Savoring The Central Coast: Pismo Beach

Located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the town of Pismo Beach works both as a weekend get away from LA or as a convenient mid-way stop en route.

Besides long stretches of beaches, Pismo boasts the most extensive coastal dunes in California that are accessible with the convenience of a pier and beach boardwalk.

A string of boutique hotels dot the coast, with beach paths for easy strolling, patios for enjoying spectacular sunsets, and a base for exploring the area. The local lore cues you in to its colorful history when it was notorious for having too many saloons and brothels.

For outdoor activities, five golf courses supplement the wide range of water sports - surfing, kayaking, swimming, fishing. The options have only increased with the acquisition of 900 acres of Pismo Preserve by The Land Conservancy.

The preserve also boasts a diverse array of plants - from annual grasslands, coastal scrub, and woods of dense coast live oak, majestic sycamore and willows, and its plentiful streams provide natural habitats for rare species. Over 10 miles of existing ranch roads and trails already meander the preserve, offering hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding with stunning panoramic ocean vistas. Further public amenities are planned before opening the preserve to the public this year.

Though small, the town is big on food and wine. As part of the San Luis Obispo County wine country, it is home to over 250 wineries. Tasting rooms are scattered throughout the area and many wine tours available. A good one to start with is the Taste of the Valleys that offers a large selection, with a simple per glass or flight pricing. Restaurants feature fresh fare from local farms and just off the boat seafood. The popular Giuseppe's Cucina Italiana features wood fired pizzas along with authentic Italian dishes.

Major California Food and wine events take place throughout the year: there's the Taste of Pismo in March-April, the Wine, Waves & Beyond and the Chardonnay Symposium in May, and the gargantuan food and wine event Savor the Central Coast sponsored by Sunset Magazine at the end of September.

This year's Savor event kicked off on a Thursday evening with the food and wine with music event Strings at Sunset at the Vina Robles Amphitheatre featuring performances from award-winning artists String Theory, DJ Violinist SPAGS and others. Supporting the musical highlight was a Sunset Editors reception dinner with food sampling stations hosted by celebrity chefs and restaurants, including Santa Monica's favorite Border Grill truck, and over 20 wine stations Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition Winners.

The next couple of days offered a flurry of smaller, intimate events. You could catch your own fish at a fish farm for lunch, visit an Abalone farm for an abalone lunch, eat at working ranches, learn to craft custom cocktails, take part in a cocktail shootout, or learn about beer and ciders at a cider house.

Also featured were a whole slew of wine dinners at spectacular venues like vineyards and oceanfront penthouses. Hosted by the Crimson Wine Group, the Crimson Wine Dinner at the penthouse of Lido at Dolphin Bay showcased Crimson wines. Their light and delicate Califa Chardonnay was paired with an appetizer of seared scallops with passion fruit and crispy pancetta; the richer, full bodied Pinot Noir with a smoked maple leaf duck breast with raspberry chutney; a Cabernet Sauvignon with the roasted lamb chops with balsamic pomegranate reduction; and a zinfandel for a dessert of summer fruit with chocolate trifle.

The Edna Valley Wine dinner at the Vineyard paired their Chardonnay for a starter course of scallop ceviche on a cured lemon crisp, and a grilled scallop wrapped in Pancetta with spinach salad; a Pinot Noir with duck confit; another Pinot Noir with seared duck breast with Pinot Noir reduction, roasted beets and potatoe galette, and a Port with a Gorgonzola Soufflé dessert.

The winemaster and other staff joined the guests, offering a glimpse into the inner working of a winery. Since the boutique winery had recently acquired by Gallo, the conversation underscored the changes and growth opportunities presented by corporate support.

The Main Events at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch took place on Saturday and Sunday. They featured tasting stations from over 40 of San Luis Obispo County’s top restaurants and specialty food companies and over 100 wineries. The Central tent featured master chefs sharing culinary ideas at panel discussions and cooking demos. At one demo, Santa Monica chef Mary Sue Milken regaled us with stories of cooking her dish for vegan Bill Clinton. Another Santa Monica chef, Yousef Ghalaini of Fig, noted for his Mediterranean inspired cooking, showed how to grill his famous charred octopus. Both chefs also took part in a panel discussion and fielded questions.

The Winemaker Central tent featured wine seminars and panel discussions on syrah, chardonnays, craft beer and cider, and wine and cheese pairings. The Sparkling Wines from Around the World seminar discussed the nuances differentiating Champagne, Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco, and concluded with a taste blind tasting to see how much you had picked up. Fortunately, the test wasn't graded.

The CA GROWN Pavilion packed a punch showcasing California's agricultural bounty. The California Fig Advisory Board, California Olive Committee, California Pear Advisory Board, California Salmon Council, California Sheep Commission, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Hampton Ranch, along with California Cut Flower Commission were all there, showing what they do, passing out samples, and educating with a wide range of talks such as gardening in dry times, sustainability, and best practices.

In between tastings you could kick back and relax in the Estrada Garden and enjoy live music performances from popular artists and musical groups. You could also check out the Artists’ Village showcasing local artists with an art auction. You could rest at Travel and Adventure Stage where you could pick up travel tips and destination ideas and run them by the Sunset editors. You could visit the Volvo Ride and Drive to check out the latest vehicles from Volvo.

Clearly, there was far more than you could possibly cover in just two afternoons, and that of course, meant only one thing - you just had to go back again!


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