Weekend Getaway: To Wine Country

wine, california, vineyards

Paso Robles, The Undiscovered Wine County of California

Vineyards. Vino. California. Sonoma, Napa Valley, perhaps?  Not this time.  I am biased toward a smaller, less renown (for now) vino destination.  One where the vines grow strong, the grapes plentiful and the vino bottled with just as much expertise as passion.  A seemingly forgotten or unknown destination for both NorCo and SoCo dwellers.  One with foodie love, cowboy disposition and small town charm.  Paso Robles, an unseen destination — yet a favorite for those fortunate enough to have discovered.  Nestled behind the San Lucia Coastal Range mountains this town is the fastest growing city in San Luis Obispo county.

A mere 3.5 hours from Los Angeles, Paso Robles screams weekend with the girls, romantic retreat, or family reunion.  With 147 vineyards, a robust town square and plenty of gorgeous views it is one not to be missed.

For the last two year’s I have celebrated the holiday of food and wine in Paso Robles, with loved ones and family.  What I love most is the chill of fall in the air, the changing of the leaves and the small town feel that you just can’t find in Southern California.  A great big thanks to the Lyle’s for introducing me to Paso and a cheers to a successful and memorable Thanksgiving, with both families!

So next time your headed north, make Paso Robles your destination.  Eat, drink and play through a town like no other.

Downtown Paso Robles Square

Wineries to Discover…

Eberle Winery

A 1979 aged-well winery, known for their Cabernets, Eberle Winery holds their ground in a town of vinos.  Mostly recognized for their 16,000 square feet aging wine caves located beneath the tasting room.  Tours and tastings are complimentary, it’s one to definitely add to the list.

eberle, vineyard

Eberle Patio with the Family

wine caves

Eberle Wine Caves

Opolo Winery

A Lyle (Chris’ family) and now Jones family favorite, Opolo Vineyards produces fabulous well-rounded wines of all kinds and serves up some house made sausages and brick oven pizza for our enjoyment.  Voted best of class by both families:

  • 2009 Sangiovese
  • 2009 Montagna Mare
  • 2009 Malbec
  • 2008 Tampranillo

Tastings run you a mere $5 and are waived with purchase and you should defiantly purchase!

winery tasting

Opolo Tasting, $5 - Complimentary with Purchase

winery, pizza

Opolo Winery, Tasting Rooms & Outdoor Pizza Kitchen

Tablas Creek Winery

Tablas Creek Winery founded in 1987, by native French Perrin family from Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands, had a dream to recreate the wines of France in California. In 1987, they began what turned out to be a very lengthy process, the creation of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style vineyard from scratch in California. Today Tablas Creek is dedicated to organically farmed Rhone varietals and Châteauneuf style blends.

Tastings run you $10, waived with purchase.

tablas creek winery

Tablas Creek Winery - $10 tasting fee - free with purchase

picnic, winery

Wine & Dine at Tablas Creek Winery Picnic Area

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. 

Okay, I’ll admit it I am not a vino, I love and would never trade beer for wine.  I do and probably always will prefer one over the other and it just so happens Paso Robles is home to Firestone Walker Brewing Co.  If you are a beer fan and haven’t had a Firestone brew it’s a must try.

My favorites:

  • Firestone DBA
  • Double Jack IPA
  • Walker’s Reserve Porter
brewery, california, beer

Firestone Walker Brewery, Paso Robles

firestone, beer

Firestone 4 oz tasters - Any combination for $6

Eats in Paso Worth a Taste Test

Thomas Hill Organic

A bistro with a promise to serve organic dishes from their own garden and vino’s from the Central California Coast.  Thomas Hill Organics, homegrown flavor and the careful precision in which they pull together unique dishes is not to be missed.  (It’s so good I have stopped on a road trip from SF to LA, seriously check it out!)

Outdoor Enclosed Patio

Thomas Hill Organic

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Now on the east coast small town Christmas tree lightings are plentiful, but I can’t say that I have been able to re-live that experience in California, with the exception of the a lighting in Paso Robles.  The Day-After Thanksgiving Tree Lighting is not Rockafella Center spectacular, but the town meets up in the center square to bring in the holiday season with carols and laughter.  If you’re in town is worth a stop.

