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Dec 19, 2009 12:36 PM

San Diego to Santa Barbara to Central Coast Family Road Trip - Reqs Needed

Fellow Chowhounds,

My wife, 7 yr old daughter, 9 month old son and 70 lb yellow lab are heading up to the Hearst Castle area for a family road trip just after X-Mas . . . yes, it'll be insane - but, good insane.

In any case, we're hoping to be able to eat as well as possible given our parameters ( no need for dog friendly places - she'll be sleeping in the hotel room or chilling on her pillow in the car). We'll be staying in the SLO area, but driving up to San Simeon for the castle and (hopefully) to Paso Robles for a few wineries.

Our goal is to find some casual, locally-owned foodie type places for breakfast & lunch (shouldn't be too tough - looking for places in SLO-ish area plus Santa Barbara on the way back home), a few options for dinner with two young kids that actually serves good food (I'm assuming tough) and some Paso Robles wineries that might be able to keep our 7 yr old daughter entertained for 20 minutes at a time but still make killer wine.

Our family is very open-minded when it comes to food - doesn't matter if it's BBQ, french bistro, sushi, mexican, home-style cooking or Indian . . . you name it, as long as it's delicious we're happy (except for Thai food). Also, we have to avoid any "fine" dining given our 9 month old boy's table side manner is somewhere between the Tasmanian Devil and an English bulldog (more drool than you care to imagine).

I've actually plotted our our food stops (yes, my wife makes fun of me about this type of behavior) and done a little research for options - but we need help with feedback and I'm sure to be missing some ideal spots. Please see list below - and any help is GREATLY appreciated!

1. Lunch on Sunday around Santa Barbara (or perhaps in LA)
Options: La Super Rica in SB?

2. Dinner on Sunday in SLO area
Or perhaps in Nipomo at Jocko's around 5pm? are we crazy to even attempt to go here with a baby?
Perhaps Mama's Meatball?

3. Breakfast on Monday in SLO (or anywhere on the way up to San Simeon)
Perhaps Utopia Bakery or Creole Cafe Bon Temps?

4. Lunch on Monday in Paso Robles (or anywhere on route from Hearst Castle to Paso Robles wineries)
Please help! Any place to maybe pick up a few picnic type goodies (crunchy baguettes, stinky camembert and garlicky salami?). Any little french country style bistro places that serve lunch where kids wouldn't ruffle too many diners feathers (perhaps a killer french onion soup on a cold day)?

5. Dinner on Monday (somewhere in SLO area - would prefer not to drive far after a long day for the kids)
Buona Tavola (too nice? too far? too pricey?)
Shalimar (is it in SLO? Is it killer good or just "above average"? Can they cook a juicy and flavorful tandoori chicken breast?)
Yangi Goshi
Bayside Cafe

6. Breakfast on Tuesday (either in SLO or anywhere heading south for an 30-60 minutes)

7. Lunch on Tuesday (in Santa Barbara ideally)

We're also thinking of taking our daughter for ice cream at Doc Bernstein's.

In regards to Paso Robles wineries, we'll be there on a Monday afternoon (12/28), roughly between 12pm and 4pm. From the strings I've read on Chowhound - the most intriguing wineries in Paso Robles (we love big reds and would prefer to avoid the overly commercial, big wineries)) are Tablas Creek, Jada, Zin Alley, Denner, Fratelli Peralta and Linne Calado. Assuming we have time to visit perhaps no more than two or three wineries - which would you suggest are must hits when taking into consideration:

a) quality of the wine

b) value (in a tip of the hat to the recession, we've got a budget of around $100 to buy hopefully around 4 bottles - looking to avoid places with $10-$15 tasting fees with the cheapest wine being $45 - though I've heard Linne Calado is worth burning a hole in your wallet)

c) atmosphere - we'd love to find the small, homey, picturesque, family-driven wineries that might allow us to tour the vineyards, eat a picnic (though it might be too cold?) or check out the caves . . . we think our daughter would get a kick out of that (heck, she'd be happy to pet a friendly dog hanging around the tasting room).

d) proximity - we want to limit our tasting time to no more than 1-2 hours to keep the kids from going crazy . . . best situation would be to find a "must visit" winery to anchor and then a few intriguing ones nearby.

Apologies in advance for this rambling dirge. Thanks again!

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  1. Well, I'm gonna ramble myself!

