The coastal appellations of Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley specialize in Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, while inland, the vast Paso Robles AVA can be blazingly hot in summer, with temperatures frequently topping 100˚F. Yet nights cool off rapidly, with the mercury often falling by 50 degrees, thus ensuring that the predominantly red grape varieties retain vital acidity.
The county seat, San Luis Obispo, is home to California Polytechnic State University, which gives the city a modern, youthful vibe. Meanwhile, tradition continues at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded by Spanish friars in 1772.
Paso happily retains remnants of its 19th-century cowboy culture: A bastion of summer activity, the Fairgrounds features rodeos and country music stars, culminating with the 10-day-long California Mid-State Fair in late July.
The burgeoning wine culture around Paso is bringing gentrification, such as the fancy new restaurants that have sprung up around the Town Square. Fortunately, the two cultures—cowboy and wine—hitch up together just fine. —Steve Heimoff