Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Village winery

Wood Winery -- which used to be Wild Wood Winery and used to be in a tough-to-get-to spot of Highway 101 north as you headed up the grade -- has opened a tasting room in Village of Arroyo Grande.

The tasting room shares space with the Gallery on Bridge Street on, you guessed it, Bridge Street.

Hours are 10-5pm except Friday and Saturday when it stays open until 6 and Monday when the shop is closed.

So if you're poking around the village, stop by to sample some wine -- the winery features fun labels and names too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

VIDEO: What we do in wine country for fun

For me, a messy highlight of SLO Vintners' annual harvest festival was the inaugural grape stomping contest at Per Bacco Cellars.

My fellow competitor, Tribune reporter Sarah Arnquist, and I did terribly -- we had filled only half a bottle when the winners completed their two -- but had a great time.

We learned that strategy and technique (plus a little cheating) are key, so start working on yours for next fall. I'm sure the event will back and even more poplar.


video

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sycamore Springs is a treat -- Discover for yourself Sunday

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is a treat and a retreat for the mind, body and soul.

And to spread that message to the community, the resort is holding an open house of its spa and wellness center -- the heart of that retreat -- from 1-4 Sunday. There will be plenty of activities to indulge in, all free or discounted.

I recently enjoyed my own version of the open house, starting with a light lunch in the gazebo courtyard before stripping down for a 30-minute soak in an open air tub with a view of the surrounding hillside foliage.

My state of relaxation was only furthered by a 30-minute massage of long, flowing strokes that nearly induced a catatonic state. I was a bit worried about the energy needed for a yoga class to follow, but the gentle class kept us close to the ground, focused on nice, restorative stretches and breathing. The hardest part was the climb up the hill to get there.

A mind-clearing walk through the labyrinth and the meditative gardens was followed by a flavorful and fresh four-course dinner and wine. It was one of the most relaxing escapes of my whole life.

And you can experience your own mini-escape at the open house Sunday.

There are free classes in the Healing Arts Institute, the "yoga dome" a brisk walk up a hill.
* 1:15-1:45: Pilates
* 2-2:30: Hatha yoga
* 2:45-3:15: Tai Chi
* 3:30-4: Restorative yoga

There are discounted spa treatments -- a deal at $35 for a 30-minute massage or facial plus a 30-minute soak in a mineral spring tub (must be pre-booked). There also will be 10-minute garden massages for $10.

Complimentary refreshments -- light fare and beverages -- will be served in the gazebo courtyard from 1-3:30, to the tunes of guitarist Mark Owens, who will play again in the bar from 5-7 for a happy hour with drink specials and appetizers.

The gift store will offer coupons for a 20 percent discount good through Dec. 24. And anyone who signs up for the resort newsletter is eligible to win half-hourly giveaways, including a grand prize of an overnight suite stay.

Wrapping up the day, the purchase of two dinner entrees gets you a free 60-minute hot tub soak.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tops in port wines and historical colors

Well it was a fun weekend of wine and food sampling -- as well as grape stomping -- at the SLO harvest festival. I'm hoping to have a video of my sad attempt at the grape stomp contest at Per Bacco Cellars with reporter Sarah Arnquist later this week.

In the meantime, a few tidbits from Sunset magazine.

With an article on dessert wines, Sunset highlights EOS 2003 Zinfandel Port and Robert Hall 2003 Vintage Port as its picks for port-style wines. "Plush, textured palate of chocolate, coffee, licorice and blackberries," is the description of the EOS offering. Robert Hall's port is described as "made from traditional port grapes, with an interesting mix of anise, herbs, dried cherries and chocolate." Yum.

The same November issue features a curb-appeal makeover of a Ventura bungalow with a big plug for San Luis Paints. "After spending a lot of time agonizing over house paint," the couple who owns the home selected on two shades from San Luis Paints' historical color series.
"If we'd known to start there, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time," one of two said. Now that's a compliment indeed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

After Halloween, it's Harvest (again)

The harvest celebration has come and gone in Paso Robles, but it's hitting SLO this weekend, and there's still time to get tickets to many of the festivities.

Friday night features winemaker dinners at area restaurants. Some are already sold out, though reservations for others are still available. The most unique might be dinner in the rose garden at the Mission de Tolosa with Tolosa Winery.

Saturday from 1-5pm the wineries and local restaurants join together for the Grand Tasting at Avila Beach Golf Resort, with food and wine, live jazz, live and silent auctions. Tickets are $75.

Sunday, I'll be stomping grapes at Per Bacco Cellars, one of many special activities at the wineries of the San Luis Obispos Vintners and Growers Association. Among other activities, Baileyana will break in its new bocce ball courts and many others are featuring special food and/or live music.

Find information on all the events here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A hauntingly good time for all

There are countless Halloween activities out there tomorrow night, but here's one that can be enjoyed by young and older.

With Oktoberfest drawing to a close (though Thursday-Saturday celebrations continue through this weekend) Old Vienna in Shell Beach is transforming itself into the Enchanted Black Forest.

For singles and parents, the bar is open for spirits and witch's brew, and kids can keep themselves occupied with the free "not-to-haunted house," spooky snacks and wormy swamp punch.

Festivities go from 5-9pm.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Brew and food masters

If beer is more your thing, another option for Saturday night is the Brewmasters Dinner at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort.

For $30, you get a four-course dinner paired with beers from Central Coast Brewing. The meal prepared by Chef David McWilliams starts with a ponzu-glazed scallop with julienne Asian pears on the half shell paired with honey wheat ale. The second course is stuffed heirloom pork belly, baby arugula, frisse with Golden Glow veal jus paired with Golden Glow Ale, followed by a third course of porcini mushroom malfatti and shaved pecorino cheese paired with Scotch Ale. And for dessert, a German chocolate cake served with Central Coast Stout.

Call 805-595-7302 for reservations.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Haunting the caves

So every town and city can have their haunted houses, but how many can offer haunted caves?

It's the last weekend before Halloween, and Saturday and Sunday feature Eberle Winery's Haunted Caves tours, from 5-6:30 and 7-9 both nights (for ages 10 and up).

The winery decorates and decks out its 16,000 feet of underground cave to become one of the spookiest events around. Above ground, there are games and bounce house.

For older kids (21 and up), there is complimentary wine tasting.

Divine music in a divine location



Regular live music venues are scant in SLO County. But a lot of fantastic acts come through the county for special events and performances at our many wineries. This weekend brings one such act.

Harry Manx is bringing his renowned folk-world-blues music to Stacked Stone Cellars at 6 p.m. Saturday. (Gates open at 4:30. Bring a blanket or lawn chair.)

Manx plays his blend of blues and Indian ragas on a 20-string guitar/sitar hybrid called the Mohan Veena, a lap slide guitar, blues harp and six-string banjo. You can listen to sample of his music here (click on Media Player)

The appearance was arranged by Matt's Music Stage and School (formerly Divine Appointment Guitars) in Paso Robles. Tickets are $20; call 805-237-0054 to purchase. Dinner and wine will be available for an extra charge.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's here! Harvest time is here!

When I was little, Halloween was my favorite holiday. Now I look forward to the end of October for another reason -- the harvest festivals in our two distinguished wine regions.

Vineyard workers already have been hard at work harvesting this year's grape crop and it's time to join them in celebration.

Paso's Harveset Wine Tour spans this weekend, with three days of events hosted by the wineries. There's so much to choose from, it's almost overwhelming. There are winemaker dinners, cooking classes, food pairing seminars, tours of the vineyards, barrel tastings, live music, barbecues and picnics. You can find a full schedule on our web site here or at the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

The Edna and Arroyo Grande valleys follow Nov. 2-4 with the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration. Friday night, the wineries host their own winemaker dinners. Saturday from 1-5pm they join together for the Grand Tasting at Avila Beach Golf Resort, with food and wine, live jazz, live and silent auctions. Tickets are $75. You can buy tickets online here. Sunday brings open houses at the member wineries, with free admission for those with bracelets from the Grand Tasting. You can find a list of all the planned festivities, as well as information on Friday's winemaker dinners, here.

