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Jan 13, 2011 08:08 AM

PCH drive from SF to Ventura

Hey! CHers were incredibly useful during my last trip to California and I’m hoping to pick your brains again :). In mid-February, my husband and I are going to drive down PCH from SF/SJ (not yet finalized), take a short hike in Big Sur on whichever trail hasn’t been closed from the 2008 fires (possibly the Salmon Creek trail?), and spend the night in Paso Robles. Next morning, we’ll try to fit in a bit of winery touring (it’s the weekend, so I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to drink before noon!) before we make our way down to Ventura, where I’ll have to spend the week eating buffet-style hotel food at a conference. I have a draft itinerary, but any suggested improvements are warmly welcomed!

- Have breakfast/brunch in Carmel (hubby says he knows a good place, so I’ll leave that to him)
- Grab food for the hike from Big Sur Bakery as we’ve done before.
- Any suggestions for San Simeon/Cambria area for a snack in case we get too hungry after the hike and before dinner?
- For dinner in Paso Robles, I’m considering Thomas Hill Organics. Farm-to-table is great, but unfortunately it’s not a viable concept for 2/3 of the year up here in Canada. As I’m not sure when we’ll get into town, would we have a good chance of being seated without a reservation on a Saturday?
- For breakfast the next morning in Paso Robles, I’m thinking of Panolivo .
- As for the wineries, I don’t want to pack in too many for the sake of time, plus I tend to get a little chatty. I like to visit smaller, more personal wineries and taste wines that would otherwise be impossible to find at a liquor store. The “Rhone Rangers” are very intriguing as I’m sure I’ve been drinking viognier before it started appearing by the glass on all the restaurant wine menus (at least up here in Canada). So far I’m thinking Adelaida, Dover Canyon and Tablas Creek. I would also like to hit up the Turley tasting room, because the bartender at Harry Caray’s in Chicago raved it’s the best wine she’s ever tasted, and I want to see what all this fuss is about!
- Still need a lunch suggestion between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.
- We’ll try to have dinner in Santa Barbara. We’re both big uni freaks, so is there a good [moderately priced] spot for the famous Santa Barbara sea urchin? If it serves dinner early (at like 5pm), that’s even better!
- We are still obsessively searching for a North American source of those amazing strawberries we had in France. We’re looking for a consumer-accessible source of Mara des bois (or any of their crosses) without having to go to a ranch in the San Diego area. Can these strawberries be found in any farm/farmer’s market/gourmet grocery story along the Central Coast?

My hometown is Vancouver, transplanted to Toronto, and will be moving to New York soon, so we’re interested in things that we can’t get out East or during regular home visits. We eat all types of cuisine, have no dietary restrictions, and don’t have any allergies. Thank you in advance for your input!

Big Sur Bakery
47540 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Thomas Hill Organics
1305 Park St, Paso Robles, CA

1344 Park St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

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  1. BTW: It is not acceptable to drink and drive no matter what the time of day. Plan accordingly.

    Ventura Old Town has lots of small independent restaurants which will give you a break from hotel food. Check out the LA board for Ventura.

    Try Sakura in the Paseo Nuevo shopping mall on State Street Santa Barbaral for surprisingly good Japanese fare during non-dinner hours at modest prices.

    Arigato, also on State Street, is our SB town's sushi best but it also comes at the higher prices and does not open before 5:30 - dinner only.

    Check out the Santa Paula Valley for fruit - Highway 126 which leaves from Ventura, Gorgeous and has lots of fruit stands. It is the Citrus Capitol of the World and you just might hit blossom time. Heavenly. Drink that in and you still get to drive intoxicated only by the frangrance.

    2 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Haha, don't worry! My husband absolutely cannot handle alcohol (a typical Asian) so he's always the designated driver. Thanks for the warning though!

      Are you saying Santa Paula Valley will be filled with orange blossoms???? Oh my, that will definitely warrant a detour! Or at least a biking trip out there during my midday "free time" at the conference...

      1. re: gijoeanne

        Cafe Zack will give you a taste of some truly fine food and some excellent wines at good value.
        See their web site

        Cafe Zack
        1095 E Thompson Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001

    2. 10 minutes south of San Luis Obispo, in the bayside town of Avila Beach, Pete's Pierside serves good fish & ships and Mexican seafood dishes at their outdoor cafe (can be a bit funky what with mooching seagulls). Eat take-out style on the pier at picnic tables with sweeping views of the estero (bay) from Avila to Pt. Sal. About 10 minutes from Highway 101/1 at the Avila Beach Rd exit--go past Avila Beach proper around to the end of the drive and walk out onto the Pier. There are lots of other spots for a more sumptous lunch in the village of Avila Beach, or at The Gardens of Avila restaurant at Sycamore Hot Springs along Avila Beach Rd. Gorgeous facility. Nice place to stretch a leg or sooth in a hillside mineral hot tub while having a glass of local wine.

