San Luis Obispo--Too much to do and too little time in this lively community

.. By Joe Hilbers

On our trips to San Luis Obispo we always find more things to do than the time to do them. Situated nicely half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco one can say that Father Junipero Serra got it exactly right when he established Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa in 1772.

He may not have realized that it would some day become a thriving city but he did know that it had an outstanding climate and the surrounding countryside, besides offering breathtaking vistas, could also provide a bountiful harvest for animals and people alike.

This time we were in San Luis Obispo to take part in the annual Roll Out the Barrels Festival which takes place each May in Downtown Mission Square. Sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association, and a four day event, it attracts vast numbers of locals and visitors alike.

Joining in the activities local restaurants provide tasty tidbits to accompany the wine tasting all to the accompaniment of live music, and since this is a town where everyone seems to know everyone else, lots of socializing as well.

If you truly enjoy the street scene you don't want to miss San Luis Obispo's famed Farmers Market which takes place every Thursday evening. Some six blocks of Huguera Street, in the heart of the City's picturesque downtown, are reserved for the weekly event. Here farmers show locally grown produce and restaurants offer their specialties from curbside booths. And if you have a special cause, religion or political view well there are booths for these people as well.

We happily joined the throng and then partook of F. McClintock's famed BBQed ribs. And we might add that we were not alone with this idea. The line seemingly stretched for blocks with folks with a similar idea. However our ribs were great and it was the first time within memory that we dined seated on the curb of a main thoroughfare. For ambiance the people watching was great fun.

Edna Valley has become famous for the quality of its vineyards and wines but we went further afield and spent a couple of most enjoyable hours at the township of Old Edna in the company of its hospitable and enthusiast, Honorary Mayor Pattea Torrence. Once upon a time in the late 19th century a two acre town site, named Old Edna, was founded and thereafter slipped almost into oblivion.

Then ten years ago Pattea and her husband Jeff Kocan had a vision to bring Old Edna back into life. The result is now an Antique Store, the Old Edna Custom Gourmet Deli/Cafe and the Edna Valley Bed and Breakfast Cottage.

Over some delicious unique sandwiches and fruit plates and accompanied with a 2006 Petite Sirah from nearby Wolff Creek personally poured by Owner Vintner Jean-Pierre Wolff, Pattea Torrence told us about the early beginnings of Edna and how she went about putting the almost forgotten townsite back on the map.

The Town Site Old Edna and Mayor Pattea Torrence are located at State Route 227 and Price Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo. Telephone 805 544-8062 on the web at

One day we relaxed on the shaded patio of Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant, considered a landmark in San Luis Obispo. There we munched from one of the Apple Farm picnic lunch boxes which have long enjoyed fame in the region by locals and visitors alike. Complete with green veggies, a huge sandwich on a homemade bun, it also included a fresh apple and a wondrous chocolate chip cookie of satisfying size.

Added relaxation from our busy schedule was watching the waterwheel on its endless journey to nowhere. This waterwheel has long been the symbol of Apple Farm. We had time to wonder who first thought of this ingenious use of water and gravity, surely one lost in some earlier millennium.

At Apple Farm the water wheel provides the power for making its famed ice cream. And with our curiosity aroused we had to inspect the machinery and even found someone to set it all in motion.

Apple Farm Inn and Restaurant is located at 2015 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo. Telephone 805 544-2040, web wwwboutiquehotel

No one who visits San Luis Obispo should miss the opportunity of including a tour of Hearst Castle. At least we never do. The one hour drive north from the city on Highway One is in itself scenic with its wonderful vistas of a sparkling ocean and a white capped surf along a rugged shore. Then off in the distance high above is that magic castle.

The easiest way to describe Hearst Castle is to say that it is truly one of a kind, unique and not likely to ever be duplicated. What has been created here is on such a scale that it is hard to grasp. The collection of antiquities, art works, carvings, statues, and tapestries are awe inspiring.

Our visit was in early Spring which is most advisable. The vast majority of the almost one million visitors each year arrive between May and September. Our day at the Castle was unforgettable. It was a day of warm sun and a refreshing breeze and matching colors of blue between sky and water. The wildflowers as well as the beautifully kept gardens surrounding the Castle were all ablaze with color.

Five different tours are available at Hearst Castle which is now part of California State Parks. We took tour One which is generally recommended for first time visitors. Other tours explore upper floors of Casa Grande, the main house; the other guest houses at the Ranch and an evening tour which recaptures the heyday life of the 1920s and 1930s.

After the tour we visited the National Geographic Theater. Here we viewed a spectacular film that traces the history of the family. Entitled "Hearst Castle--Building the Dream" it traces the history of the family from George Hearst's discovery of silver mines, and the early years of son, William. Years that so shaped his vision to bring to America many of the Old World treasures he first saw as a young boy with his mother on a trip to Europe. This film is viewed on a Werks five story tall theater screen.

The Hearst Castle is open daily except for three major holidays. For reservations call 800 444-4445 or log on at

In upcoming issues of Vittles we will describe our San Luis Obpiso dining and lodging experiences as well as some wineries we visited.

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Last Update:6/10/08

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