Day Trippin’ – When You Just Want to Get Away from LA

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Los Angeles isn’t just an urban wonderland, it’s a wonderland with proximity to easy day trip escapes. It’s a cliche that you can be skiing in the mountains in the morning and surfing on the beach in the afternoon – and yet, it’s a cliche that’s actually true, too.

Here are a few ideas for fast getaways  – and some of the activities that make those getaways fantastic fun. 

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Big Bear Lake

Kitschy carved wooden bears? Check. Terrific mountain views? Check. A beautiful big lake for boating? Check again. And of course, when those mountain views are snowy, there’s skiing too – just a little over two hours from DTLA. Castle Rock Trail offers beautiful views and some unique rock formations. Check out the charming Big Bear Alpine Zoo, a rehabilitation facility offering injured, orphaned and imprinted wild animals a safe haven; 90% of all the animals are successfully released back into their native environment. Browse the eclectic shops in the heart of Big Bear Village, taste Nepalese cuisine at the Himalayan Restaurant, or join the nightly karaoke fun at Murray’s Saloon and Eatery. Want to stay overnight? There are plenty of cozy cabins, sleek condos, and even seven public campgrounds. 

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Temecula

Mountains not your thing? Try the rolling wine country of the Temecula Valley about a two hours southeast of LA. Lush vineyards and equally lush bed and breakfasts abound; tasting tours, weekend concerts, and beautiful spots to picnic are all a part of the winery scene here. Callaway, one of the largest, offers splendid views of a rolling terroir. Experience the wow of a hot hair balloon ride or visit the new gastropub in Old Town Temecula, Crush & Brew – just like it’s name suggests, there’s both local wines and local craft beer on tap.

National Forest Joshua Tree Joshua Tree Rocks Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Climb giant boulders, experience the otherworldly landscape, walk the gentle path through the fuzzy Cholla Cactus garden, or enjoy the stunning outsider art at the Noah Purifoy Foundation outdoor museum near by. In the spring, the desert blooms with wildflowers; and any time of year, you’ll thrill to the vast vista from Key’s Point. You’ll want to find the somewhat elusive trail to Samuelson’s Rocks, where an eccentric miner and farmer carved Biblical and political sayings before this land was parkland; or take a guided rock climbing course and learn to belay with the best. Of course there are more than several other amazing things to see and do, from the meditative Integraton Sound Bath to the terrific music scene at Pappy & Harriet’s just down the road in Pioneer Town.

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Las Vegas

After the solitude of Joshua Tree, perhaps you’re looking for something with a little more action? Las Vegas is a longer trek, but the under-five-hour drive has grown a little more interesting these days with some outsider art stops along the way, including Ugo Rondinone’s vibrantly colored installation, Seven Magic Mountains.

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The bright colors of the rock sculpture sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art and New York’s Art Production Fund, the installation makes the perfect vivid intro to the neon brightness of Vegas itself. An online reference for all things betting and gaming states that brick-and-mortar casinos ruled the world of gambling for centuries, but have since ceded to online gaming options. But the eye-popping fun of splashy theatrical acts, high end restaurants, luxury spas, and luxury shops – as well as themed “world travel” experiences such as Italy at The Venetian casino and hotel or Times Square in the heart of the New York New York casino and hotel – not to mention, Paris, Monte Carlo, and fine art and stunning gardens at the Bellagio – are a huge draw. Don’t want to get behind the wheel after a night of high rolling? There is always a deal to be had on an overnight stay or a weekend fling in Las Vegas.

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San Diego

Two and a half hours from downtown Los Angeles, another wonderful SoCal city awaits. San Diego is a sprawling and bright mix of great beaches, charming history, and world-class museums. Find seaside amusement park fun at Pacific Beach; flower gardens in Carlsbad, sea caves and pine-studded trails in La Jolla, which is also home to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Don’t forget Legoland, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo, either. Enjoy superb Italian cuisine in Little Italy; exciting nightlife in the Gaslamp District; beautiful bay views, and the white sand beaches and classic Hotel Coronado on Coronado Island.