      About 10 minutes south of Avila, Rutiz Farm Stand on The Pike in Arroyo Grande near the town of Halcyon ( open Tues & Fri ,1pm to dusk) grows alpine strawberries but I believe they are much later blooming than the local conventional strawberries the Central Coast is famous for--not warm enough yet in Feb. Other seasonal goodies, including local honey, ARE available now.

      In Santa Maria, another 20 minutes south, and an hour north of SB, Atari Ya Japanese restaurant opens for dinner at 5 pm (30 years same owners) don't know where they source their uni, but all their seafood is very fresh. Family style Japanese restaurant with sushi bar. Unfortunately they're not open for lunch on Sunday.

      Pete's Pierside Cafe
      39 Avila Beach Road, Avila Beach, CA 93424

      Atari-Ya Japanese Restaurant
      1551 Stowell Center Plz, Santa Maria, CA 93458

      1. "Mara des bois" strawberries are grown by Middleton Farms in Healdsburg but they're nit in season now. The preserves are available but North of San Francisco rather than south.

        Middleton Farm
        2651 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA

        1. here is a good guide for all things Big Sur, including chow.

          Here's to clear weather for your trip; during winter it's good to pay extra attention to weather and road conditions along the BS coastline, as they will impact your ability to reach your chow destinations. Road can be closed due to slides in heavy storms. has up to the hour travel advisories posted for your chowhounding convenience.

          You may wish to make a plan B route south on 101 from Monterey just in case, which will put you in Paso Robles for your dinner on Saturday. How convenient!

          There are some posts about dining & wining in the Salinas Valley (route 101 south to Paso) here on the California board. (towns: Greenfield, Soledad, King City) King City is known for their Santa Lucia Highlands appellation Pinots. There is actually a slow but gorgeous drive, along the west-side foothills: River Road. From Highway 68 --the Monterey-Salinas highway--near Spreckels, it passes many wineries and ends up near Greenfield along 101, just north of King City.

          1 Reply
          1. re: toodie jane

            Thanks everyone for your input! We couldn’t have asked for better weather on our drive down the highway. We ended up having brunch at Village Corner in Carmel. Nothing particularly remarkable, but it is hard for Dungeness crab and avocado eggs benedict to be offensive anyway (my husband really enjoyed the buttery Hollandaise sauce though). Unfortunately, there are no Chowhounding stops in Big Sur to report because my husband wanted to ensure we finished our hike on the Salmon Creek trail before sunset.

            Paso Robles was very enjoyable though. Thomas Hill Organics was absolutely fantastic. If all salad greens were so crisp and succulent, my husband would stop quoting The Simpsons “You don’t make friends with salad.” The pork tacos were delectably seasoned. The smoked duck was overly smoked imo, and my husband thought the marmalade was heavy handed and overpowered the other flavours on the plate. Pizza was delicious, the Ahi tuna salad was a great value and I loved the coriander dressing on the salad. My veal osso bucco was to-die-for – rich, fall off the bone, absolutely succulent down to the marrow in the bone. Our brunch the next day at Panolivo on the other hand, was absolutely mediocre, so not much to elaborate on here.

            We started driving along Adelaida for our winery touring, and the region is absolutely gorgeous! Some blossoms were STARTING to peak through, but the canopy of trees along parts of the road felt very romantic. We managed to fit in Adelaida, Tablas Creek and Dover Canyon. Unfortunately, the owners were not pouring on a Sunday but we had good conversations with the staff at Adelaida and Tablas Creek. The Rhone varietals do indeed seem fitting for the region, but I still find the Zinfandel grape to be particularly expressive. I was surprised to learn that some hills in the western region can create a mighty fine Pinot (at Adelaida)! And my husband the designated driver came out of the tour completely sober (couldn't really say the same for myself - $10 for 6+ tastings at each winery!)

            No other chowhounding stops to report afterwards, because again with his mind on the watch, my husband wanted to ensure I got to my conference in Ventura on time. Consequently, we hit Santa Maria way before dinner and so settled on satisfying his In-N-Out Burger craving.

            The rest of the week was all conference food, but we did manage to sneak out to Santa Barbara for lunch one day. Since the recommended Arigato was only available for dinner, and Sakura’s online menu didn’t seem to include uni, we stepped into Hungry Cat. The whole fresh local uni was a bit pricey ($18) but it was well worth the experience of eating the roe straight out of the spiny shell. The fish tacos were slightly too acidic, but the marinated mussels were good. We then stopped by at Renaud for some after-lunch sweets. Our server at Hungry Cat highly recommended the almond croissant there, but while the almond topping was a great balance of sweet and crunchiness, I thought the actual croissant texture was too bread-y. It lacked flakiness and the buttery goodness…perhaps because it was at the tail end of their day, who knows.

            Overall, we had a great time driving down the Central Coast and totally wouldn’t mind doing it again in the future!

            The Hungry Cat
            1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

            Thomas Hill Organics
            1305 Park St, Paso Robles, CA

            1344 Park St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

            31441 Santa Margarita Pkwy Ste J, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688