100 Mile SLO Swim Challenge (2019)

It is a brisk afternoon and I am heading down to the local pool for my next swim (SLO Swim Center – ). I am excited to jump feet first into the pool to cool down, get some exercise, and just enjoy the water.

Swimming has become one of my favorite activities and jumping in the deep end of the pool during a warm California afternoon just makes my day. I have been coming to this pool for the last few three years and currently swimming 2-3 times a week. What is driving me to continue to come down to the pool day after day.

Backing up to the start of 2016 there was a new poster at the pool entrance describing a 100-mile swim challenge. Each time people finish their swim for the day we log our distance, and once we complete the 100 miles the pool recognizes us and we also get a cool “SLO 100” t-shirt. I was a little hesitant to do the challenge by myself. I talked with fellow Flavor Team member Kara and we joined the 100-mile challenge.

And so it so began.

A few years ago I would have never thought I would be able to swim a hundred miles in a year. I had trouble just getting a ½ mile during each swim session. For this challenge, I decided to approach it like any other lofty goal I had set for myself in the past. Below were some of the points I keep in mind each year to remain focused on  hitting the 100-mile deep plunge challenge


1) Always to know your target outcome in as much detail as possible.

To me that outcome was pretty clear. I wanted to hit the 100-mile goal. I did research into how long the pool was calculate how many length and laps it took to hit a mile (36 laps in the short direction @ this pool). As I work in the corporate world I put together a spreadsheet (we use spreadsheets for everything) and setup an estimated schedule, # of laps per month, and put together then plan. 2-3 times a week at minimum of a mile each time I would hit my goal. Easy right…..


2) Know your reason why. Humans do amazing things when you know why.

Next to really understand and motivate myself to get and head to the pool each week I looked at my own “why”. Why did I want to swim the pool over and over and over, etc. For me it really came down to two main reasons.

First, I have already come to love being in the pool and swimming. I feel great afterwards, and that comes with other great benefits primarily great exercise, stress relief, and low impact to my joints. Even though I understood my “why” I really thought about it before really committing.

This still holds true after three years and if you are doing something for the right reasons it does not seem like a chore.


3) Massive action. Make the plan, stick to it, and keep going. Once I started and stuck with it swimming for me is natural and even better now I crave wanting to swim (YES!)

Here with the known outcome and why I wanted to commit to this goal I now had to take action. As some life coaches say don’t just take action, but take massive action (10x booya! | just do it!) I personally tend to over commit in the beginning and wanted to start strong.

I made the schedule part of my life and worked my weekly schedules around my new swim schedule. Another thing I did was plan one of my swim days to include my son. We swim about a mile during our session, and for me this feels great on multiple level. I can experience my journey with him as well as good exercise for both of us.

For the last three years I have been able to maintain a good pace and keep my schedule. Yes, it sometimes changes slightly, but I always come back to the pool. Another major activity that is part of life is as a martial arts instructor (Kiryu Aikido). In my 35 years of practice in  Aikido I have seen 1000’s of times where people have a strong start to their goals, but if they do not make the practice as part of their schedule ultimately life and excuses will always, always win out (always).


4) During the journey keep track of your progress, celebrate your milestones, and don’t forget to praise yourself.

Each swim session I logged my laps and distance with the local pool and also followed up with my own tracking tool.  I logged my month to month distances in relation to my goal. I could see my progress against my initial goal.

Celebrate your successes. When Kara and I both hit our 50-mile (halfway mark) milestone we had a great celebration some friends and family on Pismo Beach. Kara even made some awesome gluten free dolphin cookies!!

It is now almost 2019 and we have both hit our 100-mile goal constantly. As I have continued to stay committed to the goal, and the process, throughout this year swimming has become more part of me.

I truly enjoy and crave going to the pool. I am enjoying the journey and curiously the 100-mile goal is now just a (yearly) milestone to me.

I can’t see myself slowing down anytime soon, and will continue to swim and enjoy our central coast lifestyle. I have met many people at the pool so excited and enjoying the challenge themselves and we all help and push each other when we see each other towards those goals.

Who else is ready to challenge themselves (and US) for the next year. Comment and give us a shout out.

– Andrew

See you at the pool!

Celebrate the Fourth of July: Central Coast Style (2018 update)

What’s better than the Fourth of July—celebrating freedom, opportunity, and gratitude for all we have here in the USA, all wrapped up in red, white, and blue, and centered around time with family and friends? Celebrating just steps from the ocean!

Pick Your Fireworks Location and Plan Your Day Around One of These Ocean Towns

Here are three of our flavorite Central Coast places (Pismo Beach, Morro Bay/Cayucos, Cambria) updated for 2018 to get your fireworks fix and create an Independence Day to remember, along with restaurant and other recommendations from the Flavor Team. (Please do call ahead and confirm places are open.)

