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El Camino High graduate and Oceanside resident Jaydy Gonzalez co-founded Third Wheel Tours, which takes visitors through Wolff Vineyards in San Luis Obispo via custom sidecars. The idea was inspired by Gonzalez’s early childhood in the Philippines where motorcycles are a chief form of transportation. Photo by Tyler Small
ColumnsHit the Road

No car, no problem in San Luis Obispo

We’ve got three days, no car and lots to see in San Luis Obispo, or SLO Town as the locals call it.

How did we get here?

A 7½-hour ride on Amtrak’s Surfliner from the Oceanside Transportation Center. Landscapes and seascapes along the way were plentiful, then we walked the nine blocks to Hotel San Luis Obispo.

Its downtown location is within a short walk from so much of what brings visitors to SLO: the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and Plaza (free tours daily); SLO Museum of Art (free admission and tours); the History Center of SLO, housed in a historic Carnegie Library (free); the SLO Children’s Museum; the historic Dallidet Adobe & Gardens (free); and the Ah Louis Store, a well-preserved, repurposed remnant of the town’s Chinese-American community that we can see from our hotel window.

Hotel SLO opened five years ago with a focus on sustainability. The thick, verdant, exterior plant wall is a clue to the hotel’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint. Further proof is the noticeably fresh and local fare served at Piadina, where Chef Ryan Fancher buys locally whenever possible. (The crisp salad greens taste as if they are but minutes from the garden.)

Freshness also is the first ingredient in the mojitos served on the rooftop High Bar, which we visit after walking the neighborhood and getting our bearings. From this perch, we can see several of the Nine Sisters, obvious peaks on the landscape created by volcanos 20 million years ago. The Sisters run from Morro Rock on the coast east to SLO.

An inviting fireplace greets visitors in the lobby of Hotel San Luis Obispo, built five years ago in the center of downtown. Restaurants, shopping, museums and historic sites are within a few minutes’ walk. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Because Day One (travel day) had started so early, we sleep in on Day Two and savor the coffee we make with the in-room espresso machine. We get a lift to our next stop, Wolff Vineyards, but it’s a short ride-share trip to any of the 35 vineyards in SLO Wine Country.

After sampling some Wolff wines, we hop into a sidecar-for-two, the creation of Oceanside resident Jaydy Gonzalez and business partner A.J. Mara. The two founded Third Wheel Tours, which takes visitors on rides through vineyards via these one-of-a-kind vehicles. The idea was inspired by Gonzalez’s early childhood in the Philippines, where motorcycles are a chief form of transportation.

“In the Philippines, motorcycles can carry families of 10,” Gonzalez says. The Third Wheel experience, though, is designed to be a bit more “elegant.”

Still, I am expecting a bone-shaker, but our ride is a gentle one that includes the narration of Oceanside High School grad Isaac Barajas, who now lives on the Central Coast. He says that vineyard owner Jean-Pierre Wolff uses methods throughout his 125 acres that are kind to the environment, like building boxes for owls that take care of rodents, planting native shrubs and grasses, and using a water-saving irrigation method Wolff invented.

Later we meet Wolff, who observes that the business of wine involves more than growing grapes.

“I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve seen a change in the customer profile,” says Wolff, a nuclear engineer turned winemaker. “Today’s customer wants more than just wine-tasting. (They) have become more keen on experiences. Third Wheel Tours gives us the opportunity to show off our sustainability (measures) in the vineyards.”

For those who’ve always wondered what Bernini’s David would look like if it were compressed into 1 meter squared, wonder no longer. Sculptor Adam Parker Smith’s work is just one of 70 artworks that can be found throughout downtown San Luis Obispo. Emma Saperstein, chief curator and director of education for the SLO Museum of Art, tells visitors that funding for such installations come from both public and private sources. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

On Day Three, we meet Emma Saperstein, chief curator and director of education for the SLO Museum of Art, for a walkabout to see some of the 70 public artworks in and around downtown. They include publicly and privately funded murals large and small, stained glass, sculptures, mosaics, benches, bridge railings, and an incredible collection of painted utility boxes. (Find an interactive map here.)

There are plenty of choices for eats within a short walk of Hotel SLO. Here a couple of standouts:

  • Mama’s Meatball — Owner/chef Nicola Allegretta began creating dishes at the age of 9 in his mother’s kitchen in Italy. The smoked salmon pizza, New Zealand lamb and Lasagna al Forno are superb. The tiramisu (enough for two) is made at your table “so it doesn’t get soggy.” Plenty of delicious gluten-free options, including minestrone, a rare treat.
  • Luna Red —The night was cold, so we enjoyed the festively lighted patio through the dining room window. And while some were brave enough to attempt the giant cauldron of Luna Red’s signature paella (for two to four), we opted for the smaller plates of king salmon tacos and lamb lollipops — every morsel a delight. Numerous excellent choices for the gluten-free and vegan crowd.

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