avila is popular with hotel guest and locals who rent hot tubs up under the Oaks behind the Inn. This central coast hide-away is popular with weekend travelers from both Los Angeles and San Francisco who are seeking privacy on the Central Coast. The chefs might turn over in this county, but the Gardens of Avila has remained consistent. You'll love their mahogany lobby bar. Some even chose to dine in it.
The waitress might have a Central California accent, but he chef doesn't. The last time we were there, a pickup pulled up out in front and two dirty vineyard workers came in. They asked in thick French accents if they could get a table for eight in one hour. The hostess later mentioned to a waiter, "I think they are French". No kidding. Two minutes later, an American woman walked in with five french visitors. My wife and I knew this had to be a great spot for French Onion Soup, and authentic French Cuisine. Why? Because the French have discovered that they can grow Rhone vines in Paso Robles and have been buying up any property where the soils match. The benefit of this French invasion of the Central Coast? Paris Restaurant, one half block from the central park in downtown Paso Robles. (It's across the street from F. McLinktock's Steak House.) And Paris is not the only French restaurant in Paso Robles. Local history buffs will tell you that when the French Hotel opened across the street from the Old Mission in San Luis Obispo in the 1880's, they were the first establishment to serve wine in a bottle. It took two French brothers from Louisiana to bring fine dinning to SLO County 130 years ago!
This is the former spot that Hoppe's opened in, before moving up to Cayucos. Amazingly it is still one of the finer dining experiences in San Luis Obispo County. The sunset view overlooking Morro Bay and it's famous "Gibralter of the Pacific" Morro Rock, enhances your senses. I haven't eaten here in the past year, but the menu is outstanding, and the before dinner martinis are exceptional. There is an elevator for those who don't want to climb steps up from the Embarcadero sidewalk. Free parking all along the Embarcadero
Owner Robin expanded and moved to San Luis Obispo to open Novo in the historic Cigar Factory Building on San Luis Creek in downtown. While it is under earthquake retrofitting, he opened Chow Novo in the historic Chinatown district. But this is where it all started--on a side street in the east village of Cambria. If you don't know where Cambria is, it is where "the pines meet the sea", about ten minutes south of Hearst Castle. You might stay at a B&B or along the ocean front of Moonstone Beach Drive, but everyone stays at least one night in Cambria. And visitoris have been coming to Robin's for the past couple of decades...or even more. California cuisine, sometimes with an Asian flare. Across the street is Fermentations, a wine tasting bar and gift shop. How do I know this area? My father once owned a bar in Cambria...and Morro Bay...and San Luis Obispo.
Fifty years ago there were 13 hotels in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo. Now there is just one: The Garden Street Inn bed and breakfast. Located just a half block off of Marsh Street, one short block over from Higuera Street the main shopping street in his Mission town. I've seen the rooms, but haven't stayed here. But my mother's aunt used to live in an identical two-story home next door before a bank decided to make it part of their parking lot. This is the ideal place to stay if you are coming into town for the Thursday Night Farmer's Market. From 6:30 to 9 pm every Thursday for the past 20+ years, San Luis Obispo has been hosting this Farmers Market on five blocks of Higuera Street. The best produce from the coast and central valley farmers is on sale to the public. Everything from fresh peaches to artichokes, flowers, stawberries from Arroyo Grande and Santa Maria, and you can sit on the curb and eat barbecued ribs, corn or steak sandwiches. Just keep your dog in the car or back in your room...wait, I better check that.
Dine at the Airport?!? Yes. Especially this one. The theme is "Lucky Lindy". (Spirit of
St. Louis). Only this is a take on the similarity of city names. The Spirit of San Luis is independently owned and not connected to the commuter airport. That's why when you order a hamburger it tastes strangely different--they use fresh ground beef in their generous burgers. Open for breakfast and Sunday Champagne brunch. They serve seafood, chicken, beef, soups, salads and a full bar. Tables have a front row seat to planes taking off and landing at San Luis Obispo's busy-little-bee of an airport. The Spirit of San Luis is popular with general aviation pilots who sometimes fly their exotic aircraft into town for lunch. One afternoon a WW II B-25 bomber and a B-17 bomber flew up from Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando Valley. (Los Angeles). They wouldn't be flying up to San Luis if the food wasn't any good. (Side note: Just across from the end of the runway on South Broad Street and Buckley Lane is the new Tolosa Winery with it's modern wine tasting room and patio over looking the working winery--from behind glass.)
I used to instruct my bartenders at Legends in downtown Morro Bay that whenever visitors come in and ask, "Where is the Golden Tee hotel?" Tell them that is now and has been for over a decade 'The Inn at Morro Bay". Why Golden Tee? Because this gem is across the road from the first golf course in SLO County--The Cabrillo Golf Club then, now the Morro Bay Golf Course--18 holes overlooking the bay, and at a tiny fraction of the green fees charged up Hwy 1 in Pebble Beach. The large patio overlooking the boats at anchor in Morro Bay is a popular spot for weddings. The restaurant here might have changed names, but the food has been consistently good for the past decade. Yes, they still have a sunken bar. Not for patrons, but for their bartenders, as to not block the view of Morro Rock. California cuisine and fresh seafood when in season. Sometimes you'll find a jazz trio playing in the bar. Just next door to the Inn you'll find nests of Blue Herons in the trees. Bring your golf clubs and your binoculars--the Audubon Society gathers here every January for bird watching in this National Estuary that is Morro Bay. Garden Rooms with hot tubs. This is a great Escape!