Tree Lighting Complete with Carols & Candles

Tour de Fat

Tour de Fat.  The images this phrase conjures up is nothing like the actual reality, instead envision the largest traveling bike tour in the country.  Clear yet?  Probably not. Since June of 2011 New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat has been meandering through 13 cities in the US, filling people with knowledge on the positive societal offerings of the bicycle and — delicious beer.

 

This past weekend we headed down to San Diego to visit Chris’ parents and take part in this beer crazed bicycle culture.  The morning started with a 2.5 mile grand bike tour around Balboa Park with a colorful parade of riders dressed in everything from lederhosen to afro-wigs to fairy wings and costume fish heads.  The remainder of the day was spent drinking beers for a cause, testing out crazy bicycle inventions, listening to live bands and eating brats!

Tour de Fat Stage

A few hints about Tour de Fat

  • Dress Up!  Think as crazy as you can.  The people who stand out at Tour de Fat are those too cool for a costume or those unaware. 🙂
  • It’s free to attend and participate in, however beer and merchandise proceeds are donated to local cycling non-profits — so bring some cash and drink up.  In 2010, Tour de Fat raised $331,428.  A portion of the proceeds from the recent San Diego event are going to the planned bike park in San Diego.
  • Don’t have a bike, no worries, plenty to do, see, and drink.
  • All musical acts run off solar-powered energy on a stage composed of recycled materials.

The Birth of New Belgium Brewing Company

Back in 1989 an aspiring  home-brewer rides his mountain bike through Europe passing through villages famous for beer.  He dreams up the possibilities of having his own brewery with the inspiration of his fat-tired bike leading the way.  Jeff Lebesch returned home to Fort Collins, Colorado to begin his basement brewery with a handful of found ingredients and mind full of recipes.
His first concoction turned out to be a well-balanced yet hoppy brew he coincidently named Fat Tire.  With the help of his wife/first bottler/sales rep/distributor/marketer/financial partner, Fat Tire took the world by storm.  Birth to New Belgium Brewing Company, the first belgian craft brewery in the US made history.  Today they produce over 25 brews through core brews, seasonal specialties, collaborations and small batch beers (Lips of Faith).
When and Where?
Los Angeles, California – October 8th, 2011
The Ride begins at 11 am from L.A. Historic Park, but be there early to register.
Tempe, Arizona – October 15th, 2011
The Ride begins at 10 am from Tempe Town Lake, but be there early to register.
Austin, Texas – October 22nd, 2011
The Ride begins at 10 am from the Fiesta Gardens, but be there early to register.

Ojai, Relaxation Destination

The first time I stumbled upon this hideaway was in an issue of Los Angeles magazine. The article drummed up the romance of the rolling mountains, the small spanish revival village and the glasses of wine that are poured for patrons looking to escape LA for a weekend.  It sounded to me that a weekend exploration in Ojai was in order.  A few months later, some girlfriends and I were in the need of a quick weekend getaway, these magazine painted images of those rolling hills and flowing wine poured into my mind and before I knew it we were set to visit the town of Ojai one three-day weekend in August.

The small town of Ojai has been sitting in the hills of Ventura County since the 1870s, originally named after Charles Nordhoff, the travel writer, Ojai has long been a retreat for artists, hippies, and spiritual beings all looking for a paradise to express themselves.  After a girls weekend getaway I am bound to say that Ojai has one foot in the future and one in the past.

Ojai is located about 70 miles north of Los Angeles a simple hour and half drive up the coast and a few miles east will drop you back in time.  No franchise restaurants or grocery stores, no hotels over two stories high and only a handful of non-locals.

Suzanne’s Cuisine

Suzanne’s is a mother-daughter operation specializing in extremely fresh ingredients seasoned to perfection.  “Mom” travels to 3 farmers markets to find radiant ingredients and inspiration for her menu. With French-Italian origin’s the menu is adorned with delicious sandwiches, robust salads, and delightful pastas.  It is a must try at least once.  Pictured above is the Calamari Steak Sandwich and the special with Burrata cheese and fresh tomatoes.

Suzanne’s Cuisine, 502 West Ojai Avenue  Hours: Wed – Mon; lunch 11:30pm – 2:30pm; dinner 5:30pm – close

Bart’s Books

Bart's Books

An example of Ojai's unique disposition

Critically acclaimed the “World’s Greatest Outdoor Bookstore”, Bart’s Books is a unique tribute to world of publishing and the plentiful wonders books can bring to those who still cherish printed words.

