Last updated on January 23, 2024
Places I Love usually involve all my senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. Like wine and grape growing, it involves terroir and that sense of place. This connection is dear to me, especially visiting the destinations of San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande. My journey begins the minute I exit the tunnel on Highway 101 as it turns away from the ocean inland in Santa Barbara County. The view of the random oak tree standing apart from a tranquil pasture sets me in the mood for my special place.
San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande
San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande represent a happy place. It gives me great pleasure to reminisce about visiting my father’s ranch on Corbett Canyon Road in Arroyo Grande, walking around the pond, and viewing the animals, including a llama named Michael, named after Michael Jackson because this llama came from Neverland. I remember potluck get-togethers with friends after the local dog shows. It characterizes a time when I was close to my father.
I remember the wineries I visited and the restaurants I frequented, including those still existing. Some of our favorite pastimes were in San Luis Obispo, walking along the creek, seeing bubble gum alley, or visiting the farmers market. Our family often ventured to the Five Cities: Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Shell Beach, Grover Beach, and Oceano.
A recent trip to San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande brought back those memories because each location I visited had some connection with the past or an association with part of my life. Although the area has evolved since the 1990s, the charm and warmth still exist, attracting me to this region on the Central Coast.
The Wineries Then and Now
My visit started at Stephen Ross Winery. Located in an industrial area of San Luis Obispo, I did not expect a connection to my past, but as we sampled wine, I discovered that Stephen Ross grows grapes in partnership at Stone Corral Vineyard on Corbett Canyon Road with Talley and Kynsi. I wondered if the vineyard property was the back 75 acres my father sold to Talley. I figured I would learn more when I visited Talley.
Often, my father spoke of Talley, but I never had the privilege of visiting. After meeting Brian Talley on this trip, I understood the importance this family had on grape growing and general agriculture in the Edna Valley. Growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with other varieties, I learned part of the answer to my mystery. The Stone Corral Vineyard fronts Corbett Canyon, so it was not the property Talley purchased from my father.
Talley cultivates many white grapes at Oliver’s Vineyard, which lies behind and adjacent to Stone Corral Vineyard, and that, too, is not the property from my memories. The mystery is still unsolved, but if I were to guess, Talley purchased the property to farm vegetables. Hopefully, Brian will help me discover how they utilized the back acreage in the future.
In the past, my husband and I ventured across the street from the ranch to Corbett Canyon Winery. Today, that winery is Center of Effort, known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Its name describes a point on a sailboat when everything is in perfect balance. For me, it signifies the balance between past and present and the alignment of today’s sustainability in farming reflected at many of the vineyards in the Edna Valley.
Several years ago, I discovered Chêne Vineyards, a property located next door to the ranch entrance. The property has since sold, and while I visited Center of Effort, Nathan, the winemaker, suggested introducing me to the woman who farms Chêne Vineyards. I met Gina Guigni, Lady of Sunshine Wines, who farms biodynamically. As Gina and I walked the vineyards, she mentioned she acquired her passion for biodynamics from her parents, who grew grapes in El Dorado County. Knowing one biodynamic winery in El Dorado, I said, do you know Narrow Gate? She responded, “That is my parent’s winery,” so again, the ranch brought back more connections 30 years later.
Restaurants Then and Now
Back in the 90s, we frequented Big Sky Café, Linn’s, and Apple Farm Inn in San Luis Obispo. In Pismo, it was McClintock’s and Giuseppe’s. Big Sky is still there after 30 years and is an excellent place to have lunch. Linn’s, known for their baked goods, pies, olallieberry preserves, and country fare, closed their San Luis Obispo location but kept their Cambria location.
Giuseppe’s in Pismo is still there even after burning down but has now opened a second location in San Luis Obispo in the original Sinsheimer Bros. Building, which served as the general mercantile.
Originally called the Franciscan Motel, the Apple Farm Inn dates to 1957. The restaurant opened in 1977. The Davis’ purchased the property in 1988, adding buildings, planting apple trees, and renaming it Apple Farm Inn. During their ownership, I often visited the restaurant for breakfast and lunch. On my recent visit to San Luis Obispo, I stayed at the Apple Farm Inn. Country charm abounds under the new ownership. The hotel will embark on a remodel, maintaining the quaint ambiance but bringing the décor and amenities to today’s standards. The restaurant still offers the wonderful bakery goods that the restaurant was always known for, including apple dumplings.
Today, restaurants with ethnic cuisine are springing up in San Luis Obispo, including Mistura, a must-try Peruvian restaurant.
San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande
Downtown San Luis Obispo still has its old-world charm, but the restaurants and shops have changed to meet the demands of today’s population. With city murals and growing patronage at the art museum, the city embraces the arts and integrates these works into the local scenery.
The Village of Arroyo Grande was a quaint small town in the 1990s whose agrarian roots came forth hearing the roosters, who resided along the creek behind the stores on Branch Street. Today, this lively town boasts wineries, cafes, and curio shops.
As the past and present converge, I am drawn to San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande. Each time I visit, that connection increases as I discover more family ties to the region.