Harvest is definitely one of the best time to get out and visit our local wineries, so go enjoy!

And to read a story about this year's harvest, which is small but reportedly high quality, click here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall afternoon in the apple orchards

While we still have plenty of beautiful, warm days, it is starting to feel a bit more like fall.

And a favorite fall family activity is heading out to the apple orchards of See Canyon.

What to do with all those apples? Find some ideas, and a little taste of the apple experience, in our recent story here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A cook-off and a chow down

Sunday brings a celebrity chef Oktoberfest cook-off at Peachy Canyon Winery, with hors d'oeuvres from the chefs of Villa Creek, Artisan, Dining with Andre and the Culinary Academy.
The appetizers will be accompanied by beer from Downtown Brew and Firestone and wine from Grey Wolf, Jan Kris, Windward, Vineyard, Midnight Cellars, Dark Star Cellars, Zenaida Cellars and Peachy Canyon.

The Sip of Paso and a Taste of Talent event benefits the North County Dance and Performing Arts Foundation, which uses the money to fund various performance groups and its annual production of "The Nutcracker."

There will also be a live and silent auction plus live entertainment. It goes from 2-5 pm at the winery at Highway 26 West and Bethel Road; tickets are $35. Call 805-835-1678 to reserve.

Speaking of Oktoberfest, I got to celebrate last week with dinner at Old Vienna Inn in Shell Beach. I enjoyed a robust goulash, flavorful potato soup and an excellent (and very large) Franziskaner wheat beer. Read more about the food and festivities, which last all month, from Dining Out writer Dawn White here.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Wine and music at two local events

Following a first-year festival that suffered from more visitors than apparently expected -- an avocado festival that ran out of guacamole? -- I'm going to head back to Morro Bay for more of a sure thing, the long-popular Harbor Festival. It runs from 10am-6pm both Saturday and Sunday along the Embarcadero, with tons of food, wine and beer and live music; admission is $8. Read more about it in Ticket here.

If you'd rather focus more on just wine and music, Sunday brings the finals of the Winery Music Awards, which features two local bands competing in the final six. It goes from 2-8pm at River Oaks Hot Springs and Spa in Paso Robles; tickets are $50. Read more about the local bands in our story today and in the SLO Goings blog.

Tuesday also brings a tough choice: Satire king and Cal Poly alum Weird Al Yankovic performing at his alma matter or the Dark Star Orchestra at the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande. Dark Star goes far beyond the usual Grateful Dead "tribute band" with dead-on performances of live shows. Read more about Weird Al here and about Dark Star here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

McCarthy's is finally reopening!

Need I say more?

McCarthy's Irish Pub reopening Friday

But first, a short look back at the last day at the old McCarthy's, including the parading of the bar down Higuera Street to the new location: Watch the slideshow with audio

Foist today!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sample a fine Vintage

Among my duties here at The Tribune is editing the twice-yearly Vintages magazine, and I'm proud to announce that the fall issue has just debuted.

In it, you'll find features on luxury hotels of the Central Coast, a Spanish wine that is increasingly being produced here and winemaker dinners, staple events of our local wineries.

You'll also read about our picks of what wine to buy now, notes on tasting rooms, hotels and local attractions, a recipe for a delicious dish to pair with almost any white wine and a trip through Paso's eastside, as well as maps, a guide to the county's tasting rooms and info on upcoming events, including the popular harvest festivals.

You can pick up the magazine in most local tasting rooms or find it on our web site here.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What others are saying about us

The good folks at the Washington Post apparently like what the Central Coast has to offer, even off the coast itself.

The paper's travel section recently featured a piece on touring SLO and Paso and the surrounding spots. You can read it here.

The New York Times, meanwhile, is gushing over the olive oil of Pasolivo, which recently won two best-in-show awards at the International Olive Oil Competition in Los Angeles. Read the article here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

25 cent wine tasting?!?

Tonight's wine tasting at Monterey Street Wine Co. -- normally $10 -- can be had for a quarter if you bring a book to donate for a child age 5-9.

And check out what's coming Monday, from Doug, John, Mecaela and Katrina

We will have a special guest bartender, Shannon Beighley, helping raise money for her Team in Training. Shannon will be running the Nike half marathon next month in San Francisco and is raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by have small fundraiser. Shannon, a San Luis Obispo native living in the Bay Area will be pouring wine here at Monterey St. Wine Co. Monday evening and will be pooling her tips with the money she has raised at other such fundraisers and will be making a large donation to the Leukemia and Lyphoma Society at the race. We hope you can come by purchase a special priced glass of wine and put some money in the tip jar for a great cause. Shannon will let you know about her training and her fundraising goal. Shannon will be pouring 5:00 – 8:00 PM so stop by after work and let have a glass of wine to find a cure for this particular form of cancer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's Ladies Night at Monterey St. Wine Co.

It's wine and chocolate tasting night for the ladies tonight at Monterery St. Wine Co.

From 5-8 pm, the wine shop will offer dry wines and then dessert wines to sip along with some chocolate treats. Cost is $10.

Most Fridays, the shop hosts winemakers for tastings of their wines. It being harvest time, however, most winemakers are a little busy. So the staff will host this Friday's wine tasting, with their favorite wines of the Central Coast. You'll also be able to sample some of the cheeses the shop sells. The tasting goes from 5-8 pm and costs $10.

It's a fun alternative to your regular happy hour.

The shop also regularly features new offerings, and this week is giving a good review to Black Hand Cellars.

Black Hand Cellar Hit n’ Run, Paso Robles. A red blend of 63% Syrah, 22% Mourvedre and 15% Grenache a terrific wine with rich ripe fruit, medium acidity and a long finish. Very limited production only 42 cases produced, this winery’s wines are getting better and it will be a winery to look for in the future. This is a very good bottle of wine, $25.99.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Oktoberfest in a month and a day


In Shell Beach, where I live, the party rarely comes to you. That's why I love this time of year there.

The Old Vienna Restaurant and Beer Garden is just around the corner from my house and Oktoberfest there brings a six-week party.

Thursday through Sunday from now until Nov. 3, the restaurant celebrates with food, music and of course beer -- the next best thing to being in the big tents in Munich, as the restaurant owners say.

Beer is served in large steins and Trio Internationale, the lederhosen-clad house band, gets the crowd going with traditional songs followed by Emimen or John Denver performed with an accordian. (Thursdays and Sundays feature more traditional music, and you never know what you'll get on Friday and Saturdays.)

Old Vienna serves a special menu during Oktoberfest, which usually packs the place to the gills. For $37, you have the choice between:

  • Oktoberfest Huhn und Bier: Half chicken, roasted and seasoned with paprika, the traditional Munich Oktoberfest meal, served with 1/2 liter of tap beer.
  • Wurstmeister: smoked bratwurst and bratwurst. Recommended with the German potato salad.
  • Goulash: The spicy robust "herdsman's stew" made with pork and a rich onion, paprika gravy.
  • Kassler Rippchen: Two smoked pork loin cuts, bone in, a traditional "old country" favorite.
  • Sauerbraten: Choice lean beef marinated in red wine with traditional spices, served thinly sliced with an authentic ginger/beef gravy.
  • Schnitzel: Center-cut pork loin, pounded thin, lightly breaded and flash-fried to light golden brown.
All meals are served with fresh bread rolls and butter; choice of soup or fresh green salad with house dressing; choice of German potato salad, parsley potatoes or rice pilaf; vegetable, red cabbage and sauerkraut. The cost also covers tax and tip, so all you have to worry about it your bar tab.

Call 773-4521 for reservations, which are recommended.

Firestone Walker and River Oaks Hot Springs celebrate the fall harvest in a one-day blowout next Saturday, Sept. 29, called Oaktoberfest.

