Emerging as a top-tier wine region on the world stage, California’s Central Coast boasts rolling vineyards and views like those of Tuscany. Sip, swirl and savor award-winning wines beneath a warm sun, sometimes just one mile from the ocean. For visitors seeking the extraordinary, wine tasting in San Luis Obispo and nearby cities on Highway 1 does not disappoint.
Discover the influence of the Pacific Ocean on growing conditions, exploring vineyards with one of the many San Luis Obispo wine tours. Find a Central Coast food and wine festival or follow a Central Coast wine map to hunt down your next favorite bottle. The options for indulgence here are nearly as abundant as the vineyards themselves, but the vibe is never fussy. In a tasting room, you’re just as likely to see tee shirts and flip flops as you are boots and belt buckles. So pack your casual duds and get in on the laid-back coastal San Luis Obispo wine country lifestyle.
Central Coast Wine Trails
Coastal San Luis Obispo County offers a variety of wine trails designed for every taste. From sparkling wine to Petite Sirah, from seaside vineyards to warm valley wineries, these trails showcase the diversity and quality of Central Coast wine.
Pacific Coast Wine Trail
When staying in or passing through Cambria, wine tasting is a must. Take a day or two to meander Highway 1 and country roads between each of this trail’s six wineries. The trail makes identifying Cambria wine tasting rooms easy, and provides an education in what sets coastal California wines apart. Member wineries are Black Hand Cellars, Moonstone Cellars, Twin Coyotes, Stolo Vineyards, Harmony Cellars, and Cayucos Cellars.
Avila Beach Wine Trail
Take yourself to the beach with the Avila Beach Wine Tasting Trail. This trail is small but mighty, with three heavy-hitting coastal producers and many wines to taste between them. Start with Sinor-Lavallee Winery and Peloton Cellars, two Avila Beach wine tasting rooms just steps from the sand. Then head into leafy, historic See Canyon to visit Kelsey See Canyon Winery. In addition to a variety of cool climate wines, enjoy the winery’s resident flock of peacocks, and, often, live music.
Core of the Coast Wine Trail
For a two-day must-taste Central Coast wine guide experience, head to the Edna Valley. There, taste your way through seven historic wineries, each of which contributes to the core of this region’s wine identity. Sip the wines of pioneer producers like Claiborne & Churchill, Saucelito Canyon (the original Henry Ditmas property from 1870), and Piedra Creek. Bask in unparalleled vineyard views at Edna Valley Vineyards and Tolosa. Or enjoy direct access to the winemakers at boutique producers Autry Cellars and Biddle Ranch Vineyard.
Other Wine Adventures Near the Coast
Pismo Beach Wine Tasting
Wine tasting Pismo Beach offers many opportunities to taste coastal San Luis Obispo County wines. Sans Liege Winery is known for its high-end Rhone-varietal wines and fun tasting room vibe. Heading to see the famous Monarch Butterfly Grove? Hit the Monarch Grove Winery tasting room just south on Highway 1 for a personal and cozy tasting experience. And while not strictly a winery, the tasting room at Tastes of the Valleys wine shop showcases local wines with knowledgeable staff.
Morro Bay Wine Tasting
Right on the Embarcadero, a trio of tasting rooms brings fun and flavor to Morro Bay wine tasting. Try MCV Winery for dark red wines including Tannat and Petite Sirah, grown in Paso Robles. Or wander into Chateau Margene for some of the most elegant Cabernet Sauvignon on the Central Coast. And at the Wine Seller wine shop, taste through a robust selection of local wines, and enjoy live music several nights each week.
Urban Wine Trail (San Luis Obispo)
Find coastal wine tasting, San Luis Obispo style. Unexpected places provide a fun alternative to the traditional San Luis Obispo wine tasting experience. In town, brake for Deovlet, El Lugar and Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, industrial wine tasting rooms pouring Pinot Noir and other varieties. Another urban tasting room, Croma Vera, specialized in Spanish varieties produced with modern California attitude. For more San Luis Obispo wine tasting surprises, visit Filipponi Ranch Winery, a charming old farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Or to see where the next generation of winemakers is born, taste at Cal Poly University, whose wine and viticulture program is second to none.
This burgeoning wine region receives consistent accolades from national and international media. Despite all the coverage, though, Paso Robles remains a cozy cow town at heart. The pioneering spirit is alive and well here, with 200+ wineries in one of the nation’s largest AVAs. Hot, dry days and cool nights help to grow full-bodied red Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, most notably. Tour the Paso Wine Alliance website for information on a variety of wine trails and education opportunities.
Central Coast Wine Festivals
Cambria Wine and Art Festival
Every January, the Cambria Wine and Art Festival combines the magic of local artists with local wineries for a flavorful experience. Watch demonstration artists at work, sit down to a five-course paired dinner, and enjoy a grand tasting in a friendly, charming setting. Don’t miss the art show and silent auction, in which wine and art are up for bid.
