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Kick back until the cows come home on a weekend escape to Santa Margarita

I’ve kicked around quaint, dusty Santa Margarita off and on for years. The Central Coast town is the same half-square-mile area laid out in 1889 and has some original clapboard buildings. My husband, Phil, and I have lost hours searching for outlying wine-tasting rooms such as Soaring Hawk. We still haven’t seen it all. The tab: about $375 for two nights’ lodging and $200 for food and drink.

THE BED

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We heard about 90-acre Rinconada Dairy Farm from friends intrigued by the idea of a “hay stay.” The concept evolved when owners Christine and Jim Maguire wanted to raise “chickens that taste like chicken.” The Fiesta Room, in a guest wing of the main house, has a private reading nook. The Apartment, in a refurbished barn, has a full-size bed for adults and a hide-a-bed in the living room, making it ideal for families. Its kitchen is stocked with eggs from the farm’s chickens and bacon and sausage from the pigs. Some guests pitch in when it’s feeding time. Others hang out in the garden with a good book. Either choice is a great way to de-stress.

(Lou Spirito For The Times)

THE MEAL

After browsing antiques and craft stores we walked to Ancient Peaks Winery for a pre-dinner tasting. The vineyards are local and extend over five soil types. Down the street, Johnny Cash’s voice spilled from the Range, a down-home place with stove burners set in the concrete doorstep. I was tempted by the specials but had already spotted the menu’s pan-roasted elk medallions ($28) with garlic mashed potatoes and Montmorency cherry bordelaise. Phil chose local organic pasta tossed with wine herb Bolognese ($19). The hospitality is authentic; the food consistently “ah” some.

THE FIND

The watering hole Pozo Saloon turns 160 this year. Back in the day, it was a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop and mail route for the Pony Express. I browsed old photos of the Dalton gang and admired the 12-foot mahogany bar said to have been transported around Cape Horn in 1860. I settled on a small bowl of housemade chili ($3), slightly smoky from reduced bacon, while Phil sipped a sweet-style stout ($5).

THE LESSON LEARNED

A local told us about wildflower-studded hiking trails. Sure enough, we saw a sign for Rinconada Trail between Rinconada Farm and Pozo Saloon. We vowed, “Next time.”

Rinconada Dairy Farm, 4680 W. Pozo Road, Santa Margarita; (805) 438-5667. Fiesta Room, $175 per night, includes home-style breakfast prepared by Christine. The Apartment, $225 per night. Two-night minimum.

Pozo Saloon, 90 W. Pozo Road, Santa Margarita; (805) 440-3996. Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

The Range, 22317 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita; (805) 438-4500 No credit cards or reservations. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Ancient Peaks Winery, 22720 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita; (805) 365-7045. The $15 tasting fee waived with a two-bottle purchase. Open 11 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. daily.

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