WINE TRAILS: CALIFORNIA CENTRAL COAST
Hit the road through the center of the Golden State to taste the many fruits of California’s famous wine country
There’s a whole lot more to see of California’s world-renowned wine country outside of Napa. Take a weekend (or a couple of weeks – why not?) to meander the sunny towns of Central California. Visit the 40-plus tasting rooms of charming Santa Ynez; a wood-fired pizza place with an impressive wine list in Arroyo Grande; a luxurious dude ranch in quaint Solvang, and so much more.
Here, we have gathered the best wineries, cuisines, hotels, and things to do that stretch from the cliffs of Carmel to the coast of Santa Barbara. Get your stemware ready.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Dozens of wineries are nestled in the lush expanse of Central California; the land is even known as America’s Salad Bowl for the vast amount of produce grown there. And your wine-tasting experience can be as rich or as home-on-the-range as you want it to be. There’s opulence to be found in these rolling hills, as well as an invitation to while away an afternoon on some bonafide farmland. Choose your own adventure, and dare to let the wine choose you.
Justin Vineyards and Winery
Roll into Paso Robles to taste Justin’s Bordeaux-style blends on acres of lush vineyards, then stay for a Michelin-starred meal at the Restaurant at Justin. You can always splurge for the wine pairing to accompany six courses of farm-to-table fare such as maple-leaf duck and a persimmon soufflé.
The family-owned Stolpman in Los Olivos exists to fill your cup. Drink up in side-by-side tasting rooms in a 100-year-old remodeled cottage. In the classic tasting room, try the Syrah, their specialty, and other Rhône varietals; and in the Fresh Garage tasting room, sip on pours of their So Fresh Wines, featuring carbonic fermentation and a lighter feel and ABV.
Thacher Winery and Vineyard
Get thee to the country, California style. Thacher sits on 53 acres of a giant cattle farm, and fields of alfalfa are still grown next to resident goats and chickens. Book a special “stable tasting” to have a private, education-focused tasting in a horse carriage, and be sure to try the Cinsault, a favorite that you can’t get elsewhere.
The Language of Yes
Pioneering vintner Randall Grahm believes that “soul comes from the soil.” The Vintner Hall of Famer’s newest passion project is The Language of Yes, a collaboration with Maze Row founder Joe C. Gallo. Wines here are developed with gentler extractions and as little filtration as possible to create new Rhône varieties from some of California’s coolest soil.
Popelouchum is an ambitious project from Randall Grahm. He is attempting to propagate 10,000 new varietals, from Pinot Noir to Pignolo, all from grapes planted in the same terroir, in San Juan Batista, home to a California Mission built in 1812.
PLACES TO STAY
The right overnight stay isn’t a simple question of location and price; rather, you want to feel at home, or as far away from home as possible, or perhaps like you’ve stepped inside of a painting. California’s got all your accommodation aspirations covered.
Hey, dude, set your saddle down at a working ranch near Solvang. Roam 10,000 acres on foot or on horseback; relax at the spa; play a scenic round of golf; and dig into a steak at the Ranch Room.
Allegretto Vineyard Resort
Ensconce yourself in the lush vineyards of Paso Robles at this luxury resort. Stop into the tasting room or take a tour of the vineyard, and afterward take a stroll through the Sonic Labyrinth, where you’re surrounded by the sounds of wind chimes. There’s even a museum populated with art collected by the owner on his travels around the world.
The M Solvang
Lean into Danish living at this motel with provincial architecture and a lovely open courtyard with teeming gardens. This budget option’s got charm and style, from wood-paneled walls to cozy fireplaces. Plus, you’re right near the center of town and Mission Drive, where you’ll shop and sample sweets.
Santa Ynez Inn
This stately inn is a draw for those on the hunt for “relaxed luxury.” The hotel has a classic feel to accompany classic amenities ‒ think plush chairs situated in front of looming fireplaces, grand chandeliers, and candlelit dining rooms. Dine at the onsite American-style restaurant and bar, The Victor, and be sure to make time for a massage at the spa.
Tickle Pink Inn
Get a room with a view and then some in Carmel-by-the-Sea. All 35 rooms have a spectacular, elevated view of the ocean or the cove, while some have fireplaces, and the Senator’s Cottage features a sprawling patio with lounge chairs that are begging you to relax and watch the sunset.
PLACES TO EAT
In California, farm-to-table isn’t a buzzword, it’s a lifestyle. Even a simple pizza turns into an art form when it’s carefully crafted with hyperlocal produce and the expertise of inventive chefs. Get your kicks with five restaurants where detail and a focus on freshness go into every whole grilled fish and seasonal vegetable. And don’t sleep on the carefully curated wine lists.
