Monday, July 18, 2011

Arroyo Grande: Friendship Food & Wine Along California's Central Coast

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”~ Bill Bryson

     There is a special place in our hearts for road trips that take us up the coastal highway along the Pacific Ocean. We fill the car with cameras snacks and a suitcase or two, turn the ipod on to shuffle mode and get comfortable. One of our favorite stretches of Pacific Coast Highway lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco, an area referred to as the Central coast. This weekend we visited friends who live along the central coast in a little village called Arroyo Grande.

     We arrived Friday night welcomed by the full thunder moon which rose over the mountains as we neared Arroyo Grande. Our friends greeted us with hugs, wine and a homemade rustic ollalieberry tart. We stayed up late into the evening planning our weekend and chatting until the four of us could no longer keep our eyes open. On Saturday morning our hosts prepared a breakfast feast of freshly baked biscuits topped with home canned ollalieberry jam and lemon marmalade, artichoke frittata, bacon and locally roasted coffee. Over breakfast we decided to start the day at the local farmer’s market. It was the perfect way to begin the day.

      The sky was a brilliant blue with temperatures in the 70’s as we headed to the historic Main St area of town where market stalls line the park along the Arroyo Creek. When I envision an idyllic small town this is what I see. Food, flowers, music and an art show turned this market in to a festival. We tasted Armenian cucumber and purslane for the first time as we wandered along the street listening to a folk guitarist who played in the nearby gazebo.  As we added red onions to the sweet corn and chandler strawberries in our tote bag I was already dreaming up recipes for the week ahead.

     An unexpected highlight of our market visit was crossing the swinging bridge. It is the only one of its kind in California, spanning 171 feet across Arroyo Grande Creek. It was originally built in the late 1800’s by Newton Short who owned the property on both sides of the creek. The main thoroughfare, Branch Street seemed to have many historic buildings and an interesting history. This year marks the towns centennial celebration and I feel we were able  in some small way to be part of the festivities.

     After the market, it was off to explore  Edna Valley. Nestled between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the San Luis range, the unique topography, temperature and soil in this valley make it a splendid grape growing region. It was given AVA status in the early eighties and we planned to spend an afternoon wine tasting and sightseeing.

     One of our favorite wineries of the day was Wolff Vineyards. We sat in their garden patio tasting wine and enjoying the view pictured above. The riesling, the syrah and the petite sirah were the standouts of the tasting. We stopped briefly at the Baileyana Winery housed in an updated, cheery one room school house. I loved the fun atmosphere and I know that I must return someday to sit on their property with a picnic, sip wine and play a game of bocce. We ended the day at Tolosa winery sitting outside nibbling on cheese and crackers, sampling wine enjoying good conversation and the cool breeze.

    All four of us love to cook and we each contributed to the dinner preparation that evening. As we all milled about the kitchen we would occasionally stop to observe a family of quail who had taken up residence in the wildlife sanctuary adjacent to their backyard. I fell in love with the new born babies and divided my time between snapping photos and kneading my pasta dough.  
     The beautiful weather allowed us to eat on the balcony which offered us a 180 degree panoramic view from Pismo beach to the Edna Valley. We enjoyed  the biggest grilled shrimp I have ever seen and a delicious roasted corn, mango and black bean salad.There could not have been a better end to the day than relaxing with good friends, sharing good food, as the sun disappeared behind the mountains turning the sky countless shades pink.  

     I was the last one up Sunday morning and as I made my way to the kitchen the smell of John’s just baked sourdough bread filled the air. What a delicious way to wake up. Lingering over a breakfast of freshly made waffles, Vermont maple syrup, mixed berries and blood orange juice we discussed our plans for the day. There was to be a mandolin concert in the meadow of a local apple farm and we decided to attend and bring a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine. After choosing the picnic fare we loaded the trunk and began our day. Our first stop was Avila Farm. This huge farm stand features grilled corn, fresh cider homemade pies and rooms full of veggies and foodie treats. It reminded me of our New England Fall farm stands. The only thing missing was the cider doughnuts. John and I decided we needed to bring home some apricot preserves and some fresh cherries to enjoy during the week. I left knowing that this would be a place I would visit again.

We had just enough time before the concert to stop at Kelsey vineyards in See Canyon. This whole area is home to some of the tastiest apples you will find anywhere and the Kelsey family has incorporated a few varieties in some of their crisp cool summer wines. We tasted quite a few of their offerings and enjoyed meeting the woman who owns the winery and her flock of peacocks who wander freely through the vineyards. It was interesting hearing about what brought her family to the area and learning how they began the winery.

     It was time to head to the See Canyon Fruit Ranch to attend the modern mandolin quartet concert, part of the Festival Mozaic series held each year in the area. We parked amid the apple trees and wandered to the meadow finding our table and laying out our snacks. As we sipped our wine and listened to mandolin music we settled into the serenity of the afternoon. Dappled sunlight streamed through the sycamore branches seeming to dance to the rhythm of the sweet strings.

     All too quickly the concert and the weekend were at a close. As we headed home we were relaxed happy and filled with gratitude for the friendship and hospitality offered to us by our friends.


  1. What a great trip Debra! I love all your wonderful pictures! I love what little towns have to offer! Exploring is so fun!

  2. Great weather, great food and the company of friends mixed in with the markets and concerts -Wow! So so memorable. Thanks for sharing the trip and as always, the wonderful recipes. By the way, that was an awesome closeup of the bee :-)

  3. Thanks Kathy and Jenn. We have driven by this area so often. I was amazed just how many wonderful treasures we had missed. Glad we took the time to explore this lovely part of the Central Coast