Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
Jul 4, 2011 08:45 AM

Need Some California Travel Advise

Want to experience some not-so-touristy wineries, nice accommodations, and great food. Should I fly into LA and travel Central Coast wineries or fly into SF and head up to Napa/Sonoma?

Always wanted to see Santa Barbara and also just discovered the Justin Winery is located centrally.

Thanks for any in-the-know guidance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. i would consider the russian river valley; while it's not quite the food or wine destination that napa (or even sonoma is), it's far less touristy than either, with plenty of great wineries and great food

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. You have several areas in the Central Coast to explore: Santa Ynez and the newer Santa Rita Hills close by - plenty of places to sample, stay and dine in this area about an hour away from Santa Barbara. Look at the packages at the Ballard Inn in the Santa Ynez Valley, if you want to put it all together in this area. Two hours away from Santa Barbara is the Paso Robles wine country and particularly the group called the "Far Out Wineries" which takes you on a lovely country drive out Peachy Canyon Road and into the seaside charms of Cambria and Cayucos. I think you will be able to arrange something that has it all for you with either choice. Personally, I would stay away from the Napa Valley - too smug and full of itself is my overall feeling up there. These smaller Central Coast wine areas are still sole entrepreneur operations, personable and accessible

        The Ballard Inn & Restaurant
        2436 Baseline Ave, Solvang, CA 93463

        1. The best answer depends on if you are mainly sightseeing or are really into wine. If you are into wine, it depends on what varieties you seek or enjoy the most. The Central Coast is a huge area, while Napa/Sonoma (including the Russian River area) is pretty compact. Smaller wineries exist all over the Napa area off the main road.

          2 Replies
          1. re: BN1

            SF Wine Competition 2011 put Paso Robles wines on the California map - we visited the Thacher Winery which is one of the the "Far Out Winery" group in this area - lovely drive and great visit with the vintner there.

            Link to the Paso Robles Far Out Wineries and touring map:

            Thacher Winery
            8355 Vineyard Dr, Paso Robles, CA

            1. re: glbtrtr

              Yes, that area around Paso Robles is very nice. Napa is a zoo in the summer, but up on Spring Mountain out of St. Helena there is great wine and a beautiful drive. The Russian River Valley west of Healdsburg has fine wine in abundance. One can follow the river all the way to the ocean for great sightseeing. Many of the wineries around Dry Creek northwest of Healdsburg including the Lytton Springs Road area are renowned. This is lovely, rural country. Further north up Hwy 101, the Anderson Valley around Booneville is the coldest AVA in CA and is famous for its production of Pinot Noir. One can drive onward to the coast through the redwoods to the area of the town of Mendocino for dinner at the Albion River Inn, the Little River Inn, Café Beaujolais, etc. If you like the warmer climate Pinot, there is the previously-mentioned Santa Ynez area. Between these two is the Monterey, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains area. Of course, there are many high-end places to stay and dine around Carmel & Monterey. Napa and Sonoma counties would provide the most concentrated cluster of great and even world-renowned dining. The choices are almost endless and somewhat unique, which is why I suggested narrowing it down to the type of wine in which the OP was interested.

              Little River Inn
              7901 N Highway 1, Mendocino, CA

              Albion River Inn
              3790 N Highway 1, Albion, CA 95410

          2. That's a tough decision but if you end up going the LA route, I would hit Riverbench Winery in Santa Maria and Kukkula Winery, Poalillo Vineyards, Epoch Estate & Ecluse Wines all in Paso Robles. Justin Winery is extemely touristy however it's a good place to visit if you are looking for a contrast between larger commercial wineries and smaller producers.

            If in the Paso Robles area, I recommend dining on the coast in either Cambria, Morro Bay or Cayucos at either the Cass House Restaurant, Galley Seafood Grill or Black Cat Bistro. In Santa Barbara either Cold Springs Tavern or Julienne is good or Ballard Inn, Mirabelle Restaurant or Brothers in the Santa Ynez Valley.

            6 Replies
            1. re: OenoV

              This guy/gal knows his stuff - good advice. That would be a very good wining/dining itinerary - topped only by staying at the Ballard Inn as well.

              The Ballard Inn & Restaurant
              2436 Baseline Ave, Solvang, CA 93463

              1. re: glbtrtr

                Why thank you :-) I have quite a bit of California Wine Country Travel experience under my belt.

                1. re: toodie jane

                  Their Estate Pinot Noir is wonderful (bought a couple of bottles at the winery) and I'm not really a white wine drinker but their Chardonnay was pretty good too.

                2. re: OenoV

                  I've always dined in Paso when I was in the area. I am a partisan of Artisan, but have had good meals at other places as well. I also like to dine close to where I have been tasting and have a room. Do you really think coastal dining is better than what exists in Paso?

                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                    for myself Paso has food at least as good as what you can get on the coast lately, with all the wine production in the area the food in Paso Robles has taken a step up in the past ten years to keep pace with the wines, and the smaller wine makers like barrel 27 that are in semi industrial areas on the outskirts are real sleepers, and are worth the trouble to search out, find one of the smaller wineries, have a tasting, and ask where to find a good meal, I've been surprised a few times, but I've never been disappointed with the food in Paso, where as in a couple places in Cambria and San Simion, the wine list had some sub par local wines and some really good Napa Valley wines and very little in the middle, with food that wasn't abhorrent, but for the price, I'd rather stay on the coast and drive to Paso Robles for the food