We suggest picking the place you want to watch fireworks and working backwards to plan the rest of your holiday from there.

Ready? Get set! Let’s go celebrate!

Don’t get caught by a high tide. Here’s the Fourth of July 2018 Tide Schedule.
Sunrise: 5:52 am  / Sunset:  8:19 pm
Low Tide: 9:30 am / High Tide: 4:15 pm / Low Tide: 9:49 pm 


Grover Beach/Pismo Beach/Shell Beach/Avila Beach

Pismo Beach and the surrounding beach towns are packed with Fourth of July activities.

Fireworks: The fireworks begin at 9:00 pm from the Pismo Pier.


• Although the Pismo Pier is closed for repairs, Pismo Beach will be hopping. There will be arts, crafts, food, and music downtown.

• The Avila Beach Doggie Parade  starts at 11:00 on the Avila Promenade. Free to watch; if your pooch wants to participate, registration required.

• At noon, the Avila Beach San Luis Yacht Club Boat Parade  sets off from the Cal Poly Pier.

• Check out the Village Band performance at 1:00 in the Rotary Bandstand in the Arroyo Grande Village, and munch on hotdogs, lemonade, and ice cream.

• Spend the day on the beach! Heading south from Pismo Beach to the Grover Beach Entrance Station, buy a day pass and claim your spot to set out blankets, beach chairs, and dig a pit for a campfire. (Here’s how: Firelight Rhapsody: Enjoy the Simple Pleasures of a Pismo Beach Campfire (10 Easy Steps).  Or take a long walk on the beach—from Pismo Beach all the way south past Oceano.

Breakfast: Start the day with stick-to-your ribs fare from Penny’s All American Café in Pismo, L’il Bits in Grover Beach, or the Village Café in Arroyo Grande. Or, head to the Avila Beach Pancake Breakfast fundraiser from 8:00 – 11:00 am at the Avila Beach Community Center, 191 San Miguel Street. Cost is $7/person and $3 for kids ages six and under.

Lunch: If you’re not up for cooking your own lunch on the campfire, grab clam chowder from Brad’s in Pismo or Mexican from Zorro’s in Shell Beach and have a picnic. If you want to eat in, check out Rooster Creek Tavern in Arroyo Grande or Rosa’s in Pismo Beach.

Dinner: Take out: In Grover Beach, Juanita’s Mexican (al pastor tacos) and Villa Del Mar (shrimp tacos). Eat in: Divine Thai and The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach; SeaVenture overlooking Pismo Beach, or Blue Moon Over Avila in Avila Beach. Or cook over the open flame of your campfire.  (Here’s how: Firelight Rhapsody: Enjoy the Simple Pleasures of a Pismo Beach Campfire (10 Easy Steps).

Cayucos/Morro Bay

From Morro Bay up the beach to Cayucos, you can fill your day with Fourth of July fun.

Fireworks: The fireworks begin at 9:00 pm from the Cayucos Pier. If you spend your day in Morro Bay, check out several cruises that will take you to Cayucos to be closer to the fireworks. Or set up your beach chairs along Morro Strand and watch the fireworks from there.

Breakfast: Blue Sky Bistro in Morro Bay; Lunada Garden Bistro in Cayucos.

Cayucos Activities: Sand Sculpture Contest: 5:00 – 8:00 am by the pier. Annual Parade 10:00 am, Ocean Ave. Lion’s Club BBQ/food 11:00 – 3:00, Vet’s Hall. Bingo 1:00 – 4:00 pm, Vet’s Hall.

Morro Bay Activities: Most activities take place at Tidelands Park, on the south end of Embarcadero. Skateboard Race, 10:00; Bike Parade, noon;  4th of July Opening ceremony, 1:00; Paddle Parade, 2:00;  Family Carnival, 12:00 – 5:00, at Tidelands Park with dunk tank, bounce house, games, food vendors, and live entertainment.

Lunch: Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos. Kuma Bowls in Los Osos.

Dinner: Ruddell’s Smokehouse (yes, dinner, too: it’s that good) and Cass House in Cayucos. Brick House BBQ and House of JuJu in Morro Bay.


Cambria’s Shamel Park (5455 Windsor Blvd.) is the place to celebrate the 4th of July with food, fun, dancing, prizes, and more. The day kicks off at 11:00 with the opening ceremonies. Be sure to check out the Waiter/Waitress tray relay race from 2:00-3:00 and Linn’s Messy Pie Eating Contest at 3:00. The pool is open 11:00-6:00 and children’s games run all day. Free parking and admission. The trolley runs 11:00 am to 7:00 pm with stops along Main Street to Moonstone Beach Drive.