So if you’re ready to get away from LA for the day – there are plenty of reasons to go.

  • Guest Post with Genie Davis

 

The Oaks at Ojai

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The Oaks at Ojai is a splendid retreat, an inclusive spa and fitness destination, and an intimate space that lends itself to a variety of getaways. From mother/daughter duos to best friends weekends, and couples, as well as the solo traveler, the resort has a refreshingly cozy, welcoming quality.

A pretty, shaded pool, a strong series of exercise and yoga classes, full meals and snacks, and evening entertainment, keep guests busy – if they want to be. The large, relaxing, Spanish-style rooms and peaceful, tree-lined grounds of the intimate resort are equally enjoyable for simply relaxing. And of course, a full compliment of spa services includes pampering massages, facials, and skincare.

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One of the most delightful aspects of our stay were the recently revamped accommodations themselves. Beautiful updating didn’t hide the romantic and artistic 1930s era features of the property.

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Original architectural touches such as these alcoves made for a private dressing area, above; historic tile work below remains a part of an otherwise thoroughly modern bathroom.

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A favorite feature: colored lights emanated from jacuzzi jets in the tub. A definite ahhh moment.

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Bedding is comfortable and rooms quiet: while the spa is nestled in the heart of Ojai’s hip California boutiques, and just a stone’s throw from the terrific art at the eclectic Porch Gallery,  the spa has a calm and drowsy vibe making early morning fitness classes easy to attend. Sure, you can go out in the town, visit a wine tasting room, listen to jazz just down the block – but you may prefer to stay in.

The graceful lobby area makes a terrific place to relax and read.

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The small gym space is flooded with light.

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Yoga, exercise, meditation, and more – the Oaks’ rejuvenation schedule is happening from morning to night in a spacious studio.

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We tried Pilates, restorative yoga, and stretching. The weather rained us out of aqua aerobics, but other guests with linger stays swore by the fun. In town strolls and area hikes are also on the schedule. Classes were well run and attended; geared toward both newbies and a moderate level of exercise.

With three meals a day plus tasty snacks such as soup and juice smoothies, guests truly never have to leave the grounds. Options for vegetarian and special food requests are easily accommodated, too.

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The spa focuses on meals that are filling yet healthy, keeping calories low and an emphasis on fresh and organic fare. No alcohol is served; but meals are often multiple courses, with salads or soups, entrees, and deserts such as chocolate covered local strawberries.

Our meals included a truly good mushroom barley burger, an amazing green drink featuring pineapple, parsley, coconut, and cucumber, and a well seasoned tofu  stir fry.

Spa treatments were lovely and generously timed: it was my boyfriend’s birthday so he received the pampering facial, neck, and hand massage. He loved the experience – and proved that while The Oaks has long been known as a destination for women, it makes a lovely retreat for couples, too.

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The spa shop offers the opportunity to purchase the delightful creams and scrubs used in the spa, along with clothing and sundries.

An inclusive and relaxing space, The Oaks has the vibe of a retreat center, and the spirit of renewal in a space homey enough to list classes and meals on daily handouts and serve butter-less popcorn while showing DVDs of recent films after dinner.

Low key is the ultimate accolade here. There’s no pressure to exercise  – although there are plenty of classes – or even partake of the spa’s  signature services – guests just come to relax and renew even if that means reading a book by the pool.

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With reasonable  pricing, weekend or week-long stays, and everything but spa services included, this is a chance to get away and maybe leave behind a few extra pounds, too. Or at least the weight of daily stress.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying SLO Brew Style – A Weekend in San Luis Obispo

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You’ve likely heard the expression: slow down, relax? Well there’s no better place to do that these days than in the heart of San Luis Obispo – SLO. Staying SLO style allows you to taste terrific beer at a variety of breweries, stroll Mission Plaza, and enjoy small boutique shops. It also means a stay at SLO Brew and Lofts, where great food, drink, and loft space might just mean you never leave the property.

