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Central Coast Town for short stay?

We're heading to California in mid-February with our 3 year-old, and are looking for a town between LA and Monterey to spend 2 days. Good food and beer are our primary interests, though we'd like to have some other diversions during the day.

Our kid is very well-behaved in restaurants, and she refuses to eat anything remotely "kid-friendly" (e.g., chicken fingers, pizza, Mac n' cheese), preferring curry and olives and raw tomatoes, so any cuisine is acceptable, I'd just prefer to avoid a fine dining scene, or any place that would be a 2 hour meal.

We stayed in Paso Robles last year, so that wouldn't be our first choice unless some new places have opened up. Also, we're already planning 2 days in Pismo Beach, but beyond that, any and all suggestions are welcome. I read some interesting things on this board about Solvang, which I hadn't considered.

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  1. Paso pretty much covers a lot of what you are looking for. So hard to find a similar mix in this area.

    Morro Bay could work. Cayucas. Baywood Park -very low key but lots of nature nearby to explore. All have a variety of restaurants to explore for a few days interest.

    Solvang is a very good consideration, esp for kids since it remains a family town and has a branch of the Firestone-Walker brewery in near by Buellton. Very nice collection of restaurants in town, or in nearby smaller communities like Ballard, Los Olivos or Santa Ynez.

    Pismo works and has a small funky, beach town vibe.

    If you want a dude ranch experience, look into the V Ranch in Parkfield for something very much out of the box for a few days. http://www.parkfield.com

    1. In addition to glbtrtr's excellent suggestions I would add Cambria, you could tour Hearst Castle. I'm assuming that you're already familiar with all that Santa Barbara has to offer?

      1. Is San Luis Obispo considered "central coast"? I'd be interested in hearing about food 'stuff' as we'll likely be doing a house exchange there in the summer.

        7 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          It definitely is, however we always prefer to stay in either Cayucos/Morro Bay area or Pismo/Shell Beach for the being on the coast feeling and making the short 10-15 minute drive into SLO for some great food, music, etc.

          1. re: c oliver

            Yes. Central Coast stretches from Santa Cruz County in the north to Ventura County on the south end.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Being from SF and now Tahoe, it's always interesting how everything aligns. I always think of Ventura as SoCal :) Thanks.

              1. re: c oliver

                Ventura is Southern California. But it's also considered part of the Central Coast.

            2. re: c oliver

              SLO is Central Coast. When we have out of town Guests, we like to take them to NOVO for lunch. Good food with a very pleasant setting over looking the creek that runs through town.

              Up scale wine country food would include Korbel Blue. This is right across the street from the Court House.
              Also near by is Buona Tavola for Norther Italian.

              A realitvely new entry in the area is Luna Red. This is run by the same Owners that have NOVO, and Robins in Cambria. They have a tapa's centered menu where NOVO's is more of what was once probably considere fusion.

              A good budget friend choice is Big Sky. Also, if you are there on a Thursday. do hit the Farmers Market. Plent of food offerings that are reasonable. At the North end of the market, towards the Court House, is wher eall the BBQ stands setup. Also set up there will be Giuseppe's . This is a long time favorite of mine for Southern Ittalian in Pismo beach. They will have a portable gas fired pizza oven turing out very good pizzas at a steal of a price.

              1. re: mike0989

                You're playing my song :) All those sound like just the things we enjoy. Thanks for taking the time. We spent just one day in SLO probably ten years ago and never intended to wait so long to return.

            3. I would absolutely recommend the Solvang/Santa Ynez area. My husband and I just got married there in September and had guests who flew in from all over the country who all raved about how beautiful the area was. There are a few breweries/beer tasting rooms there, including Firestone, Figueroa Mountain, and Solvang Brewing Company. Some great food too. My favorites are Hitching Post, Cecco, and Sides Hardware all for dinner. Lunch we usually grab amazing sandwiches from Panino (one in Solvang, one in Los Olivos) and head to a winery. Los Olivos is a cute town to explore and on your way there you can stop and see the miniature horse farm. Fun for kids and the horses are so cute and tiny. There is also an ostrich farm nearby.
              I'd highly recommend the Santa Ynez area for your visit. Also weather is always gorgeous up there. Have fun!

