A short way up the Pacific Coast Highway from Hearst Castle, you will find literally thousands of elephant seals lying on the beach in sandy coves. The rookery area is so popular, a boardwalk viewing area was constructed to accommodate all of the elephant seal fans without disturbing the creatures. According to signage posted at the viewing area, the colony was first noted around 1995 with a few dozen breeding females. Since then, the colony has exploded to over 15,000 (estimated) members, spread out over 6 miles of coastline.
The elephant seal spends most of its time at sea, but returns to the shore twice per year for birthing, breeding, molting and rest. Since the males, females and juveniles do this on different timetables, there is nearly always something to see in this area.
When we visited, we saw thousands of seals piled all over each other, jostling for position like cranky puppies. We watched, fascinated, as they flipped sand over themselves to protect from the warm sun. This was molting season for females and juveniles and, for the most part, they pretty much just lay there. We were so fascinated by it all, we went there twice.
Continuing up the Pacific Coast Highway from the rookery area, the road rises and the cliffs become higher and steeper. This is the verge of Big Sur, some of the most spectacular seaside scenery anywhere. Unfortunately for us, a landslide closed the road just north of the entrance to the Big Sur Park. We got the merest taste of what it could be, but will have to save it for another time.
Paso Robles is best known as an up-and-coming wine region, with over 200 wineries in the area. We couldn’t possibly make it to all, but we gave it our best effort! The Paso area climate is highly varied, with large temperature variations from day to night (40 degrees) and many microclimates scattered through the hilly area. As a result, a tremendous variety of grape types can be grown within a fairly small region. You’ll find your usual Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Syrah alongside the less usual Grenache, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera. I tasted grape varietals I had never heard of before. Some were grown with irrigation, others used dry farming techniques. It was quite an education!
Tasting fees ranged from free to $40 per tasting flight ($10 seemed average), and we found red wine pricing from a moderate $18 to $100 or more. After a day of paid wine tasting, I discovered that our RV park office had a bunch of cards/flyers for free tastings! Score! I really need to check that FIRST next time!
A few winery standouts: Eberle Winery offers free wine tastings (no coupon needed) as well as a free wine cave tour. They were the first in the area to apply for a mining permit to drill their own wine cave under their facility. The cave offers year-round cool temperatures naturally as well as higher humidity for their casks. The winery saved a bundle on warehouse fees and electric bills! They also have a dining area, for event rental. Very, very cool.
Another fun winery is Tobin James Cellars. They also offer free tastings every day (no coupon needed) and are known as the “party winery”. The pours are generous, the people friendly, and you can taste anything and everything you want! Their wines are also on the affordable end, with many less than $20.
One winery that was recommended that we didn’t go to was DAOU Vinyards. It is situated on a hilltop with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Why didn’t we go? Well, first off, they charge $40 per tasting flight, which is pretty steep. I mean, dang, I can buy at least one bottle of wine for that! Also, their wine runs upwards of $150 or more. So, if I really love one of their wines, then what? I’m not going to pay that much, I don’t care how much I like it! On “Say Yes to the Dress”, one rule is don’t try on a wedding dress that is over budget. I’m going to extend that rule to “don’t taste a wine you can’t afford”.
Words to live by.
One parting note — only in California. This is an actual sign seen on a bathroom door (it was a one-seater). Now, really, wouldn’t this be more efficient?
Paso Robles was awesome! Beautiful scenery, great wineries, and super nice people. Now, on to Sequoia National Park!