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North Hills Monthly

The Laid-back Life: Visiting San Luis Obispo County, CA

Dec 01, 2016 07:41AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Pismo Pier

There are a lot of cool places to visit in California, but Morro Bay, located in San Luis Obispo County, is one where I could see myself living. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the area is a wonderful escape from the hubbub of the city; within minutes of visiting the harbor, I felt about as laid-back as the California sea lions sunning themselves on the old wooden piers.

The first thing you notice, because you really can’t miss it, is 581-foot Morro Rock, which stands as a sentinel above the bay and beach. Part of the Nine Sisters of extinct volcano peaks along the California coast, the rock dwarfs the small seaside town, as well as protects the peregrine falcons and other animals that live in this natural estuary. 

The town itself seems like a throwback to an earlier time when wandering the beach, talking to lifelong fishermen and popping in and out of small boutique-type stores was the perfect way to spend a day—and the fact that the city is dog-friendly makes it even more fun to meet the locals and their pets. 

An afternoon aboard the SSV Seaview is a great way to get your bearings and learn more about the history of the area; my trip, guided by Captain Kevin of SubSea Tours, was a hoot—not only was the crew really fun, but two otters chose to put on a show boat-side, floating on their backs and cracking open clams as we watched.

If you have time to take some day trips, I would highly suggest a winery tour—I headed inland to quench my thirst with an amazing 2013 Syrah at Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles, but the choices are almost endless since you’re smack in the middle of both SLO Wine Country and Paso Robles Wine Country, where more than 23 varietals, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Albarino, Grenache and Viognier, are grown. 

You can spend an hour or spend a day—I got to preview the three-hour excursion tour offered at Halter, and I can tell you that it’s well worth the trip. Named Best Vineyard Experience by no less than Sunset Magazine, you get to cruise the 281-acre vineyard (that is nestled on a 1,600-acre ranch) in a classic Land Rover, tour the winery and barrel caves, and taste some truly superior wine.

If you’re looking for more of a classic California beach town, shoot down to Pismo Beach to wander along its famous 1,200-foot pier and watch surfers ride the waves. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when we pulled into the parking lot to see a dog-and-surfboard-filled pickup truck—this is the kind of scenery that you expect when you’re visiting the Clam Capital of the World.

One of the coolest things in this area, which will be open to the public in 2018, is the Pismo Preserve—a 900-acre coastal ranchland property that overlooks the beach and will feature more than 11 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Originally slated to become 50 ranchettes, the property was saved by the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, which raised more than $12 million in less than six months to create this permanently protected wild space. It’s hard to believe that this pristine area exists in a place where more than 8,000 people live just minutes away.

And speaking of places to live, I could definitely see myself moving into Hearst Castle, located at the northern end of San Luis Obispo County in San Simeon. The former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the castle boasts more than 20,000 pieces of art, not to mention every possible amenity that an extremely wealthy man could amass in the early 1900s. After a long, winding journey up a hill, Casa Grande, Hearst’s 115-room mansion, and its three guest houses finally come into view. And it is breathtaking. 

While the outdoor 345,000-gallon Neptune pool was not filled at the time I visited because it was being restored, a visit to the indoor 205,000-gallon Roman pool was impressive enough. The room is filled floor to ceiling with 1” gold and blue mosaic tiles that actually make the room shimmer; eight life-sized statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes complete the décor. Almost every part of the outdoor space, which includes numerous gardens, is similarly adorned with painstakingly detailed statues—I think that you could spend years in this space without seeing every piece of art.

While the bigger cities may attract more attention, there are some truly amazing things to see along California’s Central Coast.

For more information, check out or call 805-541-8000. Or visit:

Ascot Suites:, 805-772-4437

SubSea Tours:, 805-772-WIND

Halter Ranch Vineyard:, 888-367-9977

Paso Robles Wine Country:, 805-239-8463

SLO Wine Country:, 805-541-5868

Morro Bay:, 805-225-1570

Morro Bay Skateboard Museum:, 805-610-3565

Pismo Beach:, 800-443-7778

The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (Pismo Preserve):, 805-544-9096

Hearst Castle:, 800-444-4445