The event, held at River Oaks in Paso Robles, is a fundraiser for Hospice of SLO County. Firestone Walker pours an Oktoberfest beer brewed especially for and available only at the event, with a tapping ceremony at 12:30 p.m. There are traditional German foods, polka music, tasting of Firestone and German ales, German-style wines from local wineries, cheese, cigars and a costume contest.

For the stout of heart, there's also the Beer Olympics, with keg tossing, stein racing and barrel rolling, starting at 1 p.m.

Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 day of event and can be purchased here. They include admission, an event stein, your first beer, and a card to sample your choice or beer or wine.





















Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Avo and margs


This weekend brings an event I'm really looking forward to, featuring two of my favorite things -- the inaugural Morro Bay Avocado and Margarita Festival.

It takes place on the Embarcadero, in the parking lot across from Rose's Landing, from 11 am-6pm, and admission is free.

There's a best guacamole contest, a best avocado-recipe competition, many flavors of margaritas, music, 30 local avocado growers and more.

For kids, there will be a best decorated avocado contest, stickers, coloring books and “Cali,” the six-foot mascot of the California Avocado Commission, who will have avocado scoopers and recipe books for the adults.

I'll be there, hoping to find some new ways to enjoy these two favored indulgences of mine.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Was the fix on?

Ok, I admitted that I actually liked Kim's room on the finale of HGTV's "Design Star" better than Cal Poly grad Todd's. But as Clive announced her as the winner Sunday night, I couldn't help but think there was something fishy going on.

First there are all the rumors about Kim -- a hairdresser with no design background -- having an in with producers on the show. (See the comments on an earlier post on the show here.) Then there's the fact that this beautifully designed space in the final challenge came from NOWHERE. I can't think of one episode from the run of the show where she really impressed. And finally, there is Todd's space. So throughout the entire season, week after week, he brings it with a design that is innovative and memorable -- often to the extreme. And then he falls down in the last challenge? Seems highly suspect.

So what do you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Todd fans, last day to vote!

I have to admit I'm a bit nervous.

I thought Cal Poly grad Todd was a shoe-in to win HGTV's Design Star competition, but I actually found myself liking Kim's final hotel suite design and considering Todd's a little uninspired compared to his previous performance. And she clearly has good hosting skills, even if she doesn't have the infectious energy of the big-kid-like Todd.

Still, taking the competition as a whole, rather than looking at only the final challenge, Todd has rocked it week after week while I can't seem to remember any of Kim's designs that impressed, let alone blew me away. And her design for the second-to-last challenge was downright ugly.

So, log on to HGTV or get out your cell phones to vote! Today is the last day for voting, and results will be revealed in Sunday night's finale at 9 p.m.

Read my other blogs on the show here and here.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Cal Poly grad Design Star?





And then there were two -- and Todd, our Cal Poly grad, is one of them.

Earlier in the season of HGTV's "Design Star," I was worried that Todd, while insanely creative, wouldn't have enough traditional design skills to make it far in the competition. (Read my take here.) But I was wrong.

Each week, he continued to collect more laurels from the judges, for his inventive design solutions and his infectious energy (the winner of the competition gets a show on the network so "hosting skills" are considered as well as design).

This Sunday, he faces off against Kim in the final challenge, and "America" gets to vote on the winner. So if you want to see more of Todd (who wouldn't!) and get the bragging rights of a local boy on HGTV, watch the final episode at 9 p.m. Sunday and vote!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

It's an honor just to be nominated

Talley Vineyards was the only San Luis Obispo County winery to take home honors in Sunset magazine's annual wine awards.

Its 2005 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay ($40) was the magazine's pick for beset Special Occasion ($30-$50) White.

"Rich, toasty apple-pie aromas are followed by fresh lemon-custard flavors spiked with minerals and lemon zest on a long finish," the magazine wrote.

A number of other local wines, however, were nominated, a testament to their quality and flavor even if they did not make the final cut. Here's a look at the finalists from San Luis Obispo County.

I think it's worth noting that the county's wines made a strong appearance in the more affordable categories, reflecting the value of the wines made in this area compared to others. I also think it's worth mentioning, Sunset, that none of the judges were from this region...

STEAL OF THE YEAR ($15 and under) - WHITE
Edna Valley Vineyard, 2005 Paragon Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($15)
Edna Valley Vineyard, 2005 Paragon Vineyard Chardonnay ($12)
Firestone Vineyard, which this year opened a tasting room in Paso Robles,
2005 Riesling ($12)

STEAL OF THE YEAR ($15 and under) - RED
Peachy Canyon, 2005 "Incredible Red" Zinfandel ($11)
J. Lohr, 2004 South Ridge Vineyard Syrah ($15)
EOS Estate Vineyards Novella label, 2004 "Synergy" red blend ($14)
Treana Winery's
Liberty School label, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)

GOOD VALUE ($15-30) - WHITE
Alban Vineyard, 2005 Viognier 2005
($24)
Tablas Creek, 2005 "Côtes de Tablas Blanc" white Rhône blend ($20)
Treana, 2004 Mer Soleil Vineyard white Rhône blend ($25)
Wolff Vineyard, 2005 Mount Eden Chardonnay ($18)
Talley, 2005 Oliver's Vineyard Chardonnay ($26)

GOOD VALUE ($15-30) - RED
Edna Valley Vineyard, 2005 Paragon Vineyard Pinot Noir ($20)
Eberle Winery, 2004 Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah ($20)
Edna Valley Vineyard, 2004 Syrah ($16)

SPECIAL OCCASION ($30-50) - RED
Domaine Alfred, 2004 Chamisal Vineyards Pinot Noir ($38)
McPrice Myers, 2004 Les Galets Vineyard Syrah 2004 from Arroyo Grande Valley ($32)

DEEP POCKET (over $50) - RED
Alban Vineyards, 2004 "Reva" Syrah ($74)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The vines and the cliffs

I'll be taking off a couple days, but I wanted to leave you with a few destinations for the weekend.

First, I had the pleasure on Friday night to join Vina Robles for their inaugural winemaker's dinner, which also served as the official unveiling of their new tasting room and hospitality center on Highway 46 East, where they are next-door neighbors to Robert Hall and across the road from Eberle.

It's a beautiful new space well worth a stop, with soaring ceilings, plenty of cozy nooks and a large tasting bar and gift shop. There are also tables outside and fabulous fountains that make you want to linger, as do the Red 4, Signature and Roseum, my personal favorites of their wines.
I'll be writing about the dinner in the upcoming Vintages magazine so look for it in tasting rooms at the end of September.

The Cliffs Resort's "Live on the Rocks" free concerts have become quite the place to spend a Sunday afternoon, and you have one more chance to make it this summer -- and it's a double-header with well-known local performers. Threes and Nines plays from 1:30-3:30 and Louie Ortega takes the stage from 4-6. There's barbecue and a full bar available, and of course, a fabulous view of the ocean while you enjoy the music.

Catch you back next week!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

SLO Goings beat me to it

Features writer and SLO Goings contributor Sarah Linn beat me to the news that our gorgeous coastline made quite an appearance on the Today show this morning, so I'm going to have to throw DiscoverSLO over there today: Wow, what a coastline!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The perfect scoop? For me it's two


It's tough sitting next to Dawn White -- a features and business reporter who writes many of the stories for Dining Out.

Last week, on a warm and sunny afternoon, she just had to go try out the gelato place in Avila Beach, and she just had to have other opinions, so I just had to go along. Rough life.

Now let me say I don't eat ice cream very often. I'm just not a real sweets person. Give me salty snacks any day. But when I was traveling in Italy, stopping in for a gelato during an evening stroll was a daily occurrence.

So I wondered, as we walked up to Gelato Americano on Avila's Front Street, would the experience stack up? And I have to say, for the most part it did. The flavors and textures of the dolce de leche and blood orange combination I indulged in were spot-on Italian style, if not exactly the same as being in Italy. And taking it out of the shop to amble along the Avila shorefront wasn't bad either. I just wished I could join the throngs enjoying a day at the beach instead of going back to work.

The staff at the shop were friendly, offering as many tastes of their dozens of flavors as we wanted, and knowledgeable, explaining the story and tradition behind all the varieties.

For me, a new Americano ritual in Avila may have begun. But don't take my word for it -- check out Dawn's story on the shop in today's Central Coast Living.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For a wheelie good time


Zac Efron is not the only SLO County stand-out to make the Washington Post this week.

The Oceano Dunes -- and specifically renting an ATV to cruise around them -- star on the front page of the Post Sunday Travel section.

Judging from the crowds out there every weekend, a lot of people already know about the vehicular playground that is the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area, the only beach in California (and one of only two in the country) where you can take or rent all manner of ATVs, motorcross bikes, sand buggies and tricked-out trucks.

If you're not one of those people, here's just one tiny taste from the Post article:

Miles of bright blue waves crash on a shore that curves around a cove sheltered by rumpled green hills. A broad, flat beach extending about 100 yards from the surf line serves as a camping area, with tents, trailers and RVs. The sand then suddenly curves upward into rolling hills with wavelike crests. The undulating dunes are up to 80 feet high from base to crest. From the tops of the first rows of dunes, you see the ocean in one direction and, in the other, nothing but more towering dunes, some with sheer vertical drops.
The article is eager to point out that commanding an ATV across these dunes is not just for testosterone-fueled boys and grown-up boys. The self-professed "middle age" author, her teenage daughter and her friend caught the thrill as well, even if they started out a little more timid.

If you've been a bit timid about tackling the dunes yourself, author Cindy Loose even provides some tips based on her own experience. Now get out there, and have a wheelie good time.

Monday, August 13, 2007

HGTV's new hottie is a SLO boy





Ok, after a little hiatus (my other job as online editor for sanluisobispo.com kept me busy last week), I'm back with another slightly off-topic post.

I'm not one of those home show addicts, but I am a sucker for reality competition shows like Project Runway and Top Chef, and I recently got hooked on HGTV's "Design Star," in which designer-types compete for the chance to host their own show.

And lo and behold, the most interesting competitor on the new season, whose third episode aired Sunday night, is Todd Davis, a graduate of Cal Poly's College of Architecture and Environmental Design (even though he lives in San Francisco now).

He's a typical California boy, a thrill-seeking surfer-dreamer-adventurer who often works with his shirt off. It was clear he'd be a stand-out from the first episode, when the designers were challenged to design their living space and he built a skateboard quarter-pipe that plunges him into the pool, an often-played clip on promos for the show. The judges loved it, and he won Sunday's challenge with a room design featuring a wave that crashed into all the furniture (it's all about couch surfing, he said.)

It remains to be seen whether his, uh, very particular point of view will carry him through the more traditional design challenges, but he is definitely a fun one to watch.

Read his fun profile here then see a slideshow of photos.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happy hour, romance and more at Sycamore

Ok, maybe this has been going on for a while, but if so, I just caught on. (Wouldn't be the first time.)

Sycamore Mineral Springs -- a lush retreat on the road to Avila Beach -- is offering nightly specials through its restaurant, the Gardens of Avila.

In the past, I was a fan of the resort's community classes on Sunday evenings, where for $5 you could take an intro class on yoga, pilates, tai chi or whatever else was being offered that week and then take a soak in the Oasis Rock Spa, and have been looking for a replacement excuse to visit since they were discontinued. Now I have five.

Mondays from 5-9, the Gardens is offering beer tasting, with 1/2 price been, appetizer specials and sports on the plasma screen.

Tuesday is regular old happy hour from 4-6, with 1/2 price appetizers, drink specials and resort giveaways.

Romance Wednesday offers a free 60-minute mineral spring hot tub for two with the purchase of two dinner entrees (reservations recommended), a much better option for date night than dinner and a movie.

Fridays is Wine & Jazz, with wine tasting from Tablas Creek and Brazilian jazz from Cello Bossa.

Sunday Supper ($30/$45 with wine) features traditional English roast or salmon, although the regular menu is available as well.

If none of those appeal to you, there are all the regular offerings at the resort -- lodging packages, spa services, private mineral springs tub rentals, yoga and other wellness classes, guided hikes and more.

What's your favorite retreat along the Central Coast? Share your thoughts here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lucky for shoppers, part 2

Old Navy has opened!

Ok, I'm not usually a big fan of chain stores, especially in a town as cute as San Luis Obispo, but I have to admit I'm a fan of Old Navy -- with the exception of their annoying commercials, which I hope we are not now subject to more of.

The store has fresh and quite affordable styles, a variety of items for work and play and a lot of the basics (tee, tanks, khakis etc.) that always seem to cost too much at some of the other chains.

Before now, you'd have to drive to Fresno or Gilroy to find one, so I am happy to welcome Old Navy to town.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lucky for shoppers

A common complaint about San Luis Obispo is a lack of shopping. I was even warned about it before I moved here.

And it's true, for those of used to the offerings of a big city, SLO lacks an indoor mall and many of the retailers found nationally.

But downtown SLO features a slew of boutiques that are great for browsing (and buying) -- something that recently caught the attention of Lucky, the fashion/shopping magazine.

Lucky's August issue highlights a number of downtown shops: Ambiance, Contessa S. and Contessa S. Home, French Quarter, Romp, Therapy, Finders Keepers, Paper Sky and The Nest.

Finders Keepers on Garden Street is my recently discovered treasure trove of fashion goodies. It's technically a thrift shop, but one that carries designer labels and only clothes in good condition. I turned in a few expensive purchases I never took to and with the store credit I earned, I picked up almost my entire spring clothing collection.

Therapy, right next to Bubble Gum Alley on Higuera Street, is a fun house for rack browsing and gift items. I've wiled away afternoons poking around the witty and "useless" items you just must have and digging through the racks for treasure like the $10 pair of plaid city pants I got a few months ago.

French Quarter is a newer addition to the scene that I've only window-shopped, waiting for a free afternoon to check it out. And Romp, while nothing there is within my price range, is a great shop for shoe lust.

Lucky definitely identified some top spots. But here are some of my other favorites.

Whenever Mom is in town, we hit Ann's on Monterey Street and never fail to find something for either me or her.

Full Circle
, also on Monterey, is a good choice for more downscale second-hand shopping.

Avanti on Higuera Street, if a little pricey, always has the latest trends and probably has the best selection of women's shoes downtown, especially with the opening of a shoe-only spot next door. Lucky Lu Lu's down the street usually has cheaper versions of trendy items. Dizzi, on Morro Street, is another good spot.

For unique jewelry, I like La Creme, on Morro Street, and LiLi Clever on Garden Street, though other popular jewelers include Studio 718 and Kevin Main on Higuera.

Find the Lucky story here, and The Tribune's take on the piece here.

What are your favorite local shopping spots? Share them here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vintages needs you!

In addition to being the online editor for sanluisobispo.com and writing Discover SLO, I'm also the editor of Vintages, a wine and tourism magazine The Tribune publishes.

I'm starting to plan this fall's issue, and I'd love to hear your ideas for stories and features. A favorite winery or other spot you'd like to see featured? Something you've always wondered about wineries or winemaking? Ideas for a specific type of trip you'd like to plan to the Central Coast and its wine country?

Let me know and we'll try to include something in our next issue, which comes out in September, just before the fall harvest -- which, by the way, is a great time to visit the area's many wineries.

You can leave a comment here or email me at sbuffalo@thetribunenews.com.

You can find the spring Vintages at many of the area's tasting rooms or at sanluisobispo.com here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The grapevine isn't always right

Fans of Domaine Alfred wines can breathe a sigh of relief today, as owner Terry Speizer has denied reports that his Edna Valley winery is for sale.

In fact, though he explored another opportunity last year, he is now focusing his efforts on expanding the winery, possibly even to other countries. Read more here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alfred's domaine for sale

Word arrives today that Domaine Alfred, a small Edna Valley winery renowned for its pinot noir and chardonnay, is for sale for $30 million.

DA is one of my favorite stops in Edna Valley, largely because I'm a big pinot noir fan, and they also have a very drinkable and affordable red blend called DA Red.

