Tours to take you off the beaten path

September 22, 2008 

We never tire of exploring the wineries we have here in our back yard. But sometimes we want a little something different. Following are some ideas for alternate ways to experience what the region has to offer.

Up, up and away

Leave the ground behind and float in quiet serenity in the basket of a hot air balloon. You’ll take off as first light peeks over the horizon, skim just over vineyards, oak groves and grazing cattle for a close-up look from a new perspective and soar far above the earth with the wine-country panorama running for miles in all directions. (Don’t forget the camera!) At the end of the flight, you’ll drop gently down just in time for brunch and the rest of the day’s adventure.

Reservations are a must. Flights are available year-round and take off in early morning, weather permitting. You’ll be in the air about an hour, but expect to spend two to three hours on the whole experience. The cost is $189 per person, with room for four on each flight.

Let’s Go Ballooning, www.sloballoon.com, 805-458-1530

Go to the grapes

Winemaking begins on the vine—you’ve probably heard it said at countless wineries. The family at Steinbeck Vineyards will show you what that really means in a two-hour tour of their 500-acre spread, where they grow grapes to sell to Castoro Cellars, Eberle Winery and other premium producers.

The Crash Course tour treats you to a lesson in running a vineyard and the history of the area. You’ll start out at the tasting room, then board a vintage 1958 Willys Jeep to drive through the Steinbeck Vineyards. The tour includes a glass of wine for the tour, a presentation on one of three modules (Wine Growing through our eyes, Home tours and the History of the Paso Robles Region or My Father's Vineyard: The Wisdom of the Vine), private wine tasting, and the opportunity to ask the guides questions on making wine.

Reservations required and the tour is $40 per person.

Steinbeck Vineyards, www.steinbeckwines.com/Crash-Courses, 805-238-1854

Pedal power

If you prefer your leisure time to include some heart-pumping activity, consider pedaling your way around wine country with Central Coast Outdoors. The outfitter offers a number of different options for combining some cycling with wine tasting and takes care of all the details, from the bikes themselves to routes and lunch. And there’s a support van to transport any winery purchases — or even you if you get tired.

For a moderate yet stunning ride, there’s a full day through Edna Valley, with about 20 miles of riding on mostly level roads (and the option to add extra miles) and visits to wineries such as Chamisal, Kynsi and Baileyana. Or you can cycle from SLO to the coast and back with a stop at Talley Vineyards for lunch.

If you’re up for something a little more strenuous (32 miles and more hills) there’s a Paso Robles option, with visits to Tablas Creek, Justin and other noted wineries. If you’re interested in less riding and more wine tasting, there are also options for a morning ride with an afternoon of winery visits by van.

All the tours are guaranteed private. The cost ranges from $89-$159 per person, depending on group size, and covers bike rental, shuttles, snacks, water and all other details, except wine tasting fees on the full day tours.

Central Coast Outdoors, www.centralcoastoutdoors.com, 888-873-5610 or 805-528-1080

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