Wine Wednesday: From Water to Wine – Staying on Amtrak for California’s Central Coast, Covering Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Paso Robles

by Brian & Dana Maass on March 29, 2023 in Food+Drink, Travels,

Well-known for some of the country’s finest wines and Pacific coastal views, Central California is a playground for lovers of both. You can sample this slice of west coast heaven by flying directly into San Luis Obispo from Dallas on American Airlines. Then skip the car rental, and take Amtrak up and down this most scenic and well-rounded 43-mile route, bookended by Pismo Beach and Paso Robles wine country, with San Luis Obispo (SLO) in the middle.  


Named the #1 Airport in the U.S by Fodor’s travel, Bob Hope Burbank Airport (just outside L.A.) is just steps from the attached train station, for an easy transfer onto either Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight train, accessing all three locations. Pro-tip: Arrive early for your plane-to-train transition and pack light, with just one rolling bag and backpack to ease your burdens. 

Amtrak offers rail service from Los Angeles and Burbank to the Central Coast. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery as you wind your way along the pristine California coastline.
Photo Dana Maass.

All Aboard: Burbank to SLO

Starting as far south as San Diego, the Pacific Surfliner hugs 351 miles of coastline, ending in SLO. The longer Coast Starlight begins in L.A., extending up to SLO, before continuing north as far as Seattle. So close down your GPS and grab a window seat for the easy five-hour ride from Burbank (or L.A.) to SLO. As the train approaches the coast, you will feel like a seagull floating across the water, feasting your eyes onto the horizon, and preparing for your journey.

San Luis Obispo is a bike friendly city with well-manicured trails and lanes throughout the downtown area and connecting points of interest.
Photo Courtesy San Luis Obispo.

Nights 1 & 2: Destination Hotel SLO

Upon arrival in San Luis Obispo, call up an Uber or Lyft ride to your hotel. We highly recommend Hotel SLO for lodging, due to its centrality, proximity to many of the best spots in town, and modern vibes. This quaint, bike and pedestrian-friendly college town dating back to the 1700s is filled with history, education, art, wine, culture, charm, and community, making it tough to leave. Prepare to fall into the serenity of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and grab a complimentary cruiser bike to explore this ideal city along California’s Central Coast. SLO sits directly north of the Edna Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area), where you can easily set up a day of wine tasting for a sample of this Valley’s best vino at Tolosa Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, Biddle Ranch Vineyard and many more. 

Allegretto Resort and Winery brings peace and relaxation to every visitor. Guests can also experience the first of its kind Sonic Labyrinth, which enhances the tranquility.
Photo Courtesy Allegretto Resort and Winery.

Nights 3 & 4: Amtrak to Paso Robles 

Located inland of the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountains inside San Luis Obispo County with over 200 wineries and 40,000 vineyard acres, Paso Robles (“Paso”) had become California’s third largest wine region by 2022. From SLO, re-board Amtrak for the next 30-mile leg up to Paso. Resembling a Mediterranean oasis, the Four-Diamond AAA Allegretto Vineyard Resort offers luxurious lodging that virtually transports you to an Italian Villa filled with spectacular art and architecture, set among perfectly manicured grounds. Topped with an on-site top echelon wine tasting room, attached fine dining at Cello Ristorante and Bar, and full-service spa, Allegretto is a singular destination. Located just three miles north of the train station, Allegretto can be reached by car with either Lyft (advanced reservations recommended) or local company Fetch Transportation Services (running until midnight). Plan to orchestrate your very own wine tasting tour with a private Fetch driver, to ensure a safe and smooth day trip. Pro-tip 1: Join the Allegretto Wine Club ahead of time (free to join) to take advantage of special discounts on lodging, wine tastings, and merchandise. Receive four complimentary tastings during your Allegretto visit, 15-20% off bottle purchases with discounted shipping, and 20% off your lodging, regardless of membership level. Pro-tip 2: Plan your wine tasting day on a weekday other than Monday, when many wineries are closed. Red wine lovers should not miss their estate-grown Tannat and “Heart of the Vibe,” a beautiful and spicy blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Tannat. 

After relaxing at Allegretto’s first-class spa, stop by the tasting room to sample some of Allgretto’s finest wines, or enjoy exquisite dining at the Cello Ristorante and Bar.
Photo Courtesy Allegretto Resort and Winery.