I mentioned Domain Alfred in the newly relaunched Vintages magazine that came out in March. Here's what I said:

"I was delighted to find the 2004 chardonnay that my mother recently raved about — and paid $80 for in New York’s Gramercy Tavern restaurant — for sale in the tasting room for just $24. As more of a red wine drinker, I was even more delighted to find that I liked it — my mother and I rarely have the same taste in anything. I promptly plucked up a bottle."
If you haven't come across a copy of Vintages in one of the county's many tasting rooms, you can view and dowload a PDF version here.

Read more on the potential Domaine Alfred sale here.

And let's hope that whoever purchases the property keeps what thousands of fans love about Terry Speizer's wines.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

We love We Olive

We Olive is one of my favorite shops in Paso Robles for browsing, both with the eyes and the taste buds.

It's an inviting store just off the main square in downtown Paso where you can peruse -- and taste -- all manner of local and California-made olive oils, tapenades, salsas, vinegars and more. There are savory-smelling soaps, ceramics and other gifts. And the store managers encourage rather than frown on frequent taste-testing.

It was news to me the franchises had opened in Riverside and Fresno -- and now there's one coming to downtown SLO, as well as San Francisco. It should make a find addition to all the browsing already available in SLO's visitor-friendly downtown.

You can read more about the expansion plans here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

July in Sunset

Ok, I prematurely promised a look at the July issue of Sunset magazine. That was before I flipped through it and realized -- ooops -- there's nothing about SLO County this month!

There is, however, a look at the close-by "Gaviota Coast," as the magazine calls it, touting the long, unspoiled beaches, hidden canyons and rolling orchards. There are mentions of Gaviota State Park, El Capitan State Beach and Canyon Resort, the Arroyo Honda Preserve and more. Not a bad place to explore if you have to leave SLO County. Find the story online here, with the what/where info here.

If you are down that way, Santa Barbara's El Cielo, atop the Hotel Andalucia, makes the magazine's Top 10 Rooftop Bars.

Sip wine from nearby 
Sideways country against a backdrop of 
the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Channel Islands, and the red-tiled roofs of downtown. The mission-style fireplace at the intimate poolside lounge ups the romantic ante.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June in Sunset

Local folks probably won't find this a surprise, but Wild Horse's 2004 zinfandel ($17) was mentioned in the June issue of Sunset as one of a handful of great barbecue wines.

"Good acidity keeps the yummy mix of dark berries, pepper, herbs and mocha from going jammy," the magazine says.

The magazine, leaving shelves now as the July issue comes out, also has blurbs on Cambria Pines Lodge, lauding its lush grounds at peak bloom time, and Avila Beach's La Fonda Hotel, which the writer says has the same cozy charm as Avila itself and calls a paen to pleasurable detail, especially the 24-hour chocolate pantry.

Bob and Cary Woll's backyard in Los Osos is featured in a story on creating a great setting for outdoor dining. You can see it here.

Tomorrow, I'll take a peek at the July issue that just arrived in my mailbox.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Embarcadero boomlet

As the Avila Beach revival continues with a fresh face for summer, another of the county's coastal towns is adding new businesses for the tourist crowds.

Two restaurants, a wine-tasting room, an art gallery and a bakery are among the new businesses opening on the Morro Bay waterfront.

Embarcadero Grill, at 801 Embarcadero — the former location of the Fish Bowl Restaurant - is a barbecue fish and chips joint.

Looking for something other than seafood? Harry’s Rib Co. at 1154 Embarcadero is a new option.

Joining Morro Bay Wine Seller, Templeton-based Aron Hill Vineyard opened a tasting room that offers people the chance to sip wine while gazing at Morro Rock and the bay.

The John Landon Art Gallery at 845 Embarcadero, the second gallery for local artist John Landon, joins the art dealers along the waterfront.

And a mother-daughter-owned combination bakery-boutique will feature desserts from the the family’s traditional Sicilian recipes, shirts, specialty clothing, lingerie and hand-made jewelry.

You can read more about the Embarcadero boomlet here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lakeside wine, pinot and paella

One more summer wine festival this weekend with the lakeside Atascadero Wine Festival, the 12th annual, featuring 85 wineries, music from the Mighty Croon Dogs, food, art and others vendors.

The Lakeside Tasting Saturday goes from 11:30 am-4 pm; tickets are $30 in advance/$30 at the door and get you an event glass and 10 tasting tickets. There's free shuttle service from the Sunken Gardens. Buy tickets online or at the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce, at 6550 El Camino Real.

Proceeds benefit the Charles Paddock Zoo, where ticket-holders can enjoy free entrance Saturday, and other projects in Atascadero.

Sunday, the participating wineries host their own events. For a list of the wineries, go to the festival's web site.

Speaking of wine festivals, go ahead and mark your calendar now for June 8, 2008, the date of next year's Pinot and Paella cook-off, a smaller but growing event.

In fact, go ahead and buy your tickets now - this year's event sold out more than a month in advance. And it's well worth the price of admission.

Taste some of the best pinot noirs from around the Central Coast and chow down on the most inventive and tasty paella dishes the area's best chefs can create. (One of this year's selections included alligator, though my favorite -- and the winner of the People's Choice award -- was from 10th Street Vineyard Cafe.

Pinot and Paella, in Templeton's Community Park, is smaller and less rowdy than some of the other local festivals, but clearly gaining quite a devoted following. Consider joining it.

In the meantime, you can find the recipe for 2006's winner as featured in Vintages magazine here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Horseshoes and horsepower plus music by two lakes

This Sunday is Father's Day, and if father and child are both of legal drinking age, one fun way to celebrate is the Father’s Day Horseshoe competition and barbecue at Cass Winery. Sign up with Erin at erin@casswines.com or call at 805-227-2888.


If you and Dad are more comfortable poking around under the hood, head to Pismo Beach for the three-day Pismo Beach Classic Car Show, which takes over the town with more than 1,200 classic cars. New this year is a different kind of horsepower -- the Budweiser Clydesdales will be clomping around town and showing off for pictures and petting. Find out more about all the festitivies in our story in Ticket or at www.thepismobeachclassic.com.

You can also make a weekend of family bonding at the Live Oak Music Festival, which is near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County but reputedly well worth the drive. The Tribune's Pat Pemberton writes about the festival in Ticket this week and takes a look at the local bands in the lineup. You can also call 805-781-3020 for information.

To wind down from the work week and kick off the weekend, head to Bianchi Winery Friday at 6 p.m. for a lakeside concert with FUNK:30. Pack a picnic or pick up something from the deli case. Patio seating is limited, so bring lawn chairs or blankets. No outside beverages allowed. Reservations suggested. $20/per person or $10/per lakeside member. Call 805-226-9922 ext. 31.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not yet making plans for fall? Maybe you should

Mark your calendar for Nov. 2-4, the just-announced dates for the SLO Vintners Association's 17th annual Harvest Celebration.

The grand tasting and auction will be from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Avila Beach Golf Resort, with more than 30 wineries and restaurants.

The festivities kick off Friday night with winemaker dinners that often sell out in advance. Sunday brings open houses at the member wineries in Edna Valley.

Tickets, which cost $75, go on sale at www.slowine.com and Taste on Monterey Street in downtown SLO Aug 1. Private tables of eight can be purchased for $800.

Dates for Paso Robles' popular Harvest Festival have yet to be announced, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Of Wine and Apples (the Mac variety)

Two more things of note.

This Sunday marks the kickoff of the Winery Music Awards, a summer-long competition of local musicians. Check out our special section on the awards here, where you can read about the competion, find a schedule of events and listen to songs by the performers and vote for your favorite.

And Saturday morning, downtown SLO is expecting to be abuzz with the opening of the shiny new Apple Store at 899 Higuera St. Sure, we already have the MAC Superstore, but Apple's sleek stores are great places for browsing, even if there's nothing there you can't get at the Superstore in the Pacific Coast Plaza off Madonna Road.

