Timeline: April 6-17
With a drive of a little under four hours ahead of us and a midafternoon check in at the motel, we didn’t need to rush out in the morning, a bonus as it meant we could miss most of the rush hour traffic as we headed south down the 880 towards Highway 101. When we arrived at Avenue Inn Downtown San Luis Obispo, the lodging for our stay, Jan and Evan had just finished checking in.
After we finished doing the same and stowed our gear in the room, pleasantly surprised that it included a small alcove that we could use for additional storage and working on the computer, the four of us walked up Higuera Street towards the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO) to check out the sights as we searched for a place to get a quick bite to eat and some adult beverages. Faced with a plethora of choices, we settled on SLO Brew, with its patio adjacent to San Luis Obispo Creek.
A brilliantly sunny day, we opted for a table in the shade and after ordering our first round of beers, split an appetizer plate of House-Made Hummus (with marinated feta, roasted and fresh seasonal vegetables, marinated mushrooms, olives, and grilled flatbread). We had originally thought about ordering another appetizer to go along with it but the portion size was substantial enough that it suited our purposes perfectly.
We returned to the Avenue Inn and enjoyed a couple of hours in our room talking (due to the extra space) with Jan and Evan and finishing off another beer or two. As dinner time approached, after a bit of research in Trip Advisor, we made our way up Marsh St. (It parallels Higuera) to Broad Street to arrive at the Big Sky Café, one of the higher rated restaurants in SLO.
Settled in, we ordered a round of drinks, a glass of house red for Jan, a mango margarita for Joanna and a $20 bottle of house white for Evan and I. Jan ordered the Goat Cheese Chicken Salad (organic chicken breast, Happy Acres goat cheese croquettes on a bed of spinach & arugula, toasted almonds, fresh seasonal fruit, and local sprouts tossed with lemon, honey & thyme vinaigrette), Evan the Dinner Reuben (house corned beef, house-cured sauerkraut, 1000 island dressing & Jarlsberg cheese), Joanna the Ahi Tuna appetizer (pepper encrusted served with cucumber, onions, shredded daikon radish, sesame seeds and avocado wasabi mousse) and I the fresh fish special of the day, an interesting sounding presentation of Halibut.
All in all the food was good except for my Halibut, which was dry, and the overcooked yam/kale vegetable mix that accompanied it, both less desirable than the menu board had made them out to be. A somewhat disappointing meal and yet creative enough that given the overall positive reviews the place gets, and those $20 bottles of house wine, would likely bring me back for a repeat visit if given the opportunity.
We walked back to the Avenue Inn quite full and after a bit of TV time, hit the sack. Up at our normal time the next day, we met up with Jan and Evan in the breakfast room for the Inn’s continental breakfast, which was typical of those now found in most lodgings of this caliber (except for not including meat or eggs) and managed to eat our fill of cereal, yoghurt, a pastry or two and some of the best scones we’ve had in a long time.
We then took off for Montana de Oro State Park for a day hike on the Bluff Trail. With 8,000 acres of cliffs, sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, its many hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, campground and beach make it a popular destination. And until recently, it has had the longest uninterrupted, preserved and undeveloped coastal area of any publicly owned land in California.
It was a fine day for a hike, temperatures on the pleasant side of cool, high blue skies with a scattering of wispy clouds.
We walked on a broad flat path, easy going, taking a few moments to drop down to the beach in small cove to check out the surf line there, a brief bathroom and water break at the top of the loop of the trail, and then completed the hike by looping around inland to finish back at the car.
Arriving back in town we parked across the street from the backside of the Mission (Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) and walked along the side facing the San Luis Obispo Creek scoping out some of the cow statues sprinkled here and there (part of a fund raising effort known as the Cow Parade) as we made way two blocks over to Chorro Street and El Matador, a small Mexican restaurant which featured happy hour beers for $2 apiece (we got the Firestone DBA) and $2.50 tacos. We ordered one apiece, Joanna the Carnitas and I a Carne Asada and the combo of taco and beer was exactly what we needed to get us through the rest of the afternoon for a grand total of $10.01.
Hunger abated, we returned to the Mission for a tour; the church is unusual in its design in that its combination of belfry and vestibule is found nowhere else among the California missions. The main nave is short and narrow (as is the case with other mission churches), but here there is a secondary nave of almost equal size situated to the right of the altar, making this the only “L” shaped mission church among all of the California missions.
Founded in 1772, it is the fifth mission in the system, with improvements that began in 1872, during the 100th anniversary of the Mission but real restoration not beginning until 1933. Still the center of the busy downtown area, it functions as a Roman Catholic parish church for the City. We spent about an hour in the sanctuary and the adjacent museum before departing for the Avenue Inn and some relaxing time before dinner.
As we headed out to eat later we walked up Marsh Street, stopping first at a small place known for its fish but a glance inside dissuaded some members of the party from selecting it as our choice. A quick scan of Yelp revealed that an Italian restaurant a block back in an old house, Gennaro’s Grill and Garden had good food and very reasonable prices. We opted to give it a try.
Not exactly sure what we would chose for entrée’s we each started with a glass of a nice local Chardonnay and then placed our orders: Jan the Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci (Spinach ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and spinach served with fresh tomatoes and oregano), Joanna the Pasta Special (Linguini with shrimp and fresh catch in a cream sauce), Evan the Mezzaluna di Pollo (Half-moon pasta stuffed with chicken and ham served with fresh tomatoes and basil), and I the Pork Medallions sautéed with fresh apples and a veal/red wine reduction sauce.
As it turned out, the prices were about double as were portrayed in the Yelp menu function and yet it didn’t matter as it was a very nice dining experience; Gennaro himself greeted us as we entered the welcoming atmosphere of this nice old house and interacting with us throughout the meal, taking our orders, checking in on us as the meal progressed. He has a dry sense of humor that took a bit of getting used to, but once we were clued in to it, our meal seem even more personal.
So often our visits with friends are at or around their homes, fun but not out of the ordinary. The opportunity to spend time with Jan and Evan in a mini-road trip doubled our fun quotient, Jan exclaiming as we parted for the evening that she regretted only coming up for two nights. Friendships are precious things and moments like these make them even more so.
Avenue Inn: http://avenueinnslo.com/
SLO Brew: https://www.slobrew.com/
Big Sky Café: http://bigskycafe.com/
Montana de Oro State Park: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=592
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: http://www.missionsanluisobispo.org/
El Matador: http://elmatadorslo.com/
Gennaro’s Grill and Garden: http://www.gennarosgrillandgarden.com/