With more choices than time, we recommend private tasting appointments at these five unique wineries for incredible vino, views, service, and a quintessential Paso Robles wine country tour. Begin your day onsite at the Allegretto Tasting Room, then arrange to be picked up for your first stop along the winding Peachy Canyon Road at Calcareous Vineyard. Here you can take in the panoramic vista views while wining and al fresco dining. Be sure to allow a little extra time for a wine-friendly lunch (highly recommended), before proceeding through the Canyon to two more lovely boutique wineries. 

Named after the Brecon Beacons National Park located South of Wales, Brecon Estate envelopes you in nature. Pull up a cozy chair beneath their canopy of trees to taste some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Malbec, and Petit Verdot wines in Paso Robles.

Nestled among breathtaking vineyards, sprawling oak trees, and modernly cozy tasting spaces, allocation winery Sixmilebridge Vineyards is known for Bordeaux right-bank inspired varietals, while Brecon Estate pours perfectly blended reds (like petite syrah-zinfandel) and their internationally acclaimed Malbec. End your day of tasting back in town at LXV Wine, where you are tastefully presented with bold wine and Eastern spice pairings at this Indian-American owned establishment and downtown wine oasis. 

Take the short drive down the winding Peachy Canyon Road, and visit Sixmilebridge Winery, where you will be treated to a personal, one-on-one tasting experience at this winery with Irish-Texan roots. Photo Brian Maass.

Simply the Fest: Garagiste Wine Festival

If great wine and festivals are your jam, then consider traveling to Paso Robles during their annual Garagiste Wine Festival. Voted Number One Best Wine Festival in America in the USA Today 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards, Garagiste assembles several dozen of the best small-batch winemakers under one roof. In a single day, you can taste cutting-edge wines born from over twenty of the area’s finest grape varietals (from Albarino to Zinfandel), while talking to the small-batch winemakers and often sampling their very first vintages. To be part of the festival, wineries are limited to producing 1500 annual cases. These micro-producers are not typically found on wine trail maps, and rarely have on-site tasting rooms. Pronounced “garage-east,” the Garagiste term originated in France’s Bordeaux region to criticize small-lot winemakers sometimes working far from the Chateaus, in their garages, while evading many traditional rules and still managing to produce some of the world’s best wines. The passionate Garagiste winemaker is celebrated here, where no black tie is required, and ticket sales are limited to ensure a positive experience for all attendees. 

Featuring local, and smaller wineries in the region, the Garagiste Festival allows for wine connoisseurs to sample a large number of wines, and perhaps find a new favorite.
Photo Dana Maass.

Also a 501c3 non-profit organization, Garagiste Festival proceeds support scholarships for wine industry students at nearby Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo. What’s better than spending the day sampling some of the best off-grid wines in the Paso Robles AVA than supporting the future of wine? The twelfth annual Paso Robles Garagiste Festival will be held November 10-11, 2023, so you have time to plan. Other upcoming Garagiste events include the Sonoma Northern Exposure Festival on April 29 and The Urban Exposure Los Angeles Festival on June 17. The Southern Exposure Garagiste Event was held in Solvang on February 10-11, 2023. Consult the website for advanced tickets and more details. 

Nights 5 & 6: All Aboard for Pismo Beach

From Paso Robles, you can take Amtrak service about 45 miles down to the Grover Beach Station in about an hour, to reach the luxurious beachfront Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach. Call the resort in advance to inquire about arranging a brief ride from the train station, as car services such as Uber and Lyft may not be readily available upon arrival. An Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott, Vespera Resort offers the perfect respite to dig your toes in the sand for the dreamiest of sunrises, sunsets, bike rides, and fresh seafood onsite, while overlooking the ocean. Known as the “Clam Capital” of the world, Pismo beach also features a two-mile long boardwalk along this golden stretch of coastline and a 1300-ft long, sixty-acre pier, all just steps away from this ocean-front property. From your front porch, you can literally see the sea. Within minutes of Pismo Beach, you can also soak up a day of wine tasting in the sixteen-mile long Arroyo Grande Valley, consisting of wines benefitting from the cool Pacific breezes to the west and volcanic soil of the mountains to the east. Verpera concierge services may offer guidance in helping you to arrange a wine country day tour of the Valley. 