Summer concerts heat up

The summer concert season is getting going, with all kinds of offerings. There's Saturdays in the park at Atascadero Lake Park, Sizzlin' Summer Concerts at Ramona Garden Park in Grover Beach, Twilight Concerts in the Park at City Park in Paso Robles, the SLO County Band at the Mitchell Park Bandstand in SLO, the Village Summer Concert Series at the Rotary Bandstand in Arroyo Grande and Concerts in the Plaza at Mission Plaza in SLO.

Here's the full schedule so you can mark your calendars, plus Tribune Staff Writer Sarah Linn's intro to the summer concert season.

I've mentioned before some of the restaurants and wineries hosting their own musical offerings. Read more about that here.

SATURDAY IN THE PARK SUMMER CONCERT SERIES

Atascadero Lake Park, Morro Road and Pismo Avenue, Atascadero

When: 6:30 p.m. most Saturdays, June 16 through Aug. 25

More info: 470-3178, www.atascadero.org

June 16: The House Red Band

June 23: No concert because of the Atascadero Wine Festival

June 30: PipeDream

July 7: The Cinders

July 14: The Shamblers

July 21: The Usual Suspects

July 28: Rough House

Aug. 4: The Martin Paris Band

Aug. 11: Critical Mass

Aug. 18: Up in the Air

Aug. 25: The Viper Six

SIZZLIN’ SUMMER CONCERT SERIES

Ramona Garden Park Center, 993 Ramona Ave., Grover Beach.

When: 3 p.m. selected Sundays, through Sept. 16

More info: 473-4585, www.grover.org

June 3: Matt Hatfield and the Iron Triangle

June 17: Blues DeVille

July 8: Monte Mills and The Lucky Horseshoe Band

July 22: The New Matrix

Aug. 5: Soulamente

Aug. 19: The JD Project

Sept. 16: Cadillac Angels

TWILIGHT CONCERTS IN THE PARK

City Park, 11th and Park streets, Paso Robles

When: 5:30 p.m. Fridays, June 22 through Aug. 21

More info: 238-4103, www.pasoroblesdowntown.org

June 22: Bryan Savage

June 29: Rancho Deluxe

July 6: Incendio

July 13: Sugar Daddy Swing Kings

July 20: Banshee in the Kitchen

July 27: SLO Mambo

Aug. 3: The Martin Paris Band

Aug. 10: Monte Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band

Aug. 17: Mighty Croon Dogs

Aug. 21: John Neira and Friends

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY BAND

Mitchell Park Bandstand, 1050 Buchon St., San Luis Obispo

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, June 28 through Aug. 9

More info: www.slocountyband.org

June 28

July 5

July 12

July 26

Aug. 2

Aug. 9

In addition SLO County Band will perform additional concerts at these locations:

July 4: at 10:30 a.m. at the Mitchell Park Bandstand in San Luis Obispo

July 22: at 9:30 a.m. at the Portuguese Celebration in Cayucos

July 23: at 7 p.m. at Camp Hapitok at Rancho El Chorro Regional Park across from Cuesta College

VILLAGE SUMMER CONCERT SERIES

Rotary Bandstand, Nelson and Short streets, Arroyo Grande

When: 1 p.m. selected Sundays, June 10 through Sept. 23

More info: www.arroyograndevillage.org

June 10: Nipomo High School Jazz Band, The Mud Skippers Dixieland Band

June 24: The Usual Suspects, The Bluz Dogz

July 15: Gold Coast Chorus

July 29: The Al & Val Duo, Blues DeVille

Aug. 12: Katie Boeck, J.T. Matherly & Toan Chau, Cuesta Ridge Mountain Boys

Aug. 26: Latin Perspective, acoustic atrium

Sept. 9: Critical Mass, Local Vocals

Sept. 23: VOCE, The Cuesta Wind Ensemble, Cuesta Jazz Ensembles

Special July 4 show: 11:30 a.m., Village Band, The Celebration Chorus

CONCERTS IN THE PLAZA

Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo

When: 5:30 p.m. Fridays, June 15 through Aug. 31

June 15: Siko

June 22: The New Longview

June 29: Cuesta Ridge Mountain Boys

July 6: Resination

July 13: Damon Castillo

July 20: The JD Project

July 27: Rancho Deluxe

Aug. 3: The Shival Experience

Aug. 10: SLO Mambo

Aug. 17: The Viper Six

Aug. 24: The Cinders

Aug. 31: Big Daddy’s Blues Band

Monday, June 4, 2007

Check out Avila Beach's new face

Still catching up from being gone last week, but check out all the new stuff going on in Avila Beach -- just in time for the summer season.: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/482/story/57250.html and http://www.sanluisobispo.com/business/story/57238.html.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In North Carolina this week

Discover SLO is on hiatus this week as I am discovering Raleigh, N.C., the headquarters for our corporate parent's interactive department. I should return with new insights in to how to make sanluisobispo.com better for visitors. If you have ideas for the site, leave a comment here.

And don't worry, Discover SLO will catch you up on whatever you missed when I return next week.

Sally

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Strawberries, blues, classic cars and arts and crafts

Wow, it’s already time to make plans for the weekend, and since it’s Memorial Day weekend, there’s plenty of options across the county, even if it just grilling in the backyard with family or heading to the beach to celebrate the unofficial start of summer.

Arroyo Grande: Strawberry shortcakes, funnel cakes, milkshakes, ice cream and other treats take over the streets of Arroyo Grande’s Village Saturday and Sunday for the free, annual Strawberry Festival, always a family favorite, with entertainment, arts and crafts, games, food and more.

Avila Beach: If you don’t already have tickets to Saturday’s California Festival of Beers in Avila Beach, you’re pretty much out of luck. The event sold out more than a month ago. But you should still be able to snag tickets to Sunday’s Avila Beach Blues Festival. Performers include Los Lobos, Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men. Tickets, $32-$52, are available through Vallitix.

(If you do head to Avila, remember to take the Avila Beach exit off Highway 101. The road from the San Luis Bay Drive exit is closed due to bridge work.)

Paso Robles: City Park, recovered from last weekend’s Wine Festival, is the center of action for the free West Coast Kustoms Car Show, which will feature more than 800 classic cars. Friday night is the cruise parade with the ‘50s street dance, BBQ, music, beer and wine. The cars are on display in the park Saturday and Sunday, with music and awards.

Morro Bay: Art in the Park presents arts and crafts from across the state Saturday and Sunday in City Park.

Cayucos: Stroll the vendors, games and entertainment with the ocean as a backdrop at the annual Peddler’s Faire Saturday and Sunday in Cayucos Creek Park.

Whatever your weekend plans, make sure to get out an enjoy something the county has to offer this long weekend.

Monday, May 21, 2007

No falls at Big Falls

With a former SLO-resident friend in town this weekend, we decided yesterday to embark on a favorite early summer expedition -- the trek out to Big Falls, past Lopez Lake in the Los Padres National Forest.

It starts with a scenic drive from Arroyo Grande out Lopez Drive past farms and vineyards to the lake. Just before the lake entrance, we turn right onto High Mountain Road and shortly after turn off onto Upper Lopez Canyon Road and start making our way up into the hills above the lake. As we drive higher and higher, we catch glimpses of the lake below on our left and long views down to the valley and next ridge to the right before descending down into an isolated area then snaking back up another ridge and down again.

Here's where the really fun part starts. Upper Lopez Canyon Road veers off to the right -- and off the pavement. (It's just before the sign that says "Road ends 500 feet.") We've now got 3.7 miles of winding dirt road and creek crossings to get us to the trailhead. The drive is under the tree canopy, past mini-ranches with horses, goats and even some vineyards, and splashing through the creeks in my Toyota FJ Cruiser incites giggles. (Four-wheel drive or at least a vehicle with high clearance are recommended, though I have seen a Honda Civic and a Saturn make it through).

