Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring into Action: Spring-time Activities on California’s Central Coast

There’s something about spring that makes you want to get off your couch, toss off the long johns and get outside. No where is this better expressed that being on California’s Central Coast, from Ventura through Santa Barbara and Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo, there are a litany of great spring activities. First off though, spring time on California’s Central Coast doesn’t mean summer, and the temperatures will be cooler, especially in the morning and evening, so pack a sweater. Spring has the most pristine weather and the skies are usually crystal clear, the crowds of summer haven’t arrived yet, and you pretty much have the run of the place. Here are a few suggestions:

The featured painting at the 2010 I Madonnari

Santa Barbara-
The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival is held at the Santa Barbara Mission every Memorial Day weekend ( When you were a kid you probably used chalk to deface things. As adults we don’t allow that, with the exception of this festival. The Mission parking lot is transformed from bleak black to more than 200 chalk paintings as artists, both local and from across the globe, take chalk to asphalt and create beautiful reproductions of classic works and original drawings. There are plenty of food vendors, live music, or bring a picnic and watch art in action.

Artists work dilligently to create very cool works

The International Orchid Show ( may seem like just flowers, but ask any lover of orchids and they will tell you passionate stories. The festival, held each March, is thousands of unique and in some cases bizarre looking plants. Experts are on hand to discuss orchids and there are a large number for sale. Santa Barbara enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate with temperate nights and soft ocean breezes and orchids took root at the turn of the century when wealthy industrialists came to Santa Barbara’s burgeoning spas and resorts to escape harsh, Eastern winters. Many of them stayed, building estates and commissioning world-class horticulturists to design elaborate gardens.

Music to your ears is what the Ventura Music Festival, ( held the first week of May, is all about. Diane Schuur, Pink Martini, and Herbie Hancock are just a few of the acts that have claimed center stage in a variety of unique and intimate venues throughout the county. In addition to concerts there are lectures, live talks, and interviews with the artists.

Artwalk ( held the middle of April is a free, self-guided walking tour of 200 established and emerging artists at over 80 galleries, studios and eclectic gallery-for-a day venues in Ventura’s Downtown Cultural District. The event is held just steps from the beach and the Ventura Pier. Participating art venues include restaurants, salons, antique shops, boutiques, coffee shops, most any place with walls.
The Taste of Solvang ( is a food and wine event starting with a dessert reception, and considering the pastry and sweets history of the Danes, that’s enough right there. Following that is the walking smörgåsbord which features about 40 stops in town where you pop in and sample what they might be serving, usually Danish food. Ten wine tasting rooms are pouring their vintages, and this is finished off with live entertainment in the park where people bring a picnic and relax.

Solvang makes the ideal quaint backdrop for the food & wine

Pismo Beach: Each March the World of Pinot Noir, ( an all pinot noir event, is held on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. This three day event is filled with seminars about growing conditions and regions of pinot noir, there’s a vintage tasting and a chef’s challenge. The pinot noirs are not exclusive to California either; winemakers come from Oregon and Europe. It’s a focused time on one varietal; a pinot propaganda program.

Avila Bay:
So wine’s not your thing. Then hop to the California Festival of Beers, ( held each May at the Avila Beach Resort, which is nearly 50 brewers from the West Coast and beyond who gather beachside to celebrate all things beer. Get your pretzel necklace, enjoy the live music, the golf tournament, and know that the proceeds from the event support hospice of San Luis Obispo. This event always sells out.

Paso Robles:
If you enjoy wine and food but are concerned about the toll on the environment, then the Earth Day Wine & Food Festival (held the weekend closest to Earth Day, is right up your carbon footprint. Food is served on, and with, recyclable and compostable plates, bowls, forks and spoons. All literature is produced using post-consumer recycled materials, and even the entertainment stage is solar-powered. About 200 producers of sustainably grown food and wine gather to let you sample dishes sourced from locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, olive oils and, of course, wine. There is live music, a silent auction, and the chance to kick back and meet the farmers and vintners who are committed to sustainability.

Kites like this one cover Morro Bay
Morro Bay:
Every April the Morro Bay Kite Festival ( transforms the skies around the bay with colorful kites undulating in the breezes. Kites up to 100 feet long and of every size and shape are welcome. The festival starts off with the ceremonial Blessing of the Wind by local Chumash Indians, and there are displays, vendor booths even choreographed kite ballets. The skies never looked so colorful. It’s free to attend.

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