Vespera Dining and Star Gazing

After sunset, the heroes of this property include dinner at Pequin Coastal Cocina and lounging at the Star Bar. Begin with the Chipotle pepper and Citrus-cilantro Bluefin Tuna Tostada, followed by the refreshing watermelon tomatillo salad with mint dressing and marinated queso fresco. Try a flight of ceviche, featuring all three incredibly fresh and flavorful selections including Baja shrimp, local clam, crab, and octopus. Especially memorable is the Pacific Sea Bass in Banana Leaf, served with a creamy Jalapeño Coconut sauce, Corn Esquites, and Mango Slaw. Save room to indulge in a little bit of Tres Leches Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding with cinnamon ice cream and salted Dulce de Leche. 

Located right on the beach, The Vespera Resort is made for peaceful and romantic evenings. Watch the sunset from the water’s edge or while relaxing on your private balcony.
Photo Courtesy Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach.

After dinner, step outside to the Star Bar and Lawn, pull up a chair, and listen to the tide roll in as you cozy up to one of several fire pits underneath the vast Western sky. Bring your bathing suit to take a dip in the lawn’s pool or hot tub, open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Blankets are provided for cool nights, well-behaved dog guests are welcome, and live music is typically featured on Saturday nights from 5-8 p.m.. A limited food menu is offered on the lawn, from noon to 9:30 p.m. The Blend Bar is perfect for hand-crafted cocktails, known for their tequila blends and also top local wines by the glass. Pequin’s ocean-view patio is perfect for dining al fresco at breakfast with fresh coffee, mimosas, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and omelets, from 7 to 11 a.m. If you prefer a late start, then go for lunch between 12-4 p.m. 

Vespera Guests are allowed to bring their furry friends, who you can meet and greet while unwinding at the dog-friendly property. Photo Courtesy Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach.

Pismo Pedaling and Playing

The free bike rentals at Vespera are ideal for a day of exploring the best of Pismo. Start early to grab a photo at the iconic Pismo Beach sign at the Boardwalk, and then ride up to the famous Old West Cinnamon Rolls for one of their gigantic sharable and warm sweet morning treats. You will then continue to find the Pismo Preserve, consisting of over 880 acres with eleven miles of nature trails. Next, ride up to Dinosaur Caves Park for even more stunning miles of picturesque ocean and cliffside views. South of Vespera resort, accessible by bike and not to be missed, is the Monarch Butterfly Grove, where you can explore this winter refuge for thousands of western Monarch butterflies hanging from Eucalyptus trees from late October through February, before migrating back up to Canada. Both local guides and self-guided exhibits will teach you about these majestic creatures and why they choose to hang out for a few months of the year at Pismo Beach. Then be sure to park your cruiser at the cute local gift shops of Pismo Beach for a souvenir and a snack, before turning in your bike to dig your toes in the sand for one last painted Pacific sunset. Allowing horseback riding on the beach, Pismo Beach fulfills horse lovers’ dreams of meandering through sand, waves, and the nearby Oceano Sand Dunes. Even a few surrounding wine country vineyards are accessible by horseback. Vespera resort’s website includes several outfitters for more information on guided tours and advanced reservations. 

Thousands of Monarch Butterflies migrate south from Canada every year, making Pismo Beach their winter home. Look for clusters of butterflies hanging from high in the Eucalyptus trees of Monarch Butterfly Grove. Try out one of the Grove’s on-site magnifying viewers, and scan the exhibit’s many QR codes to learn all about this wonder of nature.
Photo Brian Maass.

Whether you take the short Amtrak ride back from the Grover Beach station to San Luis Obispo, or sit back for the longer and more scenic route to Burbank before flying back to Texas, you will reflect upon an abundance of Central California Coast beauty, fabulous new wineries in your wheelhouse, and a longing to press “replay” on this memorable travel adventure. 

TLM contributors Dana and Brian Maass.


Cover Photo Brian Maass.

Brian and Dana Maass live with their dog “Chester” in Round Rock, Texas. Dana first fell in love with great wine nearly twenty years ago on her first trip to California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma County, with much wine-centric travel to follow. She joyfully adds Paso Robles and the Central California Coast to her list of “highly recommended wine country destinations.” When not working their day jobs, Dana and Brian can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, serving the community….and wine tasting of course.  Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.