Within these walls thousands of books are displayed in wooden books shelves that are just barely covered from mother nature’s elements. It’s simply a must see and must browse.

Bart’s Books, 302 West Matilija Street

Casa Barranca

Casa Barranca - Wine Tasting Room

The girls enjoying some vino

One of the very few tasting rooms in Ojai, Casa Barranca specializes in handcrafted organic wines.  The winery although closed to the public, allows interested parties to taste and purchase their wines at Ojai’s arcade in downtown.  Offering two wine flights for $10 – $15.  Hint: Our two favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Casa Barranca, 208 E. Ojai Ave, Hours: M -Th 12pm – 6pm; Fri – Sat 12pm – 7pm; Sun 12pm – 6pm

Ojai Beverage Company

20 beer tasting flight - don't worry I shared

A one stop shop for beer connoisseurs, wine lovers and people simply searching for the best of the best when alcohol tasting adventures. Ojai Beverage Company is a tasting-room accompanied by affordable food and a liquor store.  I am under estimating the combination — honestly on first entrance into the establishment you are confronted by hundreds of wines and fridges full of craft beer from around the world, venture a little deeper and you’ll discover a rather small but accommodating bar and seating area.  Tastings are plentiful and extremely affordable.  Try any 4 wines for $7 and taste all 20 beers on tap for $31 (be aware these are about 6-oz tastings).

In my craft brew obsessed ways it’s a must see and a must try, just make sure you have someone or a few someones to help you accomplish the task.

Ojai Beverage Company (OBC), 655 E. Ojai Ave.

Recap on the small sleepy town of Ojai

My advice to anyone thinking of making the trip — don’t go to Ojai with the expectation of exploration instead go there with a mindset of relaxation.  Plan to visit a local spa, bring a good book or a project and of course drag some good company with you.  Ojai may not have been the wine mecca we girls had envisioned but for someone seeking a retreat it fits the bill.

Part 2: Adventures in Paradise

Snorkeling - Two Harbors - Catalina

I have already whispered the secrets of the unincorporated town of Two Harbors, however I left you in the dust regarding what there is to do there!  Check out the outdoor adventures to be had on the around the corner getaway.

Snorkel or Scuba Dive

The water around Catalina is clear and clean, with visibility ranging from 40-100 feet. Water temperatures vary from 55-72 degrees year-round, making it an ideal and very satisfying place to snorkel or scuba dive.  Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center offers PADI certification training, gear rentals, guided dives, snorkel tours and more.

Or if you have your own gear, simply take on the water head first, I recommend a wetsuit first, and explore the underwater wonders that Catalina has to offer.  The above and below pictures were taken at Two Harbors Campground/USC Research Center & Emerald Bay.

Catalina Sting Ray

Garabaldi - California State Fish

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking on Catalina offers expansive views of the Pacific and gives you a way to see the area surrounding Two Harbors.  Rentals are available at Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center for $18 an hour or $54 for the day. The dirt roads of the island offer a wide range of comfort for novice to experienced bikers.  Feeling adventurous we decided to bike our way to Emerald Bay, one of the famous snorkel sites in the area.  A relatively mild ride that hugs the edge of the island for about 6 miles, 12 round trip.  It’s well worth the rental expense and a ton of fun, but make sure to bring plenty of water and some food as once your out there you have no options!

Mountain Biking Catalina

Emerald Bay

Kayaking, Hiking, & Fishing

Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center offers rentals, tours, and permits for all the above activities!

Dining/Drinking Two Harbors

I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t fill you in on the food options in the tiny town of Two Harbors.  The West End Galley offers a decent breakfast and stunning heaps of fried clams for lunch.  Open year-round its a causal place to grab a quick bite to eat.  Harbor Reef Restaurant serves a brilliant lunch of tacos, burgers, salads and sandwiches, also open for dinner.

Harbor Reef Restaurant - Outdoor Patio & Bar

Best Ruben You'll Ever Eat -- And I Grew Up Next to Manhattan!