Let’s start with a look at why many visitors come to SLO and SLO Brew in particular: the beer.

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Brewer Luis Lapostol led us through a tasting of some of the best beers in town. Always a home brewer, Lapostol joined the SLO Brew team three years ago,  working with brewmaster Steve Courier. “I was always a home brewer and always interested in craft beer. I came in and asked Steve if he needed help. His first question was what kind of beer I liked. We were expanding, and craft beer was expanding – I was in the right place at the right time,” he attests.

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SLO Brew was the first purveyor of craft beer in the state. “The people who built the original brew system in 1988 built it outdoors,” Lapostol told us. “When we moved to this location, the tanks were jack-hammered out and rolled down the street.”

We started by tasting a terrific Cali Weisse, the California version of a Hefeweizen, an American Pale Wheat Ale, with a subdued yeast character, a little subtle clove, and dry bright hops. We also tried the Reggae Red, a smooth brew with a bright flavor and a dash of hemp seeds, and the Cascade Pale Ale, which is not a year ’round brew but a rotating flavor. “We do have some pale ale all year round,” Lapostol says.

The Cascade is a single hop beer, but many brews on the menu are not. “We use up to eight different types of hops. It’s an art to create the mixtures, to see what a certain hop tastes and smells like. With the Cascade we are using a very old West Coast variety, one of the most widely used hops, a grapefruit and pine needle flavor that Sierra Nevada also uses,” Lapostol explains. 

Next up: the Stein Slammer Oktoberfest beer, which boasted a malty sweeter taste that’s easily drinkable and not too hoppy. We followed that with Barley Champ.

“Barley Champ is a brown ale, and I always wanted see it added to our selection. We had nothing on that color spectrum of beers between black stout and Reggae Red. Steve didn’t initially want to do an English-style brown, but I finally got the go ahead,” Lapostol laughs. “It’s hoppy for brown ale, but what I wanted. The name is mine, too.”

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Lapostol relates that because this beer worked out well, SLO Brew is considering a smaller pilot system to do more experimental beers, present them to a tasting panel, and get notes. “We hope to look into doing that part of the process before offering a beer on tap,” he says.

The seasonal Holidaze that we tasted was born of a “fun idea to try something new – pumpkin pie porter with graham cracker crust, vanilla, and a fresh pumpkin taste. We brought in pumpkins, put them through our pizza oven, roasted the pumpkin, and mixed it in mash. We also added graham cracker flour to the boil,” Lapostol attests.

The rich Nitro Oatmeal Stout presented well with small bubbles and a creamy mouth- feel redolent of caramelized sugar, espresso, and oatmeal.  “You need a beer with substantial body to nitrogenate successfully,” Lapostal notes.

Calling brewing a “definite balance of art and science,” Lapostol says SLO Brew is still known for it’s first brew, The Original Blonde Ale. “It’s an approachable craft beer that showcases a balance of malts and hops.” The refreshing beer has a mouth-feel that’s not too sweet, a beer that SLO Brew calls their “beach and hiking beer. It’s accessible and light, an ale not a Pilsner, a little crisper than a Pilsner.”

Naturally, along with tasting SLO Brew’s beers, we tasted their food, both for lunch and dinner. The menu is fresh and delicious. From a crisp flatbread pizza to perfect fries, we were impressed.

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The pizzas are varied: above is the pizza of the day, with onions and cilantro on a cheese-rich crust.

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Fried but not greasy, a delicious guilty pleasure, the lightly breaded and seasoned calamari and artichoke hearts above go just great with a beer or two. Served with sliced lemon, Arrabiata sauce and lemon aioli, they’re a don’t miss.

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More great-with-a-beer dishes: macaroni and cheese and fries.

For dinner, we went with more refined choices.

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Above, a sweet farmer’s market soup of the day: corn.

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Above, a really wonderful salad: the Complete Greens is a mix of kale, frisee, arugula, French Feta cheese, quinoa, sliced green apple, red onion, and almonds all in a light herbed vinaigrette.

