HOME > Chowhound > California >


1st time visit to Central Coast - recs for most of the area...

Santa Barbara (probably lunch), San Luis Obispo, anything near inland wineries.

Two single 40something women. While we want good food.... a fun bar scene, nice outdoor patio and near water are all huge plusses. We're not looking for the most awesome food ever in a little funky dive, you know?

We're coming from the East Coast, so I'd just as soon pass on Italian and would prefer to concentrate on west coast seafood, Calif cuisine, good local produce, etc.

We're flying into LAX and are hoping to drive as far north as Nepenthe. Any suggestions for us? Any don't miss wineries?

Thanks so much!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Landing at LAX in the am? It is about a 2-21/2 hr drive up the coast to SB- do you know the route you are taking? 101 is probably the fastest, but I do love the LAX/Lincoln blvd/Hwy 1 to 101 route. That would take you thru Malibu and the coast is great this time of year- I am not familiar with any foodie stops in that area.

    I would do Santa Barbara Shellfish- located on the Strearns Wharf- a little pricey, but so good (crab sandwich, steamed clams) and awesome views, beer & wine only. The Harbor Restaurant is also on Stearns Wharf- and has a new team in the kitchen- the tasting menus at night look fantastic...Brophy Brothers- located across the way at the "boats" would also be a good choice. Brophys has a bar scene.

    If you are trying to make it to Big Sur in one day- after flying...you are going to be putting in a long haul. Is that your destination, Nepenthe? If so, you can reach that and then in the following time hit the wineries.

    Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo are 1 1/2 hrs away from eachother. Both have great wineries, but you can't do both areas in one day.

    What is your time frame here?

    3 Replies
    1. re: JalamaMama

      *gulp*...arrive on a Thursday, leave on a Monday morning. Monday flight to return home leaves LAX at 11AM, so we planned to stay somewhere in LA so we weren't fighting the commuters. I assumed that since our flight from PVD to LAX got in at 11:00AM on Thursday, we'd have missed the morning commute and it'd be a 1.5 hr drive - no?

      I figured Thursday (arrival day) we'd have lunch in Santa Barbara as a pit stop, and head to SLO for our overnighter, then hit Hearst Castle the next morning, continue on to Nepenthe for a late lunch, then back down to SLO or Paso Robles to sleep Friday night. Saturday hit some wineries, afternoon back to Santa Barbara .....dinner/overnight there. Sunday wind our way back down towards LA w/a glimpse or two of Malibu, then into LA itself for our last night. Realistic?

      1. re: JaneRI

        I'm concerned about your Friday plan - you probably don't want to drive the 1 from SLO to Big Sur and back in the same day - and Hearst Castle is at least a two or three hour proposition in and of itself (well worth it though.)

        I'd suggest Thursday - drive to SB and either stay there, or have lunch and head to the Santa Ynez Valley for the overnight (say Solvang or some such.) Friday do a few wineries and spend the night in SLO. Saturday drive from SLO to Big Sur and stop at Hearst Castle on the way. Sunday drive back from Big Sur to LA, stopping in SB again for lunch. Either that, or you could skip Big Sur and spend more time in the wine areas or Santa Barbara!

        1. re: JaneRI

          Not Realistic at all. There is NO WAY you would enjoy all the rushing yuo would have to do.

          You would be better off just driving up to Santa Barbara, and doing the wine thing in the Santa Ynez valley. Plenty of good wineries, nice places to stay, and it gives you plenty of time to relax and explore. Then you could drive back to LA and feel you had a good time, and be relaxed.

          You would love to eat in Los Olivos or Solvang or Ballard..lots of chowish places there! Santa Barbara has great eating and visiting spots!

      2. Definitely try the Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara! I think there are also several relatively recent posts on here about Santa Barbara and the Central Coast, so a search using Central Coast or Santa Barbara would probably be a good idea. Paradise Cafe might also be up your alley.

        In the Santa Ynez Valley, I'd say head for Los Olivos - Patrick's Sidestreet Cafe, Panino, Matteis, etc. those are the most often recommended places in that area that I know of. Robin's and the Sow's Ear are pretty good in Cambria. There's not much of anything between there and Big Sur (other than Hearst Castle).

        In Big Sur, I'd say stop for the view in Nepenthe (or better yet at Julia Pfeiffer Burns St. Park) but eat at the Big Sur Bakery, Ventana or Post Ranch Inn if you get a chance. Another thought - the massages at Esalen are out of this world - and you can eat lunch there if you time it right!

        Here are some blog posts I wrote about a similar trip last summer - we had a great time!

        Have fun!

        1. For good food and a great bar scene, Paso Robles is your place on the weekend. There is a brand new Courtyard by Marriott with a heated pool (and many other nice hotels in town). Have dinner anywhere downtown on the park- the Crooked Kilt is a bit of a dive but the food is pretty good. Their seafood is great, they own a few other restos in the area including a seafood on the coast and after 9 on weekends they have a d.j. There's another small seafood place downtown called Chico's cafe and it is associated with the Sea Shanty, also on the coast. After dinner, head over to the basement in the new Acorn building- Level 4 has live music (I danced 'til 1 a.m. last weekend), great 35+ crowd, it's the happening place right now. The P.R. Inn has live music on weekends as well- but they close early. Do a search and read about the lots of other great restaurants in SLO county, but the nightlife is definitely in Paso. If you're looking to hook-up, besides Level 4, you should check out the bar at Villa Creek, Vinoteca (wine bar, closes kinda early) but a good place to meet good looking wino's. :-)

          1. Thanks SO much for these great posts, I'm saving them to my favorites (trip is in June - we just booked flights yesterday, plenty of time to figure out the details).

            1 Reply
            1. re: JaneRI

              Your trip sounds realistic, it would be too much for some, but if you are prepared to be on the road- why not? June means fog along the coast sometimes.

              The Sunday drive back into LA will be rough. If you can put it off till 8pm or get a early start, you'll be better off. It is a a good 2 hours to SB, from LAX. Another 1 to 1.5 to San Luis Obispo- with another hour to Paso Robles.

              Sounds like the wineries of Santa Barbara County will suit your plans best. If you only had 2-3 hours, and that means 2 wineries max.....Well you could take Alisos Canyon rd off 101 and get onto Foxen Canyon and choose from Zaca Mesa, Fess Parker, Koehler, Firestone, and Curtis. You could hit Beckman and Bridlewood. Kalyra and Sunstone. Babcock and Melville. Our local vintners association has a website with maps.

              Malibu has some really fun low key eatting places- check the other appropriate boards for recs., that could be fun before getting a LAX hotel.

              Have a super time!

            2. I think you are a little ambitous. By the time you get your luggage and a car it will probably be 12 or so, and the westside traffic always bites. You can get a great late lunch on SB see some of the other recs, and then I would probably taste in Santa Ynez and call it a day. Highway 1 past san simeon can be dicey if you are tired. Enjoy youself and take your time. There are some great places to stay and eat in Santa Ynez. A couple of places are Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivios and The restaurant at the Ballard Inn.

              1 Reply
              1. re: littlestevie

                Thanks so much to all of you for taking the time to look at my plans so carefully.

                Steve, I def didn't plan on getting too far north that first day - sleepover in maybe SLO or PR, next morning heading up to San Simeon/Big Sur.

                That last night I think we'll stay in Marina Del Ray for airport proximity.

              2. It pains me to say this but....how much will we regret it if we skip San Simeon/Big Sur, and concentrate on Santa Barbara/SLO/Paso Robles?

                3 Replies
                1. re: JaneRI

                  If it's about the food and wine, no need to go any further north than PR or Hoppe's in Cayucos. If it's about nature and unbelievable scenery, by all means Big Sur.

                  1. re: PolarBear

                    If you really want to see Big Sur area- get in the car and make the drive the day you get in- jam up the 101 and in Paso area, take the 41 or 46 over and stay in San Simeon- it'll be a push, but you'll wake up in San Simeon and then you can work your way down the coast.

                    If it were me- I wouldn't make it past Santa Ynez Valley- you have country here and Santa Barbara for the city.

                    What is the most important thing you want to do?

                  2. re: JaneRI

                    Hay I know this is not a travel board, but if you want scenery moonstone beach in cambria is beautiful and a undiscovered state park in los osos is montana de oro. It has beautiful ocean scapes. this just outside SLO and on the way out there you can hit Carlocks bakery. Big Sur is beautiful but you really do not have to go much past ragged point to get a good feel for the place.

                  3. When were you planning on doing this? You may want to consider a one-way journey from LAX up to the Monterey or San Jose airport or better down in the other direction so you aren't doubling back. If the airfare and the rental car return will allow it. Personally, for two 40ish women interested in food and wine, I think this is way too much driving as you have planned, especially if both of you intend to taste the wine (no designated driver). This is not a relaxing long weekend excursion -- it is an ambitious schedule even if you had an entire week. Sorry...

                    1. Thanks SO much to all who responded.

                      Jalamamama, I love scenery and driving and wouldn't mind this drive for one second. My friend doesn't feel that way though and I just have to accept it and realize this is best saved for another trip.

                      I would love a good meal sitting outdoors (pref by water) w/some mellow music (up to and including Jimmy Buffet). I think we should be able to find that in Santa Barbara, huh?

                      Polar Bear, 1st I hear of Hoppe's - it's on my list, thanks so much, sounds great!

                      I'm sure I can talk her into going as far as Cambria - what is this bakery you speak of?

                      And good point about wineries, distances, no designated driver.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: JaneRI

                        The entire State is a great drive, well except for 5...If your companion isn't up for driving too much- sounds like you might have an issue about careening up and back.

                        Santa Barbara does offer alot- great food and weather, wineries (Santa Ynez is 30 minutes N of SB) and beaches.

                        SLO has great weahter, great food and wineries.

                        Big Sur is something maybe you can come back and take a week just to explore from San Simeon North- IMO- I like the North of Santa Cruz area- it really isn't something you can see in 1 day.

                        There are plenty of beaches, scenery and such on the Central Coast- June is typically a month we have fog all day- that would be the one thing that could dampen your trip- so you need to be prepared to go inland to get away from the gloom.

                        visit santabarbara.com might be helpful.

                        1. re: JalamaMama

                          YIKES. We were hoping to hit the beach - fog all day?? Everywhere I've read it says you can count on it burning off by noon....not true?

                          1. re: JaneRI

                            I have to agree that your far reaching drive would be too much. Save Big Sur for another trip (Carmel/Monterey) so you can give it the time it deserves. That area is covered on this board as well.

                            Summer fog usually persists at the beach, and inland a mile or three depending on topography. This is because the water is cooling and fog is created as the air temps warm up in summer. The fog bank usually extends inland a few miles and then by noon retreats to hover at the coast. So your inland areas of wine tasting venues and resturants will be sunny by noonish. Towns closer to the coast may clear for a few hours. It all depends on the ocean temps. Cold ocean=more fog.

                            One beach where you could count on sun is the tiny community of AVILA BEACH just south of San Luis (loo-eese, not loo-ee) Obispo. Located in a protected bay, it has numerous cafes and restaurants, a couple of wine tasting venues, a good coffee house and a sunny beach promenade. Friday night there is a farmer/fisherman's market there. Great place to kick back with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down. The same can be said for CAYUCOS, the small town just south of Cambria where Polar Bear rec's Hoppe's. More often sunny at sunset than not during the summer, while other coastal towns are socked in.

                            Thursday night in SLO finds the Farmer's Market in downtown. Starts at around 5:30 p.m. Lots of food booths by local restaurants, so there is a lot of choice. There is a new wine bar at the corner of Chorro and Monterey, next to the mission.. (Bear in mind that SLO proper is a college town, but many will be gone for the summer by late June.) Downtown SLO's bar scene will be fairly young, while Paso will have an older, more sophisticated clientele.

                            Paso Robles offers wine country, an agrarian feel, and warm summer weather. it can get into the 100's ("but it's a dry heat") by June during the day, but count on weather being high 80-s to mid-90's. Evenings are warm and comfortable for patio dining. Most of the downtown restaurants have outdoor tables.

                            For dining and wine tasting opportunities in these SLO area towns, search the names (south to north) on this California board for more complete discussions:

                            Santa Barbara
                            Santa Ynez
                            Pismo Beach
                            Avila Beach
                            San Luis Obispo
                            Morro Bay
                            Paso Robles

                            Make sure you have a good map!

                      2. If you want fun, funky with CA atmosphere, you have to do:

                        Cold Spring Tavern (in SB County)

                        East Beach Grill (right on the beach in Santa Barbara


                        Stella Mare's (in Santa Barbara stones throw away from beach)

                        Carlito's Cafe (downtown Santa Barbara)

                        Louie's at the Upham Hotel (downtown Santa Barbara in historic hotel)

                        Take out at the Deli at Lazy Acres and picnic at Shoreline Park


                        Nepenthe (Big Sur)

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: santabarbarian

                          I had been to the website for Cold Spring Tavern and (this is going to sound silly) it seemed like it was all old folks in the pictures, so I thought maybe it was a tour bus destination or something.

                          Thanks for the SB recs - looks like now we're concentrating on SB/Santa Ynez valley so that we don't have a ton of driving after a 6 hr flight. I'm going to print out this entire thread for my trip folder. one more thing....how is Ynez pronounced? Yee-nez? Eee-nez? eye-nez?

                          1. re: JaneRI

                            I lived in the San Luis Obispo area (an hour north of Santa Ynez) for a number of years & I've always pronounced it ee-NEZ (accent on the second syllable).

                            Since in Spanish, words that end in a vowel followed by another word that starts with a vowel are frequently "squished together" (for example, "de el" becomes "del"), the practical effect of pronouncing "Santa" followed by "Ynez" was something more like "i NEZ" rather than "ee NEZ".

                            Locals from the area should feel free to correct me or clarify.

                            1. re: alanstotle

                              I was raised to call my hometown "santee eenez". We live on Refugio Road- which most call "reefugio" when in fact it is "reefoohio". We have Nojoqui Falls Park here- and that is "na-who-ay". God Bless the Chumash, and the Mexican and Spanish settlers who graced us with the fun pronuciations!

                              JaneRI, please feel free to email me, and I can give you alot of fun tips about our area. I am a driver myself, and I can send you on some fun side trips.

                              1. re: JalamaMama

                                This is fun, because I am local too and was raised with totally different interpretations, so I guess we can safely say that, as far as locals go, there is no one right way - except to say Lom-POKE, not Lom-pock.

                                My family says Santa Yuh-nez. Which is kind of close to Santee eenez, depending on how you slice it. We went to Refu-fee-yo Beach, which all kinds of wrong, but there you have it. And Nojoqui - "Na-huh-WEE."

                            2. re: JaneRI

                              I've always pronounced it "SANtaheeenez"...all run together.