              1. Thank you so much for all of the excellent suggestions. I. Think we'll explore the Solvang/Santa Ynez area, since we did Paso and Cambria last time around.

                Another question for all of you knowledgable folks - what should we not kiss in Pismo/SAn Luis Obispo? We'll be there for 2 days on our way up to Monterey. Everyone on here seems in agreement that we can't miss Mos. True? I used to live in NC, so I'm somewhat of a Carolina BBQ fanatic, but willing to branch out. We live far from the sea now, so seafood is always highly desirable, as is great Mexican, which we can't get at home. Any holes-in-the-wall within a 30-minute drive of Pismo that people love?

                Finally - kind of random question - we're getting into Burbank (Bob Hope) airport around noon, and heading north to Pismo right away. We'll need a quick lunch, and I can't really imagine stopping around Burbank. Should we swing into an In-and-Out? Wait until Santa Barbara? Stop at some other quick place along the highway? Any thoughts?

                Thanks again!!

                18 Replies
                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                  Try the Venana Grill in Pismo Beach. Reasnable prices and great ocean views. Most of the menu has a Mexican flair that you will probably enjoy.

                  BBQ on the Central Coast means grilled tritip to most people. A good way to experience it is Old San Lusi BBQ in SLO. This is walk up stand with a few table out front shared by the next door coffee house. VERY good and reasonably priced.

                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    I wouldn't "kiss" (sic) a Pismo clam. (heh, heh).

                    I also would not miss Mo's story about their quest for the best BBQ on one heck of a road trip and 7 pounds later, nor Hotlix down the same street towards the pier for their coffee salt water taffy and pecan rolls for dessert afterwards.

                    You will find good seafood recs and Mexican hole in the wall recs in Pismo as well, along with some other good surprises in this funny little town as well - a good search of prior listings will provide more info. We get stuck at Mo's so I have not tried them myself but I can see a few days in this town would bring out some interesting dining adventures.

                    I did try the home-made potato chip snack shop (Chip Wrecked) across the street from Mo's and was underwhelmed. Lots of edgy flavor combos that sounded more interesting than they were and they seemed to use stale oil in the first place so the chips which could have, should have been the star player failed in the first taste round.

                    However, they are worth another try and go a little more basic in the selection and hope it was just a bad day for that first try - salty and crunchy does it for me so the basics are there - just a little more discrimination in the execution is the missing ingredient. http://chipwreckedinpismo.com

                    1. re: RosemaryHoney

                      It will take you about 1 1/2 hours to get to Santa Barbara from the Burbank airport. If you can wait that long after landing to eat, have lunch at La Super Rica in Santa Barbara. Great Mexican taco stand.

                      1. re: RosemaryHoney

                        For lunch I must suggest Portos Bakery which is right on the way to the freeway to go North. It is an *amazing place* with great bakery goods, salads and sandwiches. It is always busy but they do a good job with service. You will probably be able to order and eat your food in about thirty minutes.

                        http://www.portosbakery.com/content/p...

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3050...

                        1. re: RosemaryHoney

                          Absolutely the best Mexican food on the Central Coast is in Santa Maria, 35 min south of Pismo. You want to go to the Delis at the smaller Mexican markets--they're all over town, but many are along No. Broadway or out west near crnr. of Blosser & Main. Sometimes you can find just- made rellenos of pasilla chiles stuffed with about 4 oz of queso fresco. ( La Mia on No Broadway.) The bigger delis like El Toro @ B&M have a tortilla factory. The carnitas is universally excellent and you will find plenty of variety meats offered. You almost have to know what you're looking for--many of the staff are not English speaking. Get food to go and head to Presker Park along So. Broadway past the airport. Take Goodwin street turn off So Broadway. !Que sabrosa!

                          1. re: toodie jane

                            Toodie,

                            Can you make a short descriptive list of about 5-10 items that are good to try with their Spanish names, when visiting any of these spots in SM? Thanks.

                            1. re: glbtrtr

                              field trip!

                              I usually just get lengua or carnitas, buche, relleno. Not a big eater these days. But will do research.

                              1. re: glbtrtr

                                Would be most interested in cabeza -beef cheek/head taco or torta

                                1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                  I personally have established a moratorium on all "cheeks" - the most mushy, tasteless ephemeral "new" piece of left over animal parts out there. …….. IMHO.

                                  Please, can someone point me in a better direction about this recently ubiquitous piece of meat showing up on menus these days?

                                  Kale, I got. Simple to grow, nutritionally dense and benign in flavor. But cheeks ………. ?????? Yech. But I have had no use for sweetbreads and brains either. When you have to sauce to cover up the lack of substance, might as well eat rice cakes.

                                  1. re: glbtrtr

                                    That cheek meat could be described as mushy and tasteless sounds like conflating bad cooking technique with anatomy. Cheek meat is tough and needs low and slow cooking. Turning it mushy takes some overcooking, maybe with too much liquid in the process leaching out the flavor? Beef cheeks weigh in on the beefiness intensity scale up there with brisket and oxtails. Hard to understand how they could be considered tasteless.

                                    Not on the Central Coast, but here's a photo of the oven-roasted pork cheek sandwich at the now-closed Bovolo in Healdsburg. Firm meat texture, cooked just enough to soften the connective tissue to the bite and release the flavor.
                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                                    1. re: glbtrtr

                                      <<<"new" piece of left over animal parts>>>

                                      Have been eating them for decades and the absolute worst I've had was pretty damned good, invariably from a small mom and pop tacqueria or taco truck. In fact, most places I go, it often surpasses the other offerings such as carnitas or pastor.

                                      Only "sauce" I've ever found necessary is a decent salsa (verde or rojo) or a few drops of good bottled hot sauce.

                                      ETA: If you find any unwanted halibut cheeks laying around, please send them my way. ;>P

                                      1. re: PolarBear

                                        Hard to go to a "trendy" restaurant today and not see "cheeks" on the menu: Julienne in SB, Postino in Lafayette.

                                        First (and last) experience was at a specialty restaurant on a nice cruise ship that had an agreement with the Dutch many starred restaurant De Librije http://www.restaurantdelibrije.nl/24/... to replicate some of their dishes on board (specialty restaurant chef was superb for all other meals there), so we assumed we had some "good" cheeks. Meh.

                                        But I appreciate this feedback. I have missed the boat (ahem) here obviously with cheeks.

                                        1. re: glbtrtr

                                          So sorry to hear of the, can I say "bastardization" of a noble cut of the animal. The old cultures are some more advanced in many ways.

                                          Cheers,

                                          Dave

                                          1. re: PolarBear

                                            You should have seen what they did with their "deconstructed apple pie". (!) https://www.google.com/search?q=libri...

                                            But we digress. Maybe they used See Canyon apples from California.

                                      2. re: glbtrtr

                                        Gotta agree with everyone. Cabeza almost always one of the tastiest taco truck choices. But maybe the problem is fancied up versions.

                                        1. re: glbtrtr

                                          < But I have had no use for sweetbreads and brains either. When you have to sauce to cover up the lack of substance, might as well eat rice cakes.>

                                          The sweetbreads I've had have been very minimally sauced. I would think any more would overwhelm their delicate flavor. Last year I lightly battered and fried, being careful not to overcook, some brains from a lamb we butchered, so delicious!

                                          Sorry to digress.

                                          1. re: PattyC

                                            I do confess to liking liver, and found kidney's not all that bad. Digression over.

                                  2. My vote is for Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley.

                                    Nojoqui Falls Park- miniature ponies, miniature donkeys, Sunny Fields Park, surry bicycle rides, abelskivers!

                                    Avila Valley Barn, which is just North of Pismo is a must stop for any child or child at heart.

                                    Industrial Eats, SY Kitchen, Fitzpatricks and Alfresco Picnic are just a few new dining options to the SYV area

                                    1. One candidate you might consider is Lompoc. Lompoc motels are some of the cheapest on the Central Coast and they have a lot of wineries, good Thai restaurants, some nice scenery (surf beach,Jalama, La Purissima mission)
                                      and just all in all a quirky town with quite a history.

                                      1. I still don't understand why so many people like Mo's. Ugh. I'd choose Ribline in Grover Beach and Firestone Grill (no relation to Firestone Brewery) in downtown SLO over Mo's any day.

                                        PLEASE do dinner at Jocko's in Nipomo one night. It's about 15 minutes south of Pismo (on your way up from Solvang/Santa Ynez). This place has amazing local steaks that they cook on an open-fire grill that the restaurant windows face onto. You get a ridiculous amount of food but the winner is that steak.

                                        Not sure if you want to travel further north, seeing that you said you don't intend on Cambria again but Sebastian's in San Simeon is really worth the drive. They serve an amazing Hearst Ranch (Yup, the castle people) Burger and even have the hearst wine tasting room right inside.

                                        Keeping in SLO and South County, Pismo doesn't have the "good eats" unless you're looking for cinnamon rolls and clam chowder, but I'm sure that others on here would debate me on that too. I second the rec for Ventana Grill, although I don't care for the other restaurants that group owns. Ventana Grill in Pismo Beach has wonderful views and their Cal-Mex menu is pretty tasty. I'm a fan of their clams and fresh tortillas.

                                        Izakaya Raku in Grover Beach has a good lunch special menu and we enjoy their sushi and japanese and korean fare. SLO Pasty Co. in Downtown SLO is yummy, we had friends travel from the UK that said they were the most authentic they've had outside of the UK.

                                        As far as Santa Ynez/Solvang- we're HUGE fans of Sides. We're L.A. transplants, very recent, and have a love for Petro's. I ate at Petro's almost daily before we moved up to SLO but we head into Los Olivos to get our fix.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: HulaShakeJaz

                                          It appears I am the only one who really likes Mo's, so not to worry about "so many" people thinking it is worth a trip. Which it is, but we stick with Philty Phil ribs only so I can't comment on the rest of their menu.

                                          But then I also think Jocko's is a bad joko, so there you have it. And it is Petros, not Petro's. Greek. Welcome to the Central Coast - treasures abound.

                                          1. re: glbtrtr

                                            There have actually been a lot of people on other threads that have raved about Mo's, so I wasn't just talking about you. My own cousin loves that place when he visits and it's not like I don't eat there. I just don't get it, but to each his own.

                                            True, I misspelled Petros in my excitement and I'm sure you corrected it so that the poster could search for it, right?! But, if we're going to be so specific, well, it isn't Greek. Petros is Helenic, ask Petros himself and he'll quickly correct you on calling his cuisine Greek or Mediterranean. Either way, the lamb pizza, calamari dishes, and hummus are crave worthy.

                                            We're trying out as many places as we can and most are a miss but the hits are gems! I really hope that you enjoy your trip here! We loved it so much we moved up here.

                                          2. re: HulaShakeJaz

                                            Well, you get some agreement and some disagreement. I do like Giuseppe's in Pismo. It's Southern Italian, but done right. They have make a very good pizza out of their wood fired oven, and I'll almost always go for whatever they have on their special board. for the sweet tooth, they have very good house made Gelato.

                                            For BBQ, a lot is going to depend on personal preference and what day you go. I've had an excellent tritip sandwich at the Rib Line. My Wife on another visit has had a beef rib that was so tough that she almost could not eat it. Their sauce however, runs to both of our tastes.

                                            I have not eaten at Mo's, but I have had the Philty Phill's sauce (available in some of the local markets). It is not a style that either of us care for.

                                            As to Firestone in SLO, I think it is one of the most over rated places in the County. It's is big inside and has good location. They also have a full bar and lots of TV's turned to sports. I'm sure all of this makes a hit with the collage crowd. The tritip however, barely tastes of any smoke at all. It's not much of a step up from a deli roast beef or an Arby's in my opinion. Which isn't too surprising. I suspect they do more sales each day than a McD's.