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Fish tacos, above, featuring grilled, marinated mahi-mahi with tomatillo salsa, lime cabbage slaw, pickled red onion, and avocado crema. On the side is hearty serving of peruano beans and a fried jalapeno.

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One has to save room for dessert: in this case, the decadent Beer on Beer Brownie Sundae, a stout chocolate brownie with SLO Brew beer gelato and IPA caramel sauce. Yes, you want that.

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Last but not least, it doesn’t have to always be beer at SLO Brew’s bar. Above, SLO Fashion with Brew Rye Whiskey, house simple, and orange peel on the rocks.

So after a good meal or two and some beer, it might be time to listen to some music – SLO Brew often hosts live acts.

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And then – it’s time to chill out in one of the property’s six luxurious, sleek lofts upstairs.

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Beautifully designed spaces are stylishly modern with urban touches. We were in the one bedroom Castaway, with a record player, classic tunes, a fireplace, and a gorgeous kitchen, with a fridge stocked with SLO Brew cans.

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Our stay was on a rainy weekend, and while we took advantage of the central location to check out the art museum, the Mission, and take a stroll along the swollen, pretty creek, we also just stayed in. Spacious, with hardwood floors and bright colors, the Lofts make a great hideaway.

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Other loft spaces are great for families, and there’s a common room, above, that’s just waiting for a party.

So SLO down – SLO Brew is waiting.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke, additional photo SLO Brew

 

For a Beery Good Time Call: SLO

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There are so many good things to say about San Luis Obispo — a.k.a. SLO – that you’d almost have to sit down and discuss them over a cold brew or two. Lucky for you, SLO is the perfect place to do just that. The home of several annual beer festivals – including the glorious October SLO Brew Week – this central coast town is a beery fun place to visit any time of year.  With beer tours, stellar accommodations, great meals, and top of the line breweries, it’s easy to spend a week or a weekend here.

Above and below, a look at Hop On Beer Tours.  Owner Brant Myers knows his brews and takes guests to the region on a well-curated tour of some of the best breweries in SLO.

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Myers is brewing expert having entered the craft beer industry with a partner, appeared on Shark Tank, sold his business, and bought a bus. A comfortable bus that he hand designed on which SLO-goers can ride and listen to Myers’ insights into beers and the brewing process. “We are still kind of in the Wild West,” he attests. “Every brewery is doing their own thing. These brewers are celebrating their craft. ”

Myers took our group to Tap It, Central Coast, Libertine, and SLO Brew, four fine examples of the regions brewing.

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The largest brewery in SLO and the third largest in the country, Tap It served up ample tasters of 7 different beers. Their IPA, amber, American pale ale, and blonde are their year ’round brews, but seasonals were also on tap for tastings. Among others, we tried the light, refreshing Bierre de table; a Chardonnay-barrel-aged wheat, with a light, fruity character; and the Three on the Tree, a triple IPA with an ABV of 11% and a delightfully hoppy flavor.

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Above, brewmaster Ryan Aikens says “We do so many styles here, why block yourself into a single beer? It’s all about good times with friends and family.”

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Before moving on to the next tasting, we made a lunch stop at Luna Red. This charming restaurant is sleek and modern, with globally inspired food that includes tapas and paella.

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Located in the heart of town at the edge of Mission Plaza, the stylish restaurant offers live music in the evening.

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Appetite sated, it was back to tasting: next up, Central Coast Brewing.

Despite a smaller brew system,  brewmaster Brendan Gough says CCB usually has 15 beers on tap, and produces a variety of fresh, hoppy ales, stouts, barrel-aged beers and lagers. A stint by Gough at Firestone Walker led to a friendly relationship with the larger brewer, located just up the road in Paso Robles, one which allows Central Coast, which calls itself “your neighborhood brewery,” access to a variety of hops.  The brewery propagates their own yeast in-house, and harvests and dries its hops once a year. “Most of the brewing uses hops as pellets to help preserve them,” he says. Freshness is key at the brewery, which has ten barrels and twenty tanks.

