The Mrs. and I really needed to step away from our daily lives last week, if only for a 24-hour period, so we decided to explore the area immediately north of where we live. This led us to the San Luis Obispo area, which is full of vineyards, rolling green hills, and a number of coastal gems, all within 1.5-2 hours drive-time from the Santa Barbara area, and just a bit farther from Los Angeles.
We stumbled upon quite a lot during this short trip, but most importantly, we were reminded that traveling without any real plans, reservations, or goals can be lots of fun. We had a great time stopping wherever we pleased and just generally wandering about in an area very close to us that we hadn’t really explored. Come with us for a tour of some of the best bits of SLO County!
1. The Sea Caves of Avila Bay – Gorgeous Views and Tidal Pools
Our first stop on the trip was a short, unplanned hike down to what I had read were some pretty cool sea caves. They are sort of hard to find at first, but the short-and-easy is to exit the freeway towards the town of Avila Beach and then turn up the steep road on the left shortly before you arrive in town. From there, a dirt parking lot ends the road and the hike down begins. After a few false-starts, we found our way down to this precipitous-looking ledge with several ropes tied to an iron spike in the ground. While this is certainly a “do at your own risk” situation, the ropes were in good condition and the spike well-entrenched, so I decided to give it a go. For the most part, the ropes aren’t even necessary, and the part where rappelling is necessary is close enough to the bottom to jump, had there been a need.
Taking the short, careful descent to the bottom yields a world of coastal marine exploration. There are many tide pools and caves, worn by the waves, but as we arrived at low-tide, there was plenty of room to walk around. It was clear along the trail down to this spot that it is frequented by the under-21 and carelessly drinking set, with a fair bit of beer-bottle glass strewn about on the trails, but down at the bottom, it was quite pristine. There were seals amongst the rocks in the ocean and they had with them a few fishermen in kayaks for company. Several hours could have easily been spent investigating the cliffs, caves, and outcroppings, but after a short while we decided to continue our way north.
2. Prefumo & See Canyon – Backroads, Grassy Hills, and Hard Apple Cider
Later in the day, we took the opportunity to visit Kelsey See Canyon Winery and Domaine Lemieux, both proprietors of locally-sourced wines and ciders. Kelsey was a happening place, with live music and a healthy number of Cal Poly students hanging about, enjoying the beautiful day. This establishment is a working apple farm, and as such, they had both cider (very strong at 11% alc) and blends of cider and wine called Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. These were some of the most easy-going, sunny-day wines we’ve ever experienced and we had to snag a bottle of the Red Delicious, which they nicknamed “the hot-tub wine.”
Domaine Lemieux was a quieter environment, seemingly not as established as its See Canyon neighbor. They featured voignier, including a sparkling version, as well as a tempranillo that was, true to the grape, very easy drinking. Our favorite, however, was the See Canyon Cider, which is also bottled at Domaine Lemieux. Crisp (the not overly so), refreshing, and more appropriately fermented (7.5% alc), this is perhaps the best hard cider either of us have had, so we picked up a bottle to enjoy back home.
It would be easy to have missed all of this, as See Canyon Road is fairly hidden in the hills just outside San Luis Obispo. We only knew to look there because I had ridden the partially dirt road during the Solvang Double-Century cycling event. On that occasion, we climbed by bicycle up the impressively steep Prefumo Canyon, before descending the other side to See Canyon. What I find to be almost universally true is that steep grades lead to excellent viewpoints, and Prefumo/See Canyon is certainly no exception. We took a moment to play in the fields atop the peak, with just a few stray cars passing here and there.
3. Morro Bay – Camping and a Car Show
Morro Bay is no stranger to either of us, as we’ve passed through and even stayed on several occasions in the last few years. Morro Rock stands out for miles (you can see it from the top of Prefumo Canyon Road, some 20 miles away), and the towns friendly little downtown and waterfront tend to pull travelers to its streets. On this occasion, we pulled into Morro Bay State Park to signs of “campground full,” but undeterred, we managed to snag one of two site that had just been vacated. From our camp, just on the edge of town, we hopped on our bicycles and cruised into the city-center to find a wonderful car show awaiting us. We noted that we seem always to find an event of some sort downtown, and they’re always fun to stumble upon.
Later that day, we drove (we got lazy, it’s a short bike ride) over to Morro Rock for a quick visit, and then to the candy store at the edge of the waterfront that also features some great soft-serve ice-cream (we do this every time we’re in town), and then headed back to settle into our campsite. With a beer in hand and our fire dancing in the night, we chatted with the couple from the neighboring campsite about a stunning number of collective adventures and common travel interests.
We drove home the next morning to return to a nearly-full day of work, but our little 24-hour bug-out up the coast was a great success. It’s funny that we explore the whole world, but often forget to check out the areas immediately around us. We’ve definitely decided to do this sort of trip more often, and I highly recommend it to you readers as well. There’s always something new and great just around the corner. Go find it!