    I'd forget Jocko's on Sunday. It's vastly over-rated IMHO and is dingy, crowded, with unfriendly service. Good steaks, but not much of a "fun" place. Mama's Meatball on Avila Rd near 101 would be a good choice for Italian. At Avila Hot Springs "resort".

    If you'll be in SLO by then, get settled in your lodgings and head to downtown for some excercise. You could get a good burger (and brew) or other sandwiches at Firestone at Higuera & Osos, or stroll down Higuera, the main street, towards Big Sky or just a couple blocks to the northwest to Bon Temps on Olive Street off Santa Rosa. Both are open to families and are casual with tasty food. Or go to Apple Farm which is at the upper end of Monterey near Cuesta Grade; though not ground-breaking cuisine, enjoy "home cooking" (and lots of it). Very prettily deco'd for the holidays. Some interesting things for the kids to see (Mill House, etc) Very festive. There also Pizza: Nardo's on outer Broad at Orcutt Rd, and Upper Crust out on Madonna Rd and Los Osos Valley Rd. Family friendly and very good pizza. Nardos is small, UC has a larger dining area.. There is also an good dog park at Laguna Lake Park on Madonna across from the blue Post Office building so Fido can get some exercise--and it's right on the way to UC Pizza.

    I wouldn't call Utopia a breakfast spot, though it does have good pastires. Either Big Sky or Bon Temps would fill the bill better. Both have good coffee for the adults. A b'fast at either place will last you till even a later lunch. Again, Apple Farm is a good chioce for a large, tasty b'fast. Very mainstream choices, but they do make good pancakes! A veru decent budget b'fast can be had at Frank's Famous Hotdogs at teh corner of Monterey ans Calfi Blvd. Good pancakes and decent eggs, plus sausage and linguica, hash browns, etc.
    Fast and cheap.

    Don't think Bayside is open on Monday for dinner. Not sure off the top of my head, but I'd check them first. The weather is forecast to be cold and breezy with winds off the water, so very chilly. (daytime 40's and 50's plus windchill.) It'll be cool at Hearst Castle near the water. Bring many warm layers if you plan on dining outside anywhere. (I wouldn't with kids) Paso is forecast to be down in the 20's at night, 40's daytime. Sebastian's store if it is still open (Hearst Ranch just bought the property and is going to "improve" the 100+ yr-old building) serves dynamite "fast" food! Check it out. Just a few indoor tables or some outside on the patio. DO NOT plan to eat at the state park concession building where you catch the bus to the Castle. (I hope you get Debbie as a guide--she's fantastic!!) Better food almost anywhere in Cambria.

    I am tempted to tell you about the best sushi inthe area, Atari Ya in Santa Maria. They are having a happy hour daily 5-6:30 thru Dec 31st with sushi and roll prices at 45% off regular prices. A very family friendly restaurant, traditional and friendly atmosphere. Very fresh fish.

    McKlintock's Saloon in Arroyo Grande village would be a nice choice for Bfast on your way south. Vast amounts of good bfast chow with atmosphere of an old western tavern. On Bridge st, just off 101 (Grand Ave exit, turn left on Branch, go east 2 blocks to Bridge St, turn right, just past the old green steel bridge on the left. (Doc B's is right on Branch St)

    There is a good new deli in Santa Maria, Central City Market, with good freshly made deli take out goods plus picnic supplies like you mentioned, in the Town Center Mall. Take Main St exit southbound on 101, turn right and proceed to Miller St, take a left to Cook, turn right and make a right onto Broadway. Turn into the driveway just past Macy's. You'll see an atrium, that's CCM. You could get some provisions there if you're going to be stopping in Santa Ynez for wine tasting. Good breads, wines, drinks, hot and cold deli selctions. House-smoked meats. Owner is a chef with several years at 5 star resto's including Turtle Creek in Texas. He's striving for excellence at modest prices by giving very good value for the $. I can vouch for the ribs and soups!

    There's a small zoo in Atascadero, just 10 min south of Paso, on Morro Rd west. Charles Paddock Zoo on the shore of Atascadero Lake Park. There is a cafe there, not sure of the hours. North County hounds, do you know?

    Have a fun trip and stay warm. Dogs are welcome just about everywhere, but be sure to leash, even at the beaches. Lots of hiking trails too, check with Mountain Sports, just across March St on Broad, about 1/2 block from Big Sky.