Harvest on the Coast
The San Luis Obispo Wine Collective holds this popular Central Coast food and wine festival every fall across the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley. The weekend begins with a “Crafted on the Coast” winemaker dinner featuring culinary treasures paired with locally made wines. On Saturday, the grand tasting and live auction invites over 60 wineries and restaurants to team up to serve perfect wine-and-food pairings. Then Sunday, guests can visit their choice of SLO Coast wineries with an all-access pass, including complimentary tastings.
Pismo Beach Wine Festival
Of all the Central Coast wine events, Wine, Waves & Beyond is the frothiest! Stay for a long weekend of wine and surf-related experiences, perfect for wine tasting Pismo Beach. Events include a surf movie premier, a Volkswagen bus show, a surf competition, and a grand tasting of the finest coastal wines. Wine, Waves & Beyond is also a philanthropic event that has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities over the years.
SLO County Wine History
The first vineyards in San Luis Obispo County emerged around its missions in San Miguel and San Luis Obispo, established by padres with native vines. By the 1820s, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was producing over 100 barrels of wine annually. Its vineyards are only second to Mission San Gabriel’s in production. Sadly, by 1834, those vineyards would be abandoned when the Mexican government secularized the California missions.
In the 1850s, a Frenchman, Pierre Hypolite Dallidet, came to San Luis Obispo after an unsuccessful attempt at gold rushing in Northern California. Here he purchased hundreds of acres of land in what is now downtown San Luis Obispo. He later bought and revived the withering Mission vineyards. Dallidet became the first commercial winemaker in San Luis Obispo County; though his vineyards have since disappeared, his adobe home still stands today. Other winemakers emerged on the Central Coast as well, many of them European immigrants like Henry Ditmas, who planted the County’s first Zinfandel vineyard in Arroyo Grande in the 1870s.
Local winemaking came to a standstill (at least in public view) during the Prohibition of the 1920s and early ‘30s. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Central Coast wine industry began to revive. A local farm advisor experimented with planting vines in Edna and Arroyo Grande Valley, finding that the area was indeed suitable for vines. Winemakers arrived soon thereafter, including the Piedra Creek Winery, responsible for introducing Italian grape varieties to San Luis Obispo County.
In the 1970s, San Luis Obispo County vineyard acreage skyrocketed from 550 to 4,000 acres. But the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys remain predominantly family-owned. This included notable growers like Jack Niven, Norman Goss, and Bill Greenough, who revived the forlorn Ditmas Zinfandel vineyard in Arroyo Grande.
In 1982, Edna Valley is established as San Luis Obispo County’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA). One of its many distinctions is a remarkably long growing period due to sunny days and cool coastal breezes. The nearby Arroyo Grande Valley would become its own AVA just eight years later.
As existing wine regions thrived over the following decades, new Central Coast wine regions have also developed. Today, vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms can be found in San Simeon, Cambria, Harmony, Cayucos, Los Osos-Baywood, Avila Beach, and coastal Arroyo Grande. In total, the economic impact of wine on San Luis Obispo County is close to $2 billion as of 2015, an indication of its growth since the early mission days.
Highway 1 Wine Growing Region
Coastal wine country is defined by a number of factors, beginning with unique volcanic and seabed soils. Hard bedrock below ensures that vines struggle just enough to produce concentrated color and flavor. Volcanic mountains surround the valleys, keeping vineyards warm during the day and coastal-cool at night.
The signature of bright, lively acidity from San Luis Obispo coastal wines is a direct result of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. A natural warming and cooling cycle – fog in the morning, breezes, then sunshine – makes for one of the world’s longest growing seasons. Fruit develops slowly without over-ripening during a long hang time, resulting in wines of great complexity and impeccable balance.
The Coastal AVAs
Coastal San Luis Obispo County is home to American Viticultural Areas recognized by the federal government for producing wines of distinction. Wineries in these AVAs comprise the membership of the SLO Coast Wine Collective, an organization that hosts fun and educational events for the public.
Established as the first American Viticultural Area in San Luis Obispo County, Edna Valley grows 2,000 acres of vines and 20 winegrape varieties. Gentle slopes, complex soils, sunshine and family-owned wineries define this boutique wine region. Edna Valley winegrapes benefit from the maritime effects of an east-west corridor to the Pacific Ocean, just four miles away. The most celebrated and sought-after wines here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as aromatic white varieties and Syrah.
Arroyo Grande Valley
Contiguous with Edna Valley, the Arroyo Grande Valley also excels at Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Soils here are also sedimentary and volcanic, though they tend to be heavier, and its climate, slightly warmer. Established as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1990, the region reaches 16 miles long on an east-northeast orientation. Again, maritime breezes keep the vines cool, as do higher elevations towards Lopez Lake.