Central Coast California 2023

There is a particular flavor of nostalgia reserved only for places one lives briefly; not long enough to establish roots by any means, just long enough to collect a few favorite spaces like record stores, pubs, pizza places by the sea, a ‘famous’ farmers’ market.

Bun and I left SLO/Grover/Pismo in 2015 (for Minnesota of all places) and had returned only once since then for a quick visit.

This visit was a whirlwind, barely over 48 hours which isn’t enough time to do all the things and yet I still tried. Stuffed our bellies with fancy pizza and (overpriced) ossobuco, had a feast at our favorite taqueria. [Side note: I’ve eaten at many taquerias with all my time spent on the west coast but Tacos de Acapulco is hands-down my favorite. Their rice and beans are true perfection and if I ever end up on death row, that’s what I want. Holy hell. I’m salivating just typing this]. We walked the pier to feel the salt and sun and wind–and I mean WIND–on our faces, to feel small and still significant. While Bun gave his talk at the college I had some solo adventures.

Phoenix Books is the type of bookstore that would send a Type-A organizer reeling. There are indeed labeled sections but with stacks of books on the floor leaning against groaning shelves, sagging with previously loved (or loathed) texts. You don’t enter with an immediate need for a specific title. You’re meant to spend time here, sinking fingers into pages to pry open inside jacket descriptions. You’re meant to stroke broken spines to soothe the whispers of books looking for a new home. Allergies be damned.

My other must-haunt is a record store, Boo Boo Records. I didn’t take any pictures as I was juggling my belongings and a stack of used books, but it’s a real delight. I picked up a Mountain Goats LP I’d had my eye on for a minute.

Our trip happened to include a Thursday, which is Farmers’ Market Day in San Luis Obispo. It’s a huge market, farmers and artisans and local organizations all line the street. You can also dip into a restaurant/pub if eating standing up isn’t your thing; a lot of places will have specials to lure you in. After the obligatory tri-tip and lemonade from F. McLintock’s we dipped into Frog & Peach for a pint. It’s a great dive with a stage up front and big patio out back. It’s also like the only place you can smoke/vape in SLO. Public smoking is a No-No. Just a note, in case you’re someone who likes a dart with their pint.

We packed up Friday morning to start the drive home. It’s only a few hours and we had plans to stop at Firestone Walker for lunch. First though, we dipped into Skipper’s Brew for caffeination and man oh man! A Queer joint with the most interesting coffee concoctions, I was in heaven. I wish it was my local spot up north here. I know I say that about a lot of coffee places but the vibes in Skipper’s were immaculate, the baristas were hot AF and the coffee divine.

The day only got better as we left for Paso Robles. It turns out Firestone’s restaurant and separate gift shop aren’t very far from what Bun described as the Downtown Disney version of Wine Country. Tasting rooms for wine and beer and cider and distilleries, restaurants and food trucks, amazing outside patio areas for yard games and general gathering. It was landscaped beautifully! We ended up at Tin City Cider because your boy is mad for delightful, crisp, bone-dry ciders and will try just about any place once. The cider was fantastic! Even the ‘slushie’ version we got on our sampling tray and I generally do not get down on slushie booze drinks.

All of this was well and good. It was a grand time. But what struck me the most, was that as excited as I was during the drive in, the way my heart leapt seeing the ocean and spotting all the old familiar places with new buildings wedged in and others gone, their absence opening up the view just a bit more… As excited as I was to be there, to eat and drink and soak up the riches of the space, I wasn’t heartbroken to leave. Nor was I aching to be home in a way that felt like a lunar tug of the tide. It was nice in it’s own particular way. That’s what I meant earlier, about this particular flavor of nostalgia. I was delighted to arrive and fine to leave. And in a year or two, I’ll be back to take the same path, with new spots slipped in to satisfy the need for exploration.

Stay gorgeous, Central Coast California. See you soon.

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