    1 Reply
    1. re: toodie jane

      Wow! Thanks for all this feedback - definitely will make adjustments to incorporate your info (we love sushi so Atari Ya sounds perfect)! Thanks for the dog park tip - our dog Ida loves to run around dog parks.

    2. Reply to #4 - There is an excellent cheese shop in downtown Paso - they are very friendly and generous with tastings, and have bread, salami, etc. Last time we were there they turned us on to 2 fab cheeses - Pilota and Monte Enebro.
      Di Raimondos Italian Market
      822 13th St, Paso Robles, CA 93446 (805) 238-1268

      Two favorite Paso wineries I'd recommend to you:
      Tablas Creek for sure - they always have their dogs around and were even cool enough to let us bring our dog into the tasting room (hot day in summer).
      Anglim - downtown Paso at the train depot - great wine, small family-run operation, and their daughter is often at the tasting room.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sbgirl

        Thanks sbgirl . . . we've got Tablas Creek marked down - plus Denner, Dover Canyon and Jada all sound good. L'Aventure, Booker and Fratelli Peralta also sound tempting. Too many wineries, too little time! Would I be correct in assuming ALL of these places charge $10 tastings and price their wine around $40+ per bottle?

      2. Definitely Jocko's, never had unfriendly service there.
        They're family friendly with a kids menu and plenty of high chairs.
        Sure it's going to be crowded, but call ahead and make reservations. You definitely have to go after 4pm when the charcoal pit is open. It's crowded because locals know where to go for good Central Coast BBQ.
        My favorites are the large steak sandwich which is a one pound rib eye on top of their garlic toast also the pork ribs. The Spencer steak is probably the most popular steak they serve which is a rib eye.

        125 N Thompson Ave
        Nipomo, CA 93444
        (805) 929-3565 (Definitely call for reservations)

        8 Replies
        1. re: monku

          Note that even with reservations you may wll have a considerable wait at the dinner hour at Jocko's. People are often lined up outside waiting at 5:00 p.m. on a weekday.

          There is at least one other local choice for 60's Vintage Kitch Steakhouse: the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe (Main St exit from 101 west to Hiway 1, turn right about 3 blocks, on the left) gets my vote. Good food, funky and comfortable ambiance and decent service. Their specialty is ribeye (they call it their "Bull'seye") steak with the usual fixin's.

          Historic bar with stained glass in a high-ceilinged building from the late 1800's, decor is strictly 60's steakhouse 'opulent', complete with flocked velvet wallpaper. A short drive from Oso Flaco beach access about 2 miles north on Hiway 1 towards Oceano and Pismo Beach.

          Don't forget we'd all like to read about your chowhounding adventures after your trip, please!

          1. re: toodie jane

            The longest I've waited with a reservation at Jocko's is 15 minutes, even at 5:00 on a holiday weekend. It's not a tourist trap place and 90% of the clientele are locals.

            I've been to Far Western Tavern a half dozen times and Jocko's at least a dozen times and I'll go to Jocko's over FWT anyday. Many times I'll go to Jocko's two nights in row when I'm in the area for a weekend I think it's that good. Sure, there's no atmosphere, it's not fancy with it's bare formica tables and cinder block walls but I wouldn't say it's dingy.

            I don't know why you'd say it's "over-rated", they probably serve more BBQ than any other place in the Central Valley. The meat is hand cut to order and yes it can take 20 minutes to grill your order. Almost all the items on the menu are inclusive of salad, entree, coffee and scoop of ice cream for desert (spumoni is the most popular and they run out). The service may not seem personal because it get's busy but it's efficent, most of the servers have been there for at least 10 years. I've never had a problem with bad service.

            1. re: monku

              I'll agree Jocko's is over-rated too. Lots of food, but none of it very tasty or good value. What is the point of an over-size relish tray of vegetables you normally keep in your own refrigerator? But it is something to do once because it is a unique place in a unique out of the way setting. If you are traveling and can't take home the over-kill size portions, then you paid too much. it does have a great, lively atmosphere but more often the waits are not worth it if you don't have a reservation. Think of a 1950's throwback type of a place before dining became a little more refined and you will have the Jocko's experience. It is a feeding station and in the noise even your little Tasmanian Devils will likely get absorbed in the happy glee of the place. Mo's has much better food - everything there is great from the corn meal muffin, BBQ beans, cole slaw sides to the sweetest, tenderest BBQ pork rib main events.

            2. re: toodie jane

              I'll certainly provide a follow up report. Busy packing the car today . . . think we're going to try and stop at Renaud's bakery in Santa Barbara for a mid-day snack (almond croissants) on Sunday. The goal is to be in Santa Maria or Nipomo area around 5pm so we can get an early dinner. Totally torn between Atari Ya (especially with recession-friendly 45% off happy hour) and Jocko's. My wife and daughter love sushi and steak - they'll make the final call. Firestone Grill and Big Sky look like great options for Monday night dinner - somewhere two minutes from our SLO hotel will be needed given we're going to be driving to San Simeon in the morning and then to Paso Robles for some wineries in the afternoon. We might stop in Cambria at the French Corner Bakery on the way to or from Hearst Castle. Thanks again to everyone for all the tips and feedback!

              1. re: giantstomoch

                Apologies for the belated follow-up. My family (wife, two kids and pooch) had a wonderful trip visiting SLO, Paso Robles and Hearst Castle. We managed to eat dinner at Atari-Ya in Santa Maria (thanks for the rec toodie jane!). We got there after a long day of driving right around 5pm, in time for their winter holiday sushi special (everything was about 45% off). The trick is you have to eat at the sushi bar to get the discount - no exceptions, even with a baby in a high chair. Thus, baby made his way on to Mommy and Daddy's lap and we proceeded to scarf down about 20 pieces of Nigiri and a few rolls. All of the nigiri was lovely, generous slabs of pristine fish highlighted by the yellow tail. The spider roll we ordered, however, was a disaster (gloppy, heavy breading dominated the entire thing - we left it mostly uneaten). Service was very accomodating and the bill was nice and light on the wallet! Next morning we ate at Creole Cafe Bon Temps. It was kind of dirty, but hole in the walls are sometimes the best places to eat. Service took forever (the lone waitress working explained that the other waitress called in sick). The place was mostly empty (Monday around 9:30am) - and we had to wait 20 minutes for water. Worse than that, the food was not very good. I ordered the Pain Perdue (spelling is likely butchered) and it was dry and swimming (drowning) in a cloying and far too sweet pool of maple syrup and pecans. I ate a few bites and stopped. My wife's eggs benedict was edible, but poorly executed (the muffins was mush and the egg yolk was cooked through). We hit a much better note in Paso Robles, stopping at DiRaimondo's to pick up cheese and salami (and some fresh baked baguettes from the bakery next door). The owner at DiRaimondo's let us sample nibbles of cheese and salami and olives and all sorts of other goodies. We bought a beautiful aged sharp cheddar and a semi-soft cheese (can't think of the name but similar to Port Salut). We picnicked at Fratelli Peralta winery a few miles from downtown Paso. We visited about five wineries that afternoon. The best, by far, was Linne Calodo . . . we bought 2 bottles of their '07 Outsider (super pricey for our pocketbooks at $52 per bottle but it was amazing stuff). Another big hit was Jada, we bought a bottle of their Mirror. The staff at both wineries were very nice and Jada comps the tasting if you buy a bottle. We had a terrible experience at Tablas Creek because of their service. I was literally ignored for 20 minutes until I halfway walked out of the place (someone actually acknowledged me at that point). Denner had some monster wines and a slightly pretentious staff (we passed on buying their wines). We called Booker, but they were closed that day. In general, most of the wines were big and powerful and priced at $50 or more with a $10 nonrefundable pouring fee (ouch). It was still fun, but boy is it expensive! We never had the chance to get to the Albertson's in Morro Bay to look for some of these bottles at more palatable prices - maybe next time. Our second dinner was at Shalimar in SLO (on Broad St.). I actually picked the food up so we could eat back at our hotel room (the family was pooped after a long day of driving). We ordered our typical combo that we try at any Indian place of lamb curry, baigan bharta (eggplant curry), naan, rice and veggie samosas. We avoid ordering tandoori chicken despite the fact that we love it because it's so consistently cooked till it's leathery and dry. ON a side note, the best Tandoori Chicken I;ve ever eaten is at Anarbargh on Ventura Blvd in Woodland Hills. Order the chicken breast, bone on and it will amaze you - I promise. Back to Shalimar - the whole shebang cost about $35 (a little pricey for Indian to go - but nothing crazy). The food was O.K. a few ups and a few downs. The lamb curry sauce tasted nice but the lamb chunks were chewy and tough instead of fall apart tender. The eggplant curry was fine - nothing amazing, but we ate it happily. Naan was nicely cooked. We were happy campers gobbling down our Indian grub in our hotel room watching the Hearst Castle movie (our hotel had a copy of it so we watched it the night before instead of hustling up to San Simeon an hour before our slotted tour time (worked like a charm). We had lunch in Cambria after touring Hearst Castle (of which was a lot of fun - we had perfect weather and the 1:45 beginner's tour was just the right amount of time for us). The scenery there was stunning - one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen . . . the mountains and the ocean made the castle seem secondary. In any case, we ate the French Corner Bakery in Cambria for lunch. Again, hit and miss. My meatball sub was satisfying but I was hoping for a better roll given it was ordered at a bakery (and the meatballs were about one step above Subway's - sort of "mystery meat" balls). My wife's turkey sandwich was a picture perfect rendition of a blase, boring turkey sandwich (slimy deli meat, TONS of yellow mustard, shredded iceberg lettuce on sourdough. We bought a very nice baguette and ended up transferring the turkey sandwich innards to half of the baguette and used the leftover cheese we stored in our cooler from DiRaimondo's to make some killer cheese baguette sandwiches that we scorfed down while driving back home on the 101. Thanks to everyone for their help and suggestions . . . though our eating experiences were a little bit up and down, we absolutely LOVED the entire area and can't wait to visit again.

                1. re: giantstomoch

                  thanks for the good, bad and ugly. Sometimes a favorite place does disappoint. But your details really help to sort things out.

                  Glad you enjoyed your trip and went with the flow. That's the key to enjoying a trip. Thanks for taking the time to reply with such detail!

                  1. re: giantstomoch

                    Sorry, I got my suggestions to you belatedly. One can dine surprisingly well in this area - so hope you do come back and follow Toodie's suggestions .... and even mine too because we find very happy dining experiences in this off the beaten path part of the world.

                  2. re: giantstomoch

                    Renaud's Bakeries in Santa Barbara close early afternoon so be sure to check your mid-day snack time.

              2. Boy did I make a mistake. Given what appeared to be good overall reviews here for Jocko's, I went there on Sunday night. Meal started with a tray of pickles and veggies. Very ordinary, nothing special. Salsa and crackers also served. The salsa was good, but nothing that could not be made better at home. The salad had a blue cheese dressing that was one of the worst I've had in a long time. Thin, watery, very little flavor and almost no cheese in it. Garlic bread was good, kind of like you would get in Marie Callendar's, but nothing great. Then the steak. I had a ribeye, which was big and cooked OK. But the meat quality was so bad I ate less than a quarter of it. Filled with gristle in every bite. Dessert was a scoop of prepackaged ice cream. It was a lot of food, and cheap, but this is not a place to go if you want a good meal. I would rather have a thimbleful of quality food than three pounds of cr@p. Unfortunately, here there appear to be more folks who think "a lot" means "good." I am not one of them and will scrupulously avoid Jocko's in the future.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Hoc

                  We just stopped for lunch at Jocko's, based on dimly remembered Chowhound recommendations, on a drive from LA to the Bay Area. The place certainly had zero atmosphere, it's hard to get much less so than cinderblocks. But the food was good--a burger, a small steak sandwich (a smaller whole steak on bread) and a chicken sandwich. No complaints about meat quality or the side salads of freshly torn romaine lettuce. Service was fine, nothing special either way. Though quantities were large, the meal did not have the feel to us of a simply a "quantity food" experience. We'd go again.

                2. We never miss a stop at Mo's BBQ in downtown Pismo Beach when we are up in this area. We can't seem to go more than a few months without making a special trip up there for their "Philthy Phil" ribs. Very casual, very family friendly.

                  And don't forget the over-the-top family friendly kitsch of the Madonna Inn Copper Cafe just south of San Luis Obispo Highway 101, particulary at Christmas time. This place is magical for kids and the food while basic is really very okay - I often stop for there on my trips to the Bay Area for their half sandwich/salad or soup,chili and get a great BLT with thick chunky home made blu cheese dressed salad.

                  Madonna Inn
                  100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405