I’ve driven the 101 Freeway to Southern California countless times while visiting friends, taking business trips, and as a student at UC Santa Barbara. Every time I passed Pismo Beach I promised myself to one day stop and check it out – maybe even spend the night at one of the many beachfront hotels.
Last June we were on our way back from a Sideways tour and decided to take the plunge. But not before visiting another Highway 101 landmark, Laetitia Vineyards. I’ve been a fan of their excellent Arroyo Grande Pinot Noir for years and was determined to see the place and try their best stuff. This particular weekend proved fortuitous as we arrived to find the scenic estate festooned for a wine club event. Since my wife works in the industry, they welcomed us to come in, have a look around, and try everything. I am now aware that in addition to the expected high caliber Pinots and Chardonnays, Laetitia makes outstanding Cabernet. Bravo!
Wineries are always looking for ways to keep the barrel room at the perfect temperature so the wines can age properly without sending all the profit margin to the local electric and gas utility. Many use caves, but if you examine the photo below left, you may notice that the production facility is buried. Be careful parking or you could end up on the roof.
On the right is a large hydraulic grape press, many years old but still operational. As a motion control guy, I’m always on the lookout for anything that moves.
The drive from Laetitia to Pismo Beach is short and scenic. We arrived just past noon and headed toward the wharf, snagging the first available parking spot. Pismo on a summer weekend can be crowded and touristy, which helps explain why I had never stopped before. But this day we were determined to wait in line at the Splash Café as long as necessary for a bowl of their legendary clam chowder. Splash is located at a busy intersection near the wharf where most passersby are on foot, bicycle, motorcycle or leash. The awesome people watching and photo ops made the 45 minute wait go fast. If it hadn’t, it still would have been worth it. I’ve been a chowder head since childhood and I even like to think mine’s pretty good (secret ingredient: homemade Dungeness crab stock) but I’ve had nothing to rival Splash Café.
To get a full dose of Pismo we decided to have dinner and spend the night. You’d be hard pressed to find better lodging than the Kon Tiki Inn. It’s right on the beach, a comfortable walk from the wharf and numerous shops and restaurants, and has amazing views of the beach and Pacific Ocean. The guys at the front desk call it “Hawaii without the flight”. My wife always rolls her eyes when I pull a tripod out of my suitcase, but with a view like this, you just might want a shot you blow up to the size a wall so your man cave can be “Hawaii without the flight.”
The Kon Tiki has a restaurant called Steamers with the same commanding view of the Pacific you enjoy from your room, but by evening we were looking for an excuse to take a walk through some of Pismo’s many charming neighborhoods and soon found ourselves at The Cracked Crab on Price Street. Wow. They have great service, amazing fresh seafood and a nice wine selection. And the wall art includes beach themed watercolors by UCSB art professor Hank Pitcher. By strange coincidence, so does my man cave.
After a wonderful day and night in Pismo, we drove north to Paso Robles. We’ve been to Paso many times searching out wineries new and old and usually make our base of operations one of the hotels near the intersection of the 101 Freeway and Highway 46. This time we were meeting friends and opted to lodge in downtown Paso at the historic Paso Robles Inn, where you can park the car and walk. The Paso Robles Inn sits at one end of a downtown park that’s surrounded by half a dozen tasting rooms, plus restaurants, shops and a movie theater. The tree lined streets and vintage brick buildings provide an excellent backdrop for a casual adventure.
Of the many tasting rooms, I found Parrish Family Vineyard to be the standout. The tasting staff was knowledgeable and entertaining, Parrish produces excellent fruit forward wines, and they do a wine and cheese pairing featuring boutique cheeses from local Paso favorite Vivant Fine Cheese.
Thanks for joining us on another wine adventure. Next time we’ll visit the legendary Los Carneros appellation.