Did you know that John Steinbeck was a huge fan of the Central Coast’s vivid wildflower display each spring? Here’s proof, from his book, East of Eden, where he describes the region’s bounty of petals:
“The spring flowers in a wet year were unbelievable … Every petal of blue lupin is edged with white, so that a field of lupins is more blue than you can imagine. And mixed with these were splashes of California poppies. These too are of a burning color—not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of poppies.”
Couldn’t have described the scene better myself, John! If you’re a hardcore wildflower aficionado, you might want to plan on driving through Shell Creek Road off Highway 58 South of Shandon or through the Carizo Plains in eastern SLO County. However, even the casual wildflower observer can take in an amazing array of vibrant foliage simply by hopping in the car and going wine tasting. These five spots are perfect for sipping, day tripping, and smelling the flowers along the way:
Is there a flower more famous in California? With its bright orangey hue and fiery appeal, our state flora is hard to miss (especially when it’s taken over an entire hillside or valley).
About the flower: Eschscholzia californica, a.k.a, California Poppy, Golden Poppy, or California Sunlight, is a species of flowering plant in the Papaveraceae family, native to the United States and Mexico. It is an
ornamental plant and it is used medicinally and in cooking. The Poppy became the official state flower of California in 1903.
See it: You’ll find poppies blooming now across the Central Coast, but especially in the warm and sunny hills east of Paso Robles, where developments are few. Situated at the crossroads of Highway 46 and Highway 41 lies Hearst Ranch Winery’s newest tasting room, a great place to start your adventure. Sip on some juicy red wine or visit the famous Jack Ranch Café, well known for its proximity to the James Dean Memorial site. The Tasting Room is encircled by the Jack Ranch; a 73,000 acre working cattle ranch named for its long-time owner Howard Jack who sold the land to the Hearst Corporation in 1965. That ranch is now blooming more than just livestock: beautiful, bountiful poppies!
Mapping and Directions to Hearst Ranch Winery, Jack Ranch Café Tasting Room: speedfind.com/HearstRanch
Yes, these spicy flowers do pack a punch! Bright, neon yellow and hearty as a weed, you’ll find them prolifically growing along the winding banks of iconic Peachy Canyon Road in West Paso Robles.
About the flower: Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice. Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment known as prepared mustard. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the edible leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.
See it: The Peachy Canyon Winery “Old School House” tasting room, located in the hills near Highway 46 West, remains a landmark attraction. The historic Old Bethel School House (circa 1886) is definitely a must visit. Come taste the world famous Estate Zinfandels or any of the other 15+ handcrafted small batch Rhone and Bordeaux varietals while enjoying spring’s most spectacular display. Tip: Head out for wildflowers and delicious Peachy Canyon Zinfandel during Vintage Paso Robles Zinfandel Weekend, with events slated March 17-19.
Mapping and Directions to Peachy Canyon Winery: speedfind.com/PeachyCanyonWinery
See it: Also located on Adelaida Road, you’ll find Kiamie Wine Cellars, a family owned business famous for its delicious Rhone and Bordeaux blends. Grapes are sourced from the best local vineyards, including Derby Vineyards, Halter Ranch Vineyar and more. Tip: Try the 2014 Kiamie Kuvee while taking in the wildflowers. This vintage blend is ripe, rich and expansive with beautifully articulated aromas and flavors. It possesses the “power and grace” which is a hallmark characteristic of all great red wine.
Mapping and Directions to Kiamie Wine Cellars: speedfind.com/KiamieWines
Purple mountains majesty! These local favorites sway in the breeze like brilliant violet dancers.
About the flower: Lupinus, commonly known as lupin or lupine (North America), is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family, Fabaceae. The genus includes over 200 species, with centers of diversity in North and South America.
See it: It could be the cool ocean air filtering through the hills or the drastic diurnal swings, but there’s something about the Templeton Gap that makes grapes balanced and delicious. As it turns out, Lupines—in all of their periwinkle pride—love the area too. Located on Highway 46 West, Tooth and Nail Winery is currently exploding with color, making this castle wine tasting experience that much more majestic.
Mapping and Directions to Tooth and Nail Winery: speedfind.com/ToothAndNail
It may not give delicious fruit, but this close-to-the-ground flower bursting with striking, tiny white flowers is lovely as ever.
About the flower: Fragaria chiloensis, the beach strawberry, Chilean strawberry, or coastal strawberry, is one of two species of strawberry that were hybridized to create the modern garden strawberry. It is noted for its large berries. Its natural range is the Pacific Ocean coasts of North and South America, and also Hawai’i. Migratory birds are thought to have dispersed F. chiloensis from the Pacific coast of North America to the mountains of Hawai’i, Chile, and Argentina.
See it: If you want to see this beach strawberry flower in its natural habitat, look to its name. Head for the coast—Cutruzolla Vineyards in pine-dotted Cambria is a good choice—and keep your eyes peeled for these humble yet beautiful plants. Taste award-winning boutique wines at the winery’s chill tasting room, located just four miles south of historic Hearst Castle in the funky West Village
Mapping and Directions to Cutruzzola Vineyards: speedfind.com/Cutruzzola
Happy wildflower sightings! See some cool wildflowers on your next wine tasting excursion? Tag @pasorobleswineries or #pasorobleswineries on Instagram to be featured on our social media feed!
This blog was written by Hayley Thomas Cain, food and wine writer for SLO New Times and PasoRoblesWineries.net. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on instagram @flavorslo.
If you’re looking for a place to spend the night in Paso Robles, checkout:
The Adelaide Inn is an iconic, locally owned hotel known for its friendly staff and lush landscaping. With spacious rooms and a convenient location close to highway 101 and the event center – home of the California Mid-State Fair – this hotel is a great choice for most travelers.
La Bellasera Hotel & Suites is an elegant boutique hotel nestled in the heart of Central Coast Wine Country. Influenced by Mediterranean and Italian architecture, the luxurious accommodations reflect the aged sophistication of the Central Coast region and the relaxed nature of the California countryside.
Hampton Inn & Suites Paso Robles is nestled in the Central Coast wine region, home to over 200 wineries, beautiful beaches, mountains and diverse attractions. Relax and revive in a comfortable guest room with all you need for a successful stay. You can count on Hampton to deliver value, consistency and service with a smile. We love having you here®
Experience the pristine countryside of Paso Robles Wine Country at Lekai Ranch. Lounge on the porch of your private suite and lose yourself in the tranquility and stunning views of the vineyards and oak studded hills beyond. This vacation rental is located just minutes from some of the most distinguished wineries and a premier olive oil estate, and only 15 minutes from downtown Paso Robles’ restaurants, wineries and shopping.
Enjoy the elegance, style and natural beauty of California’s Central Coast at the JUST Inn®. Surrounded by vineyards, our JUST Inn Suites offer luxurious appointments like fireplaces, Tempur-Pedic®mattresses, Frette linens, hydro-spa tubs, and range in size from 600–1,200 square feet. An overnight stay includes breakfast and a tour of the winery and caves.