Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and located on the coast, just off the 101 freeway, is the town of Pismo Beach. A classic, laid-back California beach town, Pismo is easy navigate by foot and offers striking views of the ocean from almost anywhere. With 26 miles of pristine Pacific coastline, this is where you can hike the Pismo Preserve (900 acres preserved by The Land Conservancy), walk on the beach, go mountain biking, horseback riding or relax. Of course, there is also eating and drinking, especially wine.
Pismo Beach is located in the center of San Luis Obispo County, home to the well-known region of Paso Robles. But Paso Robles is almost an hour inland.
Only a 10-minute drive from Pismo Beach are the cool-climate regions of Edna Valley to the north and Arroyo Grande Valley to the south.
Edna Valley, declared an AVA in 1982, is just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. With a northwest-southwest orientation, the cool marine air flows into the valley. The climate, mixed with clay and rocky, volcanic soils, make Edna Valley an ideal home for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And in the Edna Valley, the white wines take on more tropical characteristics. The AVA is home to more than a dozen wineries, including Edna Valley Vineyards, which makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Clairborne & Churchill, which produces Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir; and Zoker, which is growing Gruner Veltliner.
If you have the time, head 25 minutes northeast toward Santa Margarita, halfway between Edna Valley and Paso Robles. The drive is well worth it. Here you can go ziplining through Santa Margarita Ranch, the oldest continually operating cattle ranch in California and home of Ancient Peaks Winery. The property consists of 14,500 acres, 900 of which are planted in the sustainably farmed Margarita Vineyard. There are currently five zip lines. The fifth line is the longest, highest and tallest, soaring 125 feet above ground for 1,800 feet over a Pinot Noir vineyard. There truly is no better way to see a vineyard than to fly over it.
After ziplining, taste the Ancient Peaks Winery wines across the street in the tasting room, where you can also grab a bite to eat.
From Pismo Beach, drive 10 minutes along the coast to Avila Beach, where you will find the winery Sinor-Lavallee. Ancient Peaks Winery Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and his wife Cheri LaValle have their own private label at Sinor-Lavallee and specialize in wines grown at their estate, Bassi Vineyard. The vineyard is only 1.2 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and it is outside any recognized AVA boundaries. But that only means that it does not fall under any conventional boundaries. With views of the ocean from the top, the vineyard is farmed organically with biodynamic influences and the steep oceanic soils, briny air currents and morning fog contributing to the delicious Pinot Gris, Albarino, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
To the south of Pismo Beach and a little farther inland is Arroyo Grande Valley. A northeast-southwest oriented coastal valley, the marine fog moves up from the coast through the valley. Established as an AVA in 1983, Arroyo Grande Valley enjoys a long and mild growing season. It’s ideal for Chardonnay, which takes on more stone fruit characteristics, and Pinot Noir production. Farther east within the region, fuller-bodied red wines such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are grown.
Back in Pismo Beach, known for its trademark phrase “wine and waves,” there are two places to taste wine in town. San Liege Wines is the lone winery tasting room. Winemaker Curt Schalchlin’s passion for the Rhone Valley in France and his love for the diversity of the Central Coast is the backbone of San Liege Wines. In search of character, Schalchin sources grapes from vineyards as far north as Paso Robles and as far south as Santa Barbara. Each site has a distinctive appeal and can be enjoyed in one of his nearly two dozen wines, ranging from Call To Arms (Grenache Blanc and Roussanne) to Pickpocket (Grenache) to The Offering (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier).
Another place to taste is the wine shop Tastes of The Valleys. Owner Ash Mehta offers more than 1,000 wines, 65 percent of which are local from the Central Coast, from Santa Cruz to Ventura. Tastes of the Valleys is also a bar with 150 wines by the glass, and almost every wine in the store is available to taste, thanks to a Coravin system. Whether you want to explore more wines from the Central Coast or wines from around the world, this is your spot.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of small hotels in Pismo Beach, including some on the beach. The dog-friendly Sea Crest sits on a five-acre property with an oceanfront setting. Watching the sunset can be enjoyed from an oceanfront room, by a fire pit or from the heated pool or Jacuzzis.
- 2241 Price Street, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Where to Eat
- Serving Stumptown Coffee and unique donut flavors like peanut butter Oreo, lemon poppyseed, mud pie, bananas foster, coconut custard and the Elvis, Surfside Donuts was founded because the owners wanted to have good donuts in Pismo Beach, all within close proximity to surfing.
- 603 Dolliver Street, Pismo Beach, CA 93449
- What’s a beach town without fresh seafood? The Cracked Crab is a slammin’ local spot. Too small to take reservations, the wait can be up to an hour, but it’s worth every minute. There are crab dishes, fish tacos and crab cakes, but the house specialty is “the bucket.” Whether you’re flying solo and want a single bucket or a big bucket for two, you can choose from Alaskan red king crab, Dungeness crab from Washington or Alaska, snow crab, Alaskan Bairdi crab, slipper lobster, clams, mussels or shrimp and it will come steamed in a bucket with spicy Cajun sausage, red skin potatoes and corn. Before you dig in, let the servers put a bib on you!
- Price Street (between Main and Pomeroy Streets), Pismo Beach, CA
Where to Taste Wine
- 870 Price St., Pismo Beach, CA 93449
- 911 Price Street, Pismo Beach, CA 93449