Once we get to the trailhead, it's our feet that are splashing, as we cross the creek to start the hike. It's a moderate hike, not quite 3 miles from start to end with frequent but not killer ups and downs. Not that far in, we find the lower pools uncharacteristically unoccupied and jump at the chance to have them to ourselves. Well, we don't literally jump. While some daredevils are brave (or insane) enough to leap from the trail into the pool about 30 feet below, we climbed down. We stripped off our shoes and let our feet dangle in the pool, watched the fish swim around and ate a snack.

Many folks think these are the falls and never make it past this point, but we continue along the trail toward the high waterfall at the back of the trail. As we followed the creek, up and down and through the middle, hopping rocks to get across, we noticed the water level was low, and some of the normally flowing pools were rather stagnant. I thought we were almost there but didn't hear the rush of the falls so I figured I was mistaken about how close we were. But when we rounded the last bend, I looked up and there no water flowing over the high cliff. Not a drop.

We've had a dry spring, but it was still surprising to find the falls bone dry and the ground beneath a fetid pool that I am sure is prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. It's likely to be after the next rainy season next winter and spring until the falls flow again, but it's still a nice way to spend a Central Coast afternoon. Just make sure to bring the bug spray.

Friday, May 18, 2007

For the adventuresome, the epicurean, the kids and the DIYers; What to do this weekend

DiscoverSLO has already brought you some ideas for the weekend. But if the Paso Wine Festival, or the Sunday afternoon food-and-drink events at the beach or vineyards aren't your bag, there's plenty more to choose from.

FREE OR ALMOST FREE
For a day at the beach: KiteXPO 2007 takes over Pismo Beach from 11-5 Saturday and Sunday, with demonstrations of gear and free testing for intermediate riders. 805-773-9200 or www.xtremebigair.com/kiteexpo. Worth it even if you don't ride for the thrilling, colorful and graceful show put on by experienced riders/

With the kids: 18th annual Children's Day in the Park at Atascadero Lake from 11-3 Saturday, with free entertainment for kids and information about community organizations for parents. $5 for kids to participate in the events. 805-461-5000.

For the DIY types: The San Luis Obispo Home Show runs from 10-5 Saturday and Sunday at the Madonna Expo Center, with home and garden vendors, seminars, food and live music. 805-748-3973.

For the spendthrift wine connoisseur: Some Paso wineries are hosting free tastings, food and entertainment this weekend as part of the Paso Robles Wine Festival. A few include: Chateau Margene, Eberle Winery, Garretson Wine Company, Hansen Winery, Nadeau Family Vintners, San Marcos Creek Vineyard, Sculpterra, Chumeia Vineyards, Tobin James Cellars, Vina Robles and Vista Del Rey Vineyards. Find more information on these and a complete list of the weekend's events here.

For the local history buff: It's the Heritage Day Celebration at Rancho Nipomo from 10-10 Saturday. Experience rancho life in the mid-1800s by panning for gold, making adobe brinks or just enjoying the music. The event is free, but the barbecue chicken dinner and concert at 6:30 cost $35-$65. 805-929-5679.

For the gardener: There's a Geranium Show and Sale from noon-3 Sunday at the Arroyo Grande Community Center. 805-937-9983.

NOT FREE BUT WORTH IT
For the epicurean: Cambria's Garden Extravaganza and Gourmet Delights, from 9-3 Sunday, starting with breakfast, a tour of six featured gardens then a dessert and champagne reception. $35-$40. 805-909-2181 or www.cambriagardentour.com.

For the reggae fan: Ziggy Marley performs with other special guests at the Avila Beach Golf Resort at 4:45 this afternoon. $31. 888-825-5484.

For even more to choose from, check out Ticket's calendar of events.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two new options for wiling away a Sunday afternoon

SeaVenture Resort (805-773-4994) -- on the sand in Pismo Beach -- is starting Sundays on the Deck, which will offer live music on patios overlooking the ocean as well as food and drink specials now through the end of August from noon to 4 p.m.

This Sunday the featured musician will be pianist Brett Mitchell, though others are expected to join the lineup later on. Lunch and small plates from the SeaVenture Restaurant will be available, and binoculars for scanning the ocean for sea life will be on every table.

"Sundays are best suited for partaking in relaxing activities that help satisfy the soul," Chet Hogoboom, general manager of SeaVenture, says.

Hogoboom (better known as "CT") is an accomplished musician in his own right and has been playing on the Central Coast since the 70s. Fridays, he plays with Tommy Lee Nunes at 1865 on upper Monterey Street in SLO. This Saturday, they'll be at the SLO Home Show at Madonna Expo Center during the day with musical partner Wally and then from 6-9 p.m., they'll be at the new nightclub The Clubhouse at 740 West Foothill in SLO (805-548-8500). Find out more about the musicians -- some of my local favorites -- here. Maybe you can even convince Chet to take the stage one Sunday!

Salisbury Vineyards, in the old schoolhouse off Highway 101 in Avila Valley, is bringing back its Schoolhouse Rock series every other Sunday from 1-4 p.m. starting this week with the House Red Band.

There's barbecue for sale starting at 1 p.m., and the band plays until 4, when there's a trolley tour of the vineyards. Call 805-595-9463 for info.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the summer:
June 2 - SLO Mambo
June 17 - Hip Pocket
July 1 - Jerome Washington Express
July 15 - Mighty Croon Dogs
July 29 - CT & Tommy Lee (yup, that's Chet and Tommy from above)
Aug 12 - Sleepy Guitar Johnson Outfit
Aug 26 - Hip Pocket
Sept 9 - Vita-Culture
Sept 23 - House Red Band
Oct 7 - SLO Mambo
Oct 21 - Mighty Croon Dogs

And tune back in tomorrow for more on what to do on the Central Coast this weekend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wine Spectator gives a nod to Four Vines and JUST Inn

Wine Spectator magazine has selected Four Vines' Zinfandel California Old Vine Cuvée 2004 as its best buy of the week, at $13.
"Ripe and spicy on the nose, with black cherry and wild berry aromas," the magazine describes the Paso wine. "Elegant yet firmly tannic on the palate. Well-balanced. Drink now through 2010. 11,299 cases made."

Go to sanluisobispo.com/wine on Wednesday for columnist Laurie Daniel's weekly local wine picks.

The magazine's weekly Sips & Tips email also lists the JUST Inn at Justin Winery as one of four places to stay for a blissful long weekend (The Tribune's bi-annual Vintages magazine also named JUST Inn as one our favorite wineries for an overnight stay. Find the magazine in tasting rooms around the county and online here.)

With luxurious rooms overlooking the vineyards and an idyllic location, the Just Inn is a true gem in rustic Paso Robles. Accommodations range from 600 to 1,400 square feet and come with cozy leather armchairs, queen-size canopy beds, flat-screen TVs and a complimentary bottle of wine. (The winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay.) For those who want to venture off the property, many of the wineries of Paso Robles are within nine miles of the inn. Make reservations at least three months in advance.


In other wine news, Sextant Wines, which recently bought Windemere Winery, is soon moving into Windemere's old tasting space on South Higuera Street, while it pursues plans to build a winery and tasting room at the vineyards on Old Price Canyon Road. Read more about it here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First Paso then Atascadero

If you haven't already made your plans for this weekend's Paso Robles Wine Festival, you should do that now.

Looking a little ahead, tickets are now on sale for the Atascadero Wine Festival June 22 and 23 at Atascadero Lake Park and the Pavilion on the Lake.

The weekend starts Friday with the "Wine Country Impressions: An Evening in Monet’s Gardens" winemakers' dinner at the pavilion. The dinner will feature courses by acclaimed local chefs and caterers paired with Central Coast wines as well a silent and live auction.

Saturday is the Lakeside Wine Tasting and Fine Arts Festival from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., featuring wines from more than 80 Central Coast wineries. Admission cost includes a commemorative wine glass, 10 tasting tickets and live entertainment by the Mighty Croon Dogs as well as food from local restaurants and the works of local artists.

Tickets are $100 for the Friday dinner; $30 in advance/$35 at the door for the Saturday afternoon tasting, $120 for both.