If your Fourth of July plans bring you to Cambria, be sure to take time for a walk on Moonstone Beach. (Wear your flip-flops; the pebbly sand is pointy on bare feet.)

Fireworks: Fireworks begin at dusk from Shamel Park, 5455 Windsor Blvd.

Breakfast: Linn’s Easy as Pie Café (eat in or take out)

Lunch: Sandy’s Deli & Bakery

Dinner: Black Cat Bistro, Robins, Linn’s

Return of the Monarchs – Butterflies Fill the Air in Pismo Beach (Updated 2018)

From November to February, thousands of Western Monarch Butterflies overwinter near Pismo Beach.

All is quiet as you walk toward the towering eucalyptus trees in the Monarch Butterfly Grove near Pismo Beach. Nothing seems to be going on, just a gentle breeze that’s ruffling the leaves.

Monarch Butterfly on tree image
This Western Monarch Butterfly (and thousands of his or her friends) overwinters in the Monarch Butterfly Grove near Pismo Beach.

But you pause, and look up.

There, high in the branches, black and orange striped confetti flits and flutters, as hundreds of Western Monarch Butterflies take to the air.

Why Visit?

Each year, from November through February, the Western Monarch Butterfly overwinters in sheltered groves of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees along the California Central Coast.

One of their favorite stops is the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. Thousands of the brightly colored butterflies gather in the grove.

On cool days below 55 degrees, the Monarchs will be clustered in groups for protection from the elements. At first glance, they may look like brown, dead leaves. But look more closely. These clusters of “leaves” will transform into groups of vibrant Monarch butterflies.

On warm days, they’ll take to air, looking for a mate. You might be lucky enough to see a burst as hundreds take flight. Watching them is mesmerizing — it’s Monarch meditation.

They also congregate in areas around Morro Bay and other Central Coast locations.

Life of the Western Monarch

The butterflies you’ll see in the grove have never been here before. They’re actually four generations removed from last year’s overwintering group.

Life cycle poster image
The Monarchs that overwinter in Pismo Beach can live as long as eight months. (The other generations? Only a few weeks.)

These came south and west from colder areas, perhaps as far as 2,000 miles. When they arrive, they shelter in groups to conserve energy and as protection from predators. As the weather gets warmer, usually starting in late January through March, they become more active as they start looking for mates and food.

Adult females lay 200 to 400 eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. In about four days, the eggs hatch into larvae. These caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves for two to three weeks, grow in size and develop their distinct yellow, white, and black striped coloration.

Next, the caterpillar attaches to a sturdy twig or branch and forms the jade-green chrysalis. In about 15 days, the Western Monarch emerges.

The new generation finds a mate, lays eggs, and continues the cycle.

Those born in the spring and summer live about two to six weeks. The generation that  overwinters in the grove can live up to eight months.

Getting Here

Located between the Pismo Pier and the Grand Avenue entrance station to Pismo Beach, Monarch Grove is a pretty stop on Hwy 1. Just look west for the signs and parking lot. It’s free and open year-round.

If the lot is full, which it likely will be on weekends, park along the road and walk in.

Located just south of the town of Pismo Beach, Monarch Butterfly Grove is free and open all year. Even when the Monarchs have left for the spring and summer, the grove is still a peaceful place to visit

On many weekends, especially in February, volunteers, docents, and California State Parks employees set up telescopes, have an information booth, and give presentations about the life cycle of the Western Monarch Butterfly.

And even after the Monarch Butterflies have moved to their summer homes (typically in Canada or the Rocky Mountains), the grove is a peaceful, beautiful place to spend a little time connecting with nature.

Be sure to take a little extra time and take the path to the ocean. It’s just a few minutes’ walk through the trees and dune vegetation before you find yourself at the waves.

Meet the Monarchs

Make plans to visit the Central Coast, especially between November and February, and stop by the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. Then, prepare to be amazed.

The spectacle of hundreds or thousands of Western Monarch Butterflies floating and flitting overhead is a memory you’ll always remember.


If you’re looking for a few other ways to enjoy the outdoors around Pismo Beach, here are few ideas:
Dive In to a Great New Year (Pismo Beach Polar Plunge)
Firelight Rhapsody: Enjoy the Simple Pleasure of a Pismo Beach Campfire (10 Easy Steps)
Or do both – they’re even better together.

2018: Dive In to a Great New Year (Pismo Beach Polar Plunge)

Feature Video

Happy New Year from the Flavor Team!

Great Flavors polar plunge image
The Flavor Team greeted the new year with a plunge into the polar Pacific waters off Pismo Beach. What’s on your list to experience this year?

How did you ring in this shiny new year?

We kicked off 2018 with a Polar Bear Plunge into the chilly waters off Pismo Beach. Whew! Bracing and invigorating!

Let’s all dive in to new beginnings, fresh starts, and the uncharted waters of new experiences as we all explore and discover more of this amazing Central Coast.

What’s on your Life List this year?

Tooth & Nail Winery: Paint Bar Activity (46 West Wineries, Paso Robles)

Feature Video

Tooth & Nail image
Tooth & Nail Winery along the 46 West wine trail in Paso Robles brings gothic charm (and a moat) to the experience of tasting very good wines.

When we heard about the Anti-Valentine’s Paint Bar at Tooth & Nail Winery along the 46 West wine trail in Paso Robles, we knew we wanted to sign up. (And we suggest you do the same next time it’s offered.)


Unconventional winery: The castle (complete with moat) setting of Tooth & Nail Winery blends a fun, gothic feel with some great wines. Before the event started, we did a quick wine tasting. Two of our favorites from the Unconventional list (really, that’s what it’s called) by winemaker Jeremy Leffert were the 2015 Amor Fati Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Unconventional theme for the featured painting: We’ve attended other wine-and-sip events (all fun) and the painting chosen by the teacher is often a landscape, seascape, an O’Keefe-esque flower, or other calm and pleasing artistic imagery. But the painting depicted in the social media ad for this event? Thorny brambles growing out of a Gray’s anatomy heart, and a pair of crows coming home to roost. Not exactly the normal Valentine’s fare.

original painting adi
Be still my beating (?) heart. This is the painting we were expecting to create.

So sign up we did, and it’s a good thing, because nearly every seat in the window-flanked hall was taken by fellow adventurers out to create some art, have some fun, and enjoy some wine on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day.

Enter Here, Ye Faint-Hearted Artists
Before we dive in, we want to say right up front that we’re not artists. We both enjoy art—sketching, painting, pottery, whatever—but we’re not artists. And that is the beautiful thing about an art-and-wine event. No artistic talent is needed, not even if “can’t draw a straight line” is your self-described ability (and you’re probably selling yourself short). A good teacher will guide you through creating your own rendition of the painting, and believe us, it will be beautiful.

Pouring Wine, Pouring Paint
We found two seats near the windows, so the light would be right (to film the art-making in time-lapse mode), and got our two glasses of wine (to aid in the creative process). Not sure, but we think our wine was The Fiend—perhaps a nod to a Right Bank Bordeaux blend of 72% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Syrah. Whatever it was, it did help the creative juices flow.

sign image
Right this way to the Anti-Valentine Paint Bar.

Interesting, too, the paint for this painting. Some wine-and-art experiences provide a rainbow of acrylic colors to use. But this one had just four on our palettes: white, black, red, blue. It was a nice chance to experiment with blending our own colors.

Painters, Raise Your Brushes
As the large class settled in, nervous laughter quieted as co-teachers and artists Jami Ray and Josh Talbott introduced themselves and explained what we’d be doing today.

“We’re not against Valentine’s Day,” explained Jami. “We just believe in the freedom to express love on different days and in whatever ways you think best.”

Unlike some other paint bars, Jami and Josh did not have a finished painting at the front of the room for students to refer to. Instead, we created brushstroke by brushstroke with our teachers.

And, here was a surprise. Our painting ended up without the freshly plucked heart as was shown in the ad. Personally, I was a bit pleased with that. Not that I can’t paint a human heart in the name of fun and creativity, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed looking at that painting every day, and it may have been destined for the thrift store and someone’s more goth-influenced decor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Welcome the Light. And the Dark
Jami first showed us how to create the light source that would be the focal point of the painting. Starting with white, then mixing in some blue, we blended it out to create a sphere of light.

With the addition of red, the blue blurred to purple and the purple blurred to black infinity at the edges of the canvas.

Jami Josh image
Jami Ray and Josh Talbott walk us through creating our crow(d) pleasing masterpieces, with patience, humor, and talent.

The Painting Takes Shape
Next, the branches came to life, squiggling in from the edges and scratching toward the light. Gnarled and bare, they formed a place for our crows to land.

“Creating art is about shapes,” explained Josh, “so when you think about the crow’s body, do you see how it’s a teardrop shape?”
His inky teardrop took shape above a branch, and our renditions of teardrops began to flow on the canvas.

Crow after crow was born, each looking at something just off the edges of the canvas. Some looked left, some right. Some looked straight into the light.

Josh explained how tail feathers are long and pointