SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY

Beaches, Wine Coun­try And Great Re­sorts, Plus Cal­i­for­nia’s Most Unique State Park

Escalon Times - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES - By CARY ORDWAY Cal­i­for­ni­aWeek­end.com

Film stars like Clark Gable, Ca­role Lom­bard and Char­lie Chap­lain once boarded the train in Los An­ge­les to travel through the night up the Cal­i­for­nia coast. Their des­ti­na­tion: the pala­tial hill­top es­tate of Wil­liam Ran­dolf Hearst.

To­day, the Hearst Cas­tle is the most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion in San Luis Obispo County, but just a small part of what keeps peo­ple com­ing back to the area. Breath­tak­ing nat­u­ral beauty, beach and spa re­sorts, fas­ci­nat­ing Cal­i­for­nia his­tory — they’re all part of a va­ca­tion on the Cen­tral Coast.

Back in the 1920s and 30s, get­ting to Hearst Cas­tle took a lit­tle bit of time. Af­ter trav­el­ing most of Fri­day night by train, Hearst’s celebrity guests were met at the San Luis Obispo sta­tion and driven by mo­tor­car on prim­i­tive roads an­other cou­ple of hours north to the cas­tle’s lo­ca­tion near San Simeon. These Hol­ly­wood guests—usu­ally two or three dozen—would then be­gin a non-stop party that would cul­mi­nate in an­other long jour­ney home in or­der to be on their movie sets Mon­day morn­ing.

To­day, tourists ar­rive at the Hearst Cas­tle by bus yes, even if you drive your car, you won’t get to the cas­tle un­less you’re rid­ing in one of the Park Ser­vice’s mo­tor coaches that shut­tle vis­i­tors up and down the wind­ing, nar­row five-mile road to the cas­tle. With well over a mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors, the cas­tle now has a fleet of buses and a bus sta­tion to ri­val that of a good­size city.

Sev­eral tours are of­fered, so you’ll need to visit more than once if you’re in­tent on see­ing the en­tire es­tate. But we found the two-hour in­tro­duc­tory tour to be quite thor­ough, al­low­ing ac­cess to many of the more spec­tac­u­lar parts of the cas­tle. The tour guides here are ob­vi­ously se­lected for their sto­ry­telling skills and ours, in par­tic­u­lar, of­fered nu­mer­ous anec­dotes about Hearst and his many guests, and about the great time and ex­pense that went into cre­at­ing one of our coun­try’s grand­est homes.

Vis­i­tors to the cas­tle marvel at the indoor and out­door pools - the Nep­tune pool took 12 years to build — as well as the ar­chi­tec­ture, gar­dens and foun­tains. The in­tro­duc­tory tour gives a good view of the main house and its in­te­rior in­clud­ing sit­ting rooms and din­ing ar­eas that are larger than those found in many ho­tels. Art and an­tiq­ui­ties are ev­ery­where, and the sweep­ing view of the ocean and sur­round­ing coun­try­side is just as spec­tac­u­lar as any­thing you find on the grounds.

As unique and his­tor­i­cal as the Hearst Cas­tle is, there are other parts of San Luis Obispo County that are also well worth vis­it­ing while in the area. We based our op­er­a­tions at the La Cuesta Inn, just a few blocks from down­town San Luis Obispo, and found fas­ci­nat­ing tourist at­trac­tions in just about ev­ery di­rec­tion. The La Cuesta, in­ci­den­tally, is a good choice not only for lo­ca­tion but be­cause of the “3-star” ameni­ties — a spa­cious room, in-room en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter and, from our room, a great view of the pool and spa ar­eas.

We found San Luis Obispo it­self to be an ap­peal­ing des­ti­na­tion city - a small town, re­ally, with just 45,000 souls, but with many his­tor­i­cal build­ings down­town, and many more un­der ren­o­va­tion. The down­town area has a Nor­man Rock­well qual­ity with its tree-lined streets, his­toric store­fronts and easy-go­ing traf­fic. Take Mon­terey Street to its down­town end and you ar­rive at the Mis­sion San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (circa 1772) which, to­day, also serves as the city’s pub­lic square. It is also here that city fa­thers have cre­ated a tran­quil walk­ing path that fol­lows San Luis Creek past sev­eral lo­cal eater­ies and bars with their out­door decks perched along the wooded creek banks.

The other his­toric mis­sion in San Luis Obispo County is in San Miguel, where the 2003 Paso Robles earth­quake has lim­ited some ac­cess to the sprawl­ing San Miguel Ar­changel, founded in 1797 by Fa­ther La­suen. Lo­cated about 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo, this site is still worth the visit even though the church it­self is closed due to earth­quake dam­age. The adobe build­ings and perime­ter fence make it easy to trans­port your thoughts back to when this mis­sion was built to bring Chris­tian­ity to the many In­di­ans who resided in this par­tic­u­lar part of the Cen­tral Coast re­gion.

Drive just a few miles south from San Miguel and the Paso Robles area presents an­other type of get­away ex­pe­ri­ence al­to­gether - a group of 80 tast­ing rooms just wait­ing for you to stop and en­joy the fruits of these up-and-com­ing winer­ies. Paso Robles hasn’t been dis­cov­ered to the de­gree that Napa has, so prices at these Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies are lower and the lo­cals say

the qual­ity is just as good. In this par­tic­u­lar re­gion, the vol­canic soil has made the lo­cal grapes es­pe­cially ap­pro­pri­ate for red wines.

We stopped by EOS Es­tate Win­ery just east of Paso Robles on High­way 46, where we watched 82-year-old Stan Meltzer put on what amounted to a clinic on Paso Robles wines. Two women from the San Fran­cisco Bay area had stopped in for a tast­ing and Meltzer - who’s be­ing do­ing this for 16 years - shared with them his own phi­los­o­phy about wine, food and the Paso Robles area grapes.

“Cer­tain wines do a far bet­ter job of cleans­ing the mouth for the most im­por­tant thing - the next food,” Meltzer ex­plained. “WHEN you bother to cook some­thing eclec­tic - us­ing herbs and spices and so on - and all you taste is the wine, then you’ve worked hard for noth­ing. You’ve over­matched your food.”

Meltzer calls him­self a wine “purest” be­cause he closely matches his wines and foods. For ex­am­ple, the red zin­fan­dels so preva­lent in the Paso Robles area are best served with stews, pasta sauces, bar­be­cue, French coun­try chicken Meltzer of­fered a long list of op­tions, giv­ing his vis­i­tors plenty of food for thought. If you’re look­ing for travel deals, what bet­ter than to get a sem­i­nar on cook­ing with wine, all for the cost of just a tast­ing?

A short drive south and west from Paso Robles is Cam­bria, an artists’ colony that of­fers a charm­ing af­ter­noon of shop­ping as well as en­joy­able din­ing in sev­eral lo­cal restau­rants. The scenery in this part of the county is what re­ally makes it ap­peal­ing - the closer you drive to the coast, the more Mon­terey pines ap­pear. The com­bi­na­tion of rolling hills, quiet wind­ing roads and tow­er­ing pines makes this a per­fect gate­way to the beauty of the Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Coast. It’s also here that you’ll find Moon­stone Beach, so named be­cause of the semi-pre­cious agate and jasper stones that can be found in the sand.

The beaches, in fact, are of­ten the main rea­son vis­i­tors come to San Luis Obispo County for their Cal­i­for­nia beach va­ca­tions. More than 80 miles of beaches are ready for ex­plo­ration, each just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than the one pre­ced­ing it. Driv­ing High­way 1 along the coast is a kalei­do­scope of col­or­ful beach scenes that of­fer every­thing from wide, sandy beaches for sun wor­ship­pers to craggy shore­line per­fect for find­ing tide pools and var­i­ous forms of sea life.

We’ve en­joyed stay­ing in ro­man­tic inns both in Cayu­cos and at Avila Beach, both ex­cel­lent places to find beaches that are qui­eter and less crowded. The pier at Cayu­cos is an ex­cel­lent place to get a closeup view of the area’s many surfers in ac­tion. The beach at Avila is known lo­cally to be the sun­ni­est and warm­est in the area, and many lo­cal inns and re­sorts of­fer ex­cep­tional travel pack­ages. Driv­ing the coast­line, one can­not help but no­tice the ex­ceed­ingly wide Morro Strand State Beach with Morro Rock in the back­ground. Kayak­ing along this bay is pop­u­lar and the beach is so broad that there’s plenty of pri­vacy when you get ready to park your beach tow­els or chairs.

Pismo Beach is one of the most pop­u­lar in the area and of­fers a pier that vis­i­tors can fish from. Nearby is a small but busy shop­ping dis­trict with restau­rants, shops and other at­trac­tions. And down the beach a ways is the only driv­able beach area in Cal­i­for­nia, per­fect for rent­ing an all­ter­rain ve­hi­cle. Also nearby is the Oceano Dunes Park, set aside for off-high­way ve­hi­cles as well as camp­ing and other beach ac­tiv­i­ties.

Maybe Hearst Cas­tle was con­sid­ered the big re­ward for Hol­ly­wood types go­ing north in the 20s and 30s - to­day, the re­wards for vis­i­tors to San Luis Obispo County are al­most too nu­mer­ous to men­tion. Whether they’re tak­ing Cal­i­for­nia beach va­ca­tions or tour­ing Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies, the Cen­tral Coast of­fers a great Cal­i­for­nia va­ca­tion.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY CAL­I­FOR­NIA STATE PARKS

Heart Cas­tle is San Luis Obispo County’s most fa­mous at­trac­tion. Lo­cated in San Simeon, the pop­u­lar Cen­tral Coast tourist spot re­quires reser­va­tions var­i­ous tours of the grounds and Heart Cas­tle it­self. The grounds have de­scen­dants of the orig­i­nal ze­bra herd roam­ing.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY CAL­I­FOR­NIA STATE PARKS

TOP PHOTO: The grand din­ing room at Hearst’s Cas­tle. BOT­TOM LEFT PHOTO: The gothic study. BOT­TOM RIGHT PHOTO: The main room for en­ter­tain­ing.

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