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

Last but not least is the local hang out the Harbor Reef Saloon.  This local bar has a specialty that has people sneaking it at all hours to get a taste, Buffalo’s Milk.  A local drink legend that is made up of 3 different liquors, milk, and kahlua.  Non of my favorite ingredients which caused me to restrain from trying one until the day we were leaving.  We had a seat in front of the bar as the local and tourist crowd alike congregated around what I am betting are the only two TV’s in Two Harbor’s for the Women’s Soccer World Cup.  I watched the bartender dish out literally hundreds of these drinks in 3 hours.  I eventually gave in and had to take a go at it.  Surprisingly this blended concoction is delicious.  Don’t wait as long as I did to give it a whirl.

Part 1: A Surprising Island Paradise

When living in Los Angeles, opportunities for weekend getaways are plentiful.  You can drive 100 miles or less in any direction and be in any climate your heart desires. Whether you are in search of the desert, wine country, the beach, the mountains or the snow — it’s all within a weekends reach.

Two hours east you wind up in Palm Springs. Two hours south, San Diego.  Two hours north Santa Barbara. Two hours north-east Big Bear.  Two hours west (not by car of course) you find yourself in a surprising slice of island paradise… Catalina.

A sailboat anchored in the crystal waters of Catalina Island

This rocky California island spans 22 miles long and 8 miles wide and is home to a little under 4000 people.  85% of who reside in Catalina’s only incorporated city, Avalon and the other 15% in the unincorporated city of Two Harbors.

Now most visitors make the trek to Catalina to hang out in Avalon.  I can’t tell you much about the small seaside paradise besides that there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy for the weekend.  You can do anything from gamble you money away in the local Casino, ride a zipline down the island, or learn to scuba dive.  It’s not without its charm, however this past weekend we headed to the laid back city of Two Harbors to snorkel, hike, mountain bike, camp, and eat some great food (camping recipes to come shortly)!

Two Harbors

Two Harbors - Santa Catalina Island

Two Harbors is literally composed of a restaurant/bar, a general store/ice cream shop, a dive/recreational center, two small lodges, a campground, and of course a harbor. Its crowd is composed of the laid-back yacht owner, the beach-side camper, and the locals who you see working the dive/rec center during the day and bouncing the bar at night.  It is the components to the perfect recipe for a weekend away from Los Angeles (especially one so aptly name “Carmeggedon”).

Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center, Harbor Reef Restaurant/Bar, & The General Store

If camping on arrival you’ll check in, drop off all your gear with the Park Ranger, (they deliver) order your firewood/charcoal and make the short (.02 miles) but very steep trek to the campground overlooking the Pacific.  All I can say is thank you to whoever was brilliant enough to put the gear delivery program into place, FOR FREE!

Campsite #42 at Two Harbors Campground

Two Harbors Campground Details:

  • total of 42 individual tent/tent cabin sites and 3 group sites.
  • a tent site runs $30 a night for two people/ a tent cabin $50 a night
  • equipment rentals are available for propane stoves, tents, sleeping pads, and 4-person tents
  • firewood & charcoal are available for purchase and delivered
The Nitty-Gritty Details That All Campers Want to Know:

Every campsite is equipped with a fire pit, grill, awning, and picnic table to use as you will.  The grounds are well-kept, there’s running water for cleaning dishes, drinking and showering –bathrooms are nothing fancy, just your a-typical port-a-potty.

For more info on Two Harbors Campground, click here.

Marina Del Ray Flyer

Getting to Catalina:

When planning a trip to Catalina you have several options in ferries that leave from up and down the coast.

  • Catalina Express – Boats leave several times a day, 7 days a week from San Pedro, Long Beach (downtown), Long Beach (Queen Mary), and Dana Point.  Cost: about $70.00 round trip.
  • Marina Del Ray Flyer – Boats leave once a day 6 days a week from the Marina Del Ray Harbor, parking is $10 (cash) a day!
  • HINT: Be on the look out for Groupon and Living Social deals for the above, they happen frequently!!

I have now been living in this 2 hour window of Los Angeles, for coming up on 8 years, and have been visiting it for at least 23– yet I had never been nor had the chance to imagine what this small island had to offer!  Chances are you yourself have either been talking about going for years, have been once for the day, or never really thought about it.  My advice to you is figure out how you can get yourself there in the next year and stay for a night or two — decide for yourself whether it’s your 2 hour from home paradise.

Catalina Map

Map of Catalina