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Above, Brendan Gough, below – brewery owner George Peterson offers a taste of the brewery’s GABF Gold medal award winner Monterey Street Pale Ale.

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Sours have never been better than at our next stop, Libertine. Using local organic produce – such as a recent purchase of 800 pounds of persimmons – and an open brewing technique in big stainless steel open tubs, their beer gets flavors from the air and is barrel aged before adding fruit to the brew. Libertine also has small brewery outposts in Santa Maria and Morro Bay as well as in SLO.

“You need good beers to stay in business,” Libertine founder and head brewer Tyler Clark says. “We started five years ago in Morro Bay, and we use hot rocks that retain heat for two to three days for natural fermentation in insulated tanks.”

The SLO brewery now includes a flagship restaurant in a 9000-square-foot facility with 76 taps and a full menu that takes full advantage of the brewery’s relationship with local farms and creameries.

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Above and below, Tyler Clark.

Open fermentation, wild yeast, a charcoal filter for water all add to the intense flavors here. We tasted two awesome sours: the Central Coast Saison with lemony flavor, and Casa de Newton, so called because the grapefruit added came from Clark’s partners’ home.

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Below, SLO Brew, our final Beer Tour stop.

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SLO Brew has been a part of the San Luis Obispo beer scene for 21 years. The brewery and restaurant features a variety of crisp, delicious beers from their original blonde ale, the refreshingly light and hoppy IPA Wave Wrangler, and their popular Reggae Red hemp seed beer.

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Tasty flat bread pizzas and a wide range of appetizers are on the menu here, and the brewery features live musical acts many evenings.

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Below, brewer Luis Lapostol.

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The brewery and restaurant also has another perk: beer lovers need not worry about a drive home. Six stunning, modern loft sites are located above the brewery.

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During the festival, we stayed at the iconic Apple Farm Inn. With canopy bed and elegant, old-fashioned style, this is the spot to relax and enjoy capacious grounds, evening cookies, and warm, friendly service. True to their name, guests can also much on crunchy apples; bottles of crisp cider await in the room.

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One of the signature events of the beer festival is the Somm vs. Cicerone Dinner. Held at the San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza, this was a dining experience to be reckoned with, with beer and wine battling it out for a flavor pairing with a four-course meal. Each dish comes paired with both a wine and a beer, the choices curated by a both a master sommelier and a master cicerone.

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Pours were generous and the food, featuring farm fresh local ingredients, was delicious.

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Above, butternut squash soup, one of the many fresh regional flavors highlighted by exceptional beer and wine.

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Carnivores and vegetarians alike had a host of flavors from the farms of the Central Valley to enjoy.

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Mark Stern of Pomar Junction and Bill Sysak of Stone Brewing did a masterful job of curating as sommelier and cicerone, respectively.

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As a closing event, Holly Holliday offered a terrific selection of breweries to taste from at Best of the Fest on Madonna Field.

 

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Lagunitas offered bottles of Aunt Sally and their refreshing Pils. And of course, there was music.

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The Breury offered a sour blonde pale ale, as well as their awesome Dodie, named after the brewer’s grandmother, whose passion for the classic Manhattan cocktail is paid tribute.  The barrel-aged beer was rich and flavorful, evoking memories of distant urban cocktail bars past in the most pleasant of ways.

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Tap It, Heretic, SLO Brew, and Central Coast Brewing served more stellar brews.

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And the girls from Figueroa Mountain were breezy but unbowed, serving a potent strong Belgian C’est La Viogner.

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Hard to resist: Karl Strauss Brewing’s Peanut Butter Cup. Chocolatey.

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Central Coast’s Peach Krush IPA featured peach pulp infusion and dry hops for an amazing flavor bomb.

The week ended with a beautiful dinner in the romantic patio space at the Granada Hotel Bistro. The only thing left? A strong recommendation not to miss SLO Brew Week 2017.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke