October is my favorite time to visit See Canyon in San Luis Obispo County. The hour-long drive northward from Santa Barbara up Highway 101 is especially beautiful now. Leaving Santa Barbara, driving toward the Gaviota coastline, verdant avocado and lemon orchards give way to hillsides covered with bleached and brittle grasses; there has been no rain here for more than six months. Autumn brings our hottest weather, and the air is dry as a bone.
Beneath wide and low-growing live oak trees, groups of Angus and Herford cattle gather in the shade, or they meander up narrow trails that web the hills, grazing. Soon, on either side of the highway are vineyards, their velvety green vines turning to shades of gold and russet; vintners are in the midst of their harvest season.
The highway weaves to and from the coastline, inland and back out to the ocean again.
The water is deep cerulean and cool blue.
Finally, I turn at the San Luis Bay Drive exit, just south of San Luis Obispo. I make a right on See Canyon Road.
The road is bordered by waves of bright red poison oak, and scrub oak, chapparal, and wooden fence posts that are aged and tinged with lichen in colors of chartruse and rust.
The road is narrow and curved; it requires that you slow to the pace of this back road and little valley.
The sun bakes the hills. The blanket of oak leaves and the deep and loamy soil are fragrant and evocative of the warmth of harvest....and the coming winter.
Very soon, you see hand-painted signs that read, "Apples 1/4 mile", "Fresh Cider" "Pigs and Goats for Sale," "Tomatoes Corn Pumpkins Apples"....ranch houses can be spotted here and there among the trees.
These are family farms, with orchards and truck gardens, and wineries, and even little wedding venues beside the creek.
I found a farm with a rustic little shed and cider press. There was a haughty white rooster in the yard, surrounded by black, and snowy, and speckled chickens. A friendly yellow dog greeted me as I got out of the car. The owner offered me a cup of cold, sweet cider and slices of rosy Braeburn and Golden Delicious apples. I bought a jug of juice, and a large bag of apples. I watched the chickens scratch and murmur in shimmer of shade and afternoon sun.
Each family has developed their land and business with a unique and welcoming style. At every stop you will find rustic views, little surprises, and bits of history here and there. Some of these farms have been here for more than 100 years.
You'll find rare and heirloom apple varieties, rich and flavorful from their months in the orchard with gray foggy mornings, hot, dry afternoons, and the sweet, deep, antediluvian soil.
And if you have the time, you can take the scenic road all the way in to the city of San Luis Obispo. Although it's only about 15 miles in actual distance, the drive will take about an hour.
Be warned - it is slow-going, twisty at times, and parts of the road are not even paved (but still easily traversed.) Not many people drive this road, so you'll have much of it to yourself. And, you will find that there are vistas and vantage points that will take your breath away. On a very clear day, you can even see the enormous Morro Rock, sitting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles away.
So if you find yourself in San Luis Obispo County in the autumn, and you have a couple of hours, or an entire day - take a drive through See Canyon. You'll finally know why Eve just couldn't resist that first beautiful bite.