Bar Le Côte
A favorite of foodies and oenophiles from all over Central California, Bar Le Côte is an excellent choice for a first meal (and bottle of wine) in the charming town of Los Olivos. The menu here sings the song of the sea, featuring dishes like paella and whole barramundi. Plus, their wine list is especially plush; give the restaurant’s own label a try.
This French bistro was awarded a Michelin star for its hyperlocal food focus and welcoming service and atmosphere. Indulge in six prix fixe courses with entrées like steak au poivre and seasonal desserts like a Meyer lemon glacé. Start, end, or permeate the meal with one of many California and European wines available, including eight Syrahs and Syrah blends.
Bettina’s husband-and-wife team first met at Roberta’s, a beloved pizza spot in Brooklyn. They brought their perfect pizza philosophy west and opened Bettina, whose bestselling pepperoni pizza with chili oil and honey is an ode to their meeting place. All of their bread and crust is sourdough; and the wine list focuses on organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
There’s just something about the crackling crust of pizza cooked over a wood fire. The rustic-feeling open kitchen dishes out crispy pizzas topped with ingredients like kale and spicy sausage that are as tasty as the wine-braised duck ragu, and the wine list features 150 bottles sourced from nearby San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Six Test Kitchen
Awarded a Michelin star in 2021, the seafood-driven menu is ultra-fresh, serving oysters and black cod caught locally. The wine list focuses on acid-driven varietals; if you want to luxuriate in hard-to-find Old World wines, choose the reserve wine pairing, featuring Barolos from the 1960s and Château d’Yquem from the 1980s.
THINGS TO DO, PLACES TO DISCOVER
Put your glass down for long enough to explore even more of what California is known for. Fit in a mix of history, hiking, biking, shopping, and strolling in the sunshine, no matter which delightful town you land in.
Old Mission Santa Barbara
The Santa Barbara Mission was founded in 1786 as the 10th of 21 California Missions established by the Spanish Franciscans, and it has many stories to tell of the 200-plus years since. Pay a fee to enter and take a self-guided tour of the grounds, including a garden, cemetery, church, and museum.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
This stunning California State Park contains some of the state’s most idyllic seaside scenery. Hike along jagged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and explore the tide pools teeming with marine life, or take the leap and go snorkeling or scuba diving among the 70-foot-deep kelp forests.
Do a different kind of tasting in Santa Ynez, where you can try all kinds of olive oils made right on the ranch. You’re surrounded by vineyards and close to downtown Los Olivos restaurants, just in case you get thirsty.
The Danish-infused town of Solvang is a delightful stop for anyone who loves a touch of kitsch. Visit the town’s windmills, learn about the author of The Little Mermaid at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, and shop for Christmas decorations (no matter the time of year) at the festive Jule Hus.
Wine Country Cycling Tours
If you don’t have a designated driver and don’t want to spring for a private one, cycling is a great way to get from Wine A to Wine B. Plan your trip around day tours or multi-day excursions in Santa Barbara and look for bike and e-bike tours in other cities you visit along the way.
RANDALL GRAHM'S CENTRAL COAST
The pioneering vintner behind Popelouchum and The Language of Yes shares his top five spots to dine and wine locally in the Central Coast of California
Chef David Kinch’s menu is a fun twist on the cuisine of the Riviera from Nice to Genoa.
In Bloom, Paso Robles
The now-classic Californian offering gets a fresh update with a confident menu.
Serving handcrafted, comfort cuisine with international flavors made with fresh ingredients.
La Super-Rica Taqueria, Santa Barbara
With decades of worldwide attention, the authentic restaurant serves the freshest Mexican cuisine.
Pico, Los Alamos
A menu of farm-to-table sourcing, an exceptional wine list and close relation with local suppliers.
SIPPING IN THE SUNSHINE
When in California, it’s best to go nowhere fast, suggests Jillian Anthony. Take a leisurely road trip from LA to Santa Cruz, then stop off at Napa for a heavy pour of wine country
Randall Grahm, one of California’s more innovative vintners, shares his thoughts on the much underrated Rossese/Tibouren variety, and his pioneering outlook for The Language of Yes and Popelouchum
NEW RADICAL: INTERVIEW WITH RANDALL GRAHM
The pioneering vintner’s passionate belief in vin de terroir has guided his journey to craft wines of distinction and a clear expression of California’s Central Coast through The Language of Yes
TASTING THE LANGUAGE OF YES WITH RANDALL GRAHM
With the focus at The Language of Yes firmly on producing small quantities, but with big ideas, the 2020 vintage released two reds, the Syrah and Grenache, and the Pink Wine rosé. The winemaker shares his personal notes on the wines and possible pairings