JULY 21, 2011

Santa Barbara and the Central Coast

In my mind, the key to a good travel guide is the amount of detail. You want enough to have options when deciding what direction to go next, but you also don't want so many that it's overwhelming. In his travel guide Santa Barbara and the Central Coast, from Moon Handbooks, author Michael Cervin strikes a perfect balance. Covering from Paso Robles down to Ventura and everything in between, Michael offers great suggestions on where to eat the best meals, sip the best drinks, and enjoy the best hospitality.

Most of my work is as a wine writer, so I can affirm that his choices of wineries to visit are top notch. In Paso Robles, in particular, with over 150 wineries in the area, having a guide is invaluable. Tasting wine simply by heading to the next winery down the road is an easy way to miss some excellent places. The book's recommended stops like Hunt Cellars (my personal favorite), Calcareous and Windwood Vineyards (for Pinot lovers) and Justin Vinyards (for those who enjoy Bordeaux-style blends) are all gems. Also, in Santa Barbara County, a small town like Los Olivos might be easy to overlook as a great stop for wine tasting, but as the book points out, some of the wonderful places in the area include Beckman Vineyards, Carina Cellars, and Zaca Mesa.

Another thoughtful touch to the guide is a list of annual festivals and events happening in the general vicinity. They're a great item to plan trips around because it's possible to get a wide range of local wines and cuisine in just one day with only a minimal drive. Two of my favorite listed events are the Winemakers' Cookoff, a lovely late summer event that pairs Paso Robles wines with scrumptious BBQ dishes and the Earth Day Wine & Food Festival, a springtime event that promotes the enjoyment of fine food and wine in an environmentally sound fashion.

Expanding out from wine, the book offers a variety of places to eat in every town it covers, including favorite international cuisines like Mexican and Italian along with good old fashion American Cafés and Diners. Since Michael has been a restaurant critic in the area for years, you can be sure, he'll point you in the right direction when it comes to food. There's also a range of places to stay, with options for those who want to be truly pampered, to those simply looking for a quality, comfortable room. No matter what your preference, you'll have choices.

Finally, since even on vacation everyone has to worry about the little day-to-day things, the book includes good practical advice like where to do laundry and the location of the Post Office in each town. It provides options of where to shop for food, clothing, or other little items that may be needed. If you want a bit of exercise after your indulgence, the location of the best parks and hiking trails are highlighted as well. Plus, if you don't feel like driving, the guide also lists alternative options, like taxi or trolly services that are available.

So for anyone looking to unwind around California's central coast, this guide will simply make your getaway that much better. Combining the everyday perspective of a local resident, with the scope of knowledge only an industry insider could have, Michael Cervin does a wonderful job showcasing the best of what the area has to offer. Whether, like me, your main interest is wine, you prefer visiting the hottest tourist spots, or you just want to enjoy the best of the local cuisine, this book has got you covered. It just might turn out to be the best $17 you ever spend for a vacation.

If you'd like to find out more about the book or you're taking a trip soon and want to buy it, you can check it out here.

By Jason Barlow


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