For tickets or more information, go to www.atascaderowinefestival.com or stop by the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce office at 6550 El Camino Real.

Friday, May 11, 2007

On tap this weekend

DiscoverSLO is a little late getting to weekend plans this week, but first and foremost, don't forget about Mom!

At the very least, she deserves a card and a phone call or visit. If you want to give her a real treat, consider Mother's Day at the Ranch, a benefit for Arts Obispo at Santa Margarita Ranch from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday. There's spa treatments and dinner (additional cost) as well as music by Inga Swearingen and Trio, arts and crafts for the kids, train rides and more. Admission is $20-$25, $30-$50 with dinner and $80 for the spa package. Call 805-543-3414.

If you're looking for something a little lighter on the pocketbook, head to Templeton Park Saturday for the free Day in the Shade: A Celebration of the Arts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be fine arts as well as crafts, food, wine tasting, live music and entertainment. Call 805-237-4490.

I'll be heading just north of the county line for the ninth-annual Parkfield Bluegrass Festival, which goes today through Sunday, with performances, workshops, jamming, camping and more. Tickets are $15-$30, half that for teens and free for kids. Camping is $8-$12. Check out who's playing here and call 805-937-5895 or 805-720-2427 for more info.

Want to stay more low-key? Stop by the Avila Valley Barn (scroll down for more info), which opens for the season this weekend.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Avila Valley Barn opening this weekend, Paso Wine Festival the next

In between wine-filled weekends (SLO Vintners' Roll out the Barrels last weekend and the Paso Robles Wine Festival on the 19th), I'm looking forward to some good old family-friendly fun. So thankfully, the Avila Valley Barn is opening for the season this Saturday.

The barn offers something for everyone. It's a great place to shop for fresh produce, pick up some of the very popular baked goods and browse the specialty and gift items. With the opening of the annex last year, it's also become the perfect spot to stop for homemade ice cream and other sweets.

You can pick your own here, too, and on weekends take a hayride out to the fields. But the real draw for me -- along with the under 12 crowd -- are the animals out back. I'm probably a little beyond the target age, but I still get a kick out of feeding the braying goats and lumbering pigs, watching the bob-headed ostriches and waiting for the peacocks to show their fabulous colors. What can I say?

The barn is at 560 Avila Beach Drive, on the road to Avila just off Highway 101. (Note that the bridge on San Luis Bay Drive is undergoing work so you can't cut over from there, you have to take the Avila Beach Drive exit.) Phone number is 805-595-2810.

Back to the wine. The Paso Wine Festival's new Silver Pass, providing a hour's early start, have already sold out, so if you haven't gotten your general admission tickets, for unlimited tasting from 2-5 p.m., yet, you may want to snag some soon.

The festival is a huge affair that takes over Paso's City Park, in the heart of downtown, with dozens of wineries pouring their wines, live music and wine-country cuisine. Click here to see who will be at the main event. More than 90 wineries also plan special events around the weekend -- find the full schedule here.

For tickets, which cost $50, go to www.pasowine.com or call 800-549-WINE until noon May 18. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

And just a couple quick notes on last weekend's Roll out the Barrels at the wineries of Edna Valley. I used the weekend passport -- which gave entry to all the wineries, special barrel tastings, food and other special events -- to visit a few wineries I hadn't made it to before and made some pleasant discoveries.

I tried the new tangent (yes, the "t" is lower-case) white wines at Baileyana, but still wish the winemaker would pour his incredible private-label Carpe Diem pinot noir and chardonnay at the tasting room. The wines paired well with the rich crab bisque from the Cracked Crab and innovative fish tacos from Scotty's Bar and Grill, both in Pismo Beach.

A fan of sweet wines, I enjoyed all the offerings at Claiborne and Churchill, which specializes in Alsatian varieties such as riesling and Gewürztraminer. The dry riesling was delicious, but I opted to take home a bottle of the even sweeter sweet riesling dessert wine. The owners also made an amazing curry -- if they ever do it again, I highly recommend getting out there to try some.

I ventured up Highway 101 just on the south slope of the grade to find Wood Winery (you may hear it called Wild Wood Winery, it's changing the name). The winery has a wide range of wines, so most anyone is likely to find something they like. I find an enjoyable sangiovese and was tempted by the pinot noir, which they weren't pouring but which was almost sold out -- always a good sign. It would make a good stop for anyone venturing between Edna Valley and Paso, or vice versa, who needed a nip along the way.

On my way home, I stopped in at Salisbury Vineyards, the old schoolhouse on the hill just south of SLO, where I was surprised by the big patio out back and the art gallery inside. Equally surprising were the unique Pinot Naturale and the very fruity '04 zinfandel. The late-harvest zin was the perfect sweet ending to a perfect sweet day of tasting in the South County.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Thai in Morro and more -- news and notes from the week

Morro Bay is getting a popular Thai restaurant at the loss of the former International Cafe. Jasmine Thai, forced out of its Atascadero spot because of highway construction, will move into the space. Read more about the move here then check out our Dining Out story on the restaurant from a little while back.

Orchid Hill has joined the growing number of tasting rooms in downtown Paso. Read Janis Switzer's Wine Notes on the winery and its unexpected start here.

In my excitment over SLO's Roll Out the Barrels this weekend, I neglected to mention it's also the 15th annual Hospice Du Rhone, the largest celebration of Rhone varietals in the world. Janis gives you the low-down -- tickets are still available for this afternoon's Library Tasting and Saturday's Grand Tasting -- and a run-down of the other downtown Paso tasting rooms.

Rather have your own winery? Five Rivers Winery -- one of the county's largest operations -- is up for sale. Tribune business staffer Melanie Cleveland writes: "Wine industry expert Barbara Insel said the sale could be a sign of Paso Robles’ increasingly good fortunes — and an opportunity for the next buyer to focus more specifically on a Paso Robles regional brand." Read the rest of her story here.

If you've been wanting to play "the poor man's Pebble Beach" -- the county-run Morro Bay Golf Course near the ocean, you may want to do it now. Maintenance and funding problems have been plaguing the course and threaten to shut it down. The county supervisors take up the issue next week. Read more about it http://www.sanluisobispo.com/183/story/33145.html.

The SLO airport is seeking the addition of a direct flight to Sacramento. With the addition of direct flights to Salt Lake City in June, this would be another expansion of options for flying out of SLO.

Dining Out this week takes up tacos and the best stands to find them. So seek out these spots if you're craving a little taste of Mexico.

Fans of the Mighty Croon Dogs are mourning the unexpected death this week of lead singer Laura "Mo" Carvalho. Along with our story on Carvalho, we've got an audio slideshow of Carvlho singing with the band.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Looking for something to do this weekend?

If Roll Out the Barrels isn't your thing, there's plenty more going on around SLO County this weekend.

Cruisin' Morro Bay takes to the streets for most of the weekend along the coast, with a Cruise Night from 6-8 p.m. Friday and Show and Shine and awards from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Attendance is free. Stroll among the cool old cars along Morro Bay Boulevard and nearby streets and then enjoy some time at the city's waterfront, restaurants and shops. Call 805-772-4467 for more info.

If you missed last weekend's kite festival in Morro Bay -- or it whet your palette for more -- Paso Robles is hosting Kite Fest 2007, where nationally ranked kite fliers perform to narrations and music. There are demos of dual and quad lines, a candy drop and more. Free. 2-5 p.m. Saturday at Barney Schwartz Park, at 2970 Union Road. Call 805-237-3988 for more info.

For the kids (and adult kids), Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, when stores across the country give away comic books. Locally, Captain Nemo Comics and Games at 563 Higuera St. in SLO (805-544-6366) is participating. For other locations, check www.freecomicbookday.com.

Being the first Sunday of the month, Art in the Park takes over Dinosaur Park in Shell Beach, just north of Pismo. Booths with art and other items and live music take over the scenic waterfront park, perfect for a relaxing stroll.

Saturday is also Cinco de Mayo, so another tempting option is just to grab a comfortable spot, order up some margaritas and let the week slowly fade away.