Matt Meltzer from Thrillist recapped wine, ocean views and wildlife on America’s most beautiful coastal drive. Enjoy this excerpt from the article.
The scenic way out of Southern California
From Los Angeles, jump on the city’s fabled 101 Freeway and ride until the road starts looking less like a freeway and more like the scenic drive you signed up for. Just past Santa Barbara, you’ll find the turnoff to California 1.
If you’re dead-set on making this an all-PCH trip, you won’t hate the views as you cruise through Lompoc and past Vandenberg Air Force Base. But to see the best of Southern California wine country and the Danish-reminiscent town of Solvang, stay on the 101 and roll through Santa Ynez. There, you’ll spot ample soft hills lined with meticulously manicured vineyards and plenty of options to stop off for a tasting.
The Santa Maria Valley
Resist the temptation to start your wine odyssey until you get to the Santa Maria Valley, whose boutique wineries rarely teem with the crowds you’ll find in other regions nearby. The most notable of the bunch is Foxen, a rambling ranch with tables set on a breezy hillside where you can sip Pinot Noirs. You’ll also find some excellent rural wine tasting down the road at Rancho Sisquoc, whose barnyard tasting room sits at the base of a green slope dotted with tasting-friendly picnic benches.
If beer is more your speed, Santa Maria’s not lacking. Blast 825 Brewery has a massive taphouse in Orcutt with a pour-your-own beer bar, where you try what you want and pay by the ounce. Wander into downtown Orcutt and you’ll find the Wine Stone Inn, a cozy boutique hotel with rare bottles from the area’s top wineries. Even if you don’t stay overnight, it’s worth stopping in to try a bunch of local pours without having to drive all over the valley.
Along with A+ beer and wine, Santa Maria is also home to the Hitching Post—but before you start brushing up your Paul Giamatti impression, know this isn’t the one from Sideways. That one is in Buellton, but the Casmalia original is just as memorable. Walk inside and you’re hit with the smells of a modern restaurant and a backyard barbecue, an earthy blend of smoke and garlic that makes the hour-long wait tolerable. The food holds up, too, and will make you appreciate the smoky intricacies of a fine, flame-broiled piece of beef.
The Luffa Farm
Moving out of the valley and back towards the coast, you’ll pass through the town of Nipomo. If you’ve ever wondered where loofah sponges come from—or, for that matter, what they actually are—here’s where you’ll find your answer. At the Luffa Farm, among colorful signs and mismatched sculptures, you’ll find one of the world’s largest producers of the luffa plant, which grows on vines—not near the ocean, despite its resemblance to coral.
Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.