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Why SLO CAL Should Be Part of Your Next California Adventure

A USA road trip is one of those bucket-list holidays that offer limitless opportunities for exploration and always leaves you wanting more! One of the most popular areas to hit the road is undoubtedly California, with an abundance of routes journeying between the big-hitter cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. But there’s a hidden gem along the iconic Highway 1 which deserves more than just a night or two. Enter: SLO CAL.

With 315 days of sunshine, SLO CAL (aka San Luis Obispo, California) is the perfect year-round destination. Think world-class wines, expansive dunes and rolling hills flanked by turquoise waters, not to mention a thriving farm-to-table culinary scene. Read on to discover why you should hit the brakes and spend some uncovering the best that this diverse region has to offer…

San Simeon

Starting in the north of this diverse region, you’ll find what’s often referred to as the gateway to Big Sur: Ragged Point. Gaze out at the “million-dollar view” (keeping your eyes peeled for humpback whales!) as you hike along picturesque trails that reveal breathtaking seascapes at each turn. Up for a challenge? Take on the Cliffside Trail where, starting at 120 metres above the turquoise waters of the Pacific, you’ll rapidly descend on a 0.6-mile path that leads you to a secluded black sand beach. From here you can take in incredible views of the region’s renowned Black Swift Falls.

Perched on a hilltop just a short drive away – finally reopening its doors after a two-year closure – Hearst Castle is an opulent mansion turned museum, where history, art and impressive architectural design come together for a truly one-of-a-kind visit. Designed by California’s first female architect, Julia Morgan, this sprawling estate comprises 165 rooms and more than 125 acres of gardens, terraces, walkways and pools – including a beautiful Roman Pool (think floor-to-ceiling mosaic tiling and vaulted marble arches), and the outdoor Neptune Pool, complete with statues of Roman gods and an ancient temple facade.

Paso Robles

In Paso you’ll find olive oil artisans, breweries, and a charming Downtown. But being surrounded by rolling hills and pocked with sun-soaked vineyards, trying out some local wine is naturally top of the agenda. For a taste of the good life, sample mouth-watering Lebanese/French-inspired dishes (from cheese and charcuterie to hummus and koftas!) and outstanding wines, surrounded by panoramic mountain vistas at DAOU Vineyards. From deliciously smooth rosés to classic Californian cab savs, whether you’re a wine novice or connoisseur, you won’t be disappointed – just be sure to try Soul of a Lion whatever you do! Up for a more active experience? Head to Cass Winery where you’ll not only be treated to more world-class wines, but you can take on new challenges at “Camp Cass”, trying your hand at everything from beekeeping and horse riding, to creating your own wine blend or honing your sommelier skills!

The fun doesn’t stop once the sun goes down either. For a magical after-dark experience, head to the Field of Light at Sensorio. Created by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Monro, this 15-acre walk-through experience is made up of more than 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fibre optics, best enjoyed on foot via a network of meandering paths, or nestled next to a firepit on the hillside above, where live music and local wine can be enjoyed alongside the view. Whatever you do, make sure you’ve got your best camera at the ready, and under a blanket of stars watch as the colours change, swaying gently in the breeze. Magical.

Morro Bay

Heading further south, Morro Bay is a true working fishing town, so expect to find plenty of fresh-as-can-be seafood and oysters in its oceanfront eateries and of course, myriad marine life in the harbour. Head to the water by boat, kayak or paddleboard and you’ll be rewarded with sightings of adorable otters floating hand in hand, dolphins, and (incredibly noisy) sea lions! On land, The Bluff Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park is just a few miles away and boasts unspoiled beaches, coves with tide pools to explore, and spectacular picnic spots from which to enjoy your scenic surroundings – the sight of the iconic Morro Rock (a remnant of a once-live volcano) rising out of the water in the distance is a particularly good photo op spot.

Although there are over 250 wineries in the SLO CAL region (and we’re keen to try them all!), after a day of fun in the sun, you can’t beat a cold one. With a thriving cider, distillery and craft brew scene, you’re never far from a variety of unique taps, so you can be swigging a barrel-aged sour beer while a live band plays, or sipping on a speciality cocktail in a boutique bar – whatever your mood, SLO CAL delivers.

San Louis Obispo

Heralded as one of the happiest places in America (and we don’t doubt it!), SLO is the charming heart of the Land of SLO CAL, and visitors can expect to find the very best of local produce, hospitality and culture showcased here. Stroll along San Luis Creek, brush up on your history at the beautifully restored Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, catch a movie at Sunset Drive-in SLO (one of the last remaining drive-in cinemas in California), and experience the delights of Downtown SLO’s open-air Farmers' Market – held every Thursday, 6-9pm year-round.

After smashing your daily step count, reward yourself with an evening out on the town. First stop is Region, a newly opened wine bar offering "some of the community’s best-kept secrets and hard-to-find independent wines". Better yet, you can peruse their current selection running along the wall before pouring your own taster, small or large glass! Round the corner, you’ll find a modern take on the classic American steakhouse at Ox + Anchor, where the farm-to-table ethos continues: think bone marrow tater “tots”, lobster risotto, goats cheese croquettes, plenty of roasted veg and, of course, their signature steaks. It’s all delicious…Trust us!

Pismo Beach

A quintessential Cali beach town, here you’ll find laid-back vibes and good times; you can’t help but be lulled into this California dream from the outset. Wake up early and head to the pier where, in the hazy morning light, you can watch local surfers floating along the coast (occasionally putting on an impressive show when they catch a wave). As the sun rises over the ocean ahead and the palm tree-lined town behind, watch the world come to life and reward your early rise with a freshly-brewed coffee to-go from Kraken, before taking to the soft sandy beach. You’re on the Whale Trail in Pismo, so always keep an eye on the horizon as you may well spot migrating whales or pods of dolphins passing by...

Jumping from relaxation to adventure, for an adrenaline-fuelled experience head to the Oceano Dunes for a thrilling dune-bashing session! Hop in your 4X4 or dune buggy and cruise along the beach next to the waves then get ready to scream, as you’re whipped around tight turns and towering sand dunes by your expert driver. The perfect antidote to all that excitement is, of course, finding yourself a spot along the beach and enjoying your favourite tipple as the sun sets over the Pacific, wondering, “how soon can I come back?”...

Written by Cat Salkeld

My parents met whilst travelling the world, so it was only natural that their globetrotting spirit was passed on to me! From camping under the stars in Peru to sampling wines in New Zealand, nothing makes me happier than immersing myself in an exciting new destination. Follow me @catherineamy2.

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