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 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.


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.

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 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.

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

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 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 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 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

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

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.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Roll out the barrels

It's never too early to start thinking about the weekend (it is Tuesday already, right), and this one's a doozy -- four days of events at San Luis Obispo's wineries.

The SLO Vintners' annual Roll Out the Barrels was essentially my introduction to the wineries of Edna Valley when I moved here two years ago. Through one wine-soaked afternoon, I hit all the larger wineries such as Edna Valley Vineyard and Tolosa and discovered some smaller gems, like Piedra Creek and the adorable Italian family that runs it. My friend and I sipped barrel samples, sampled a wide variety of gourmet treats and even took home a goldfish won in a carnival-like game at one of the wineries. I had never been much of a wine drinker before that, and tasting all the offerings really helped develop my palette (ok, I got as far as "I like this one," "Don't like that one," but it was a start!)

Find the details below, and watch SLO Vintners' video promoting the event on our web site.

The event kicks off Thursday with Barrels in the Plaza from 5:30-7:30 p.m. There will be wine from the participating wineries, food samples, live music and barrel-making demonstrations, all in the inviting Mission Plaza downtown. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at

Friday brings winemaker dinners at five wineries, Edna Valley Vineyard (805-544-5855) at the penthouse suite of the Dolphin Bay resort in Shell Beach, Kynsi Winery (805-541-3083)at Novo in downtown SLO, Per Bacco Cellars (805-787-0485) at, of course, Cafe Roma (they have the same owners), Wild Wood Winery (805-541-9922) at Palazzo Guissepes in SLO and Baileyana/tangent Winery (805-269-8200) at Pelican Point in Shell Beach. Seating is limited at all the dinner; reservations are required and should be made through the wineries. Cost ranges from $75-$95 per person.

The main event -- Passport to Wine Country -- goes on Saturday and Sunday, as passport holders venture from winery to winery for special tastings and entertainment at the 12 SLO Vintners' wineries. Tickets are $45 for the two-day event ($35 for designated drivers) and also can be purchased at

Talley Vineyards (805-489-0446), which is not a member of the Vintners Association, is holding its own spring open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. There will be complimentary wine tasting, appetizers and music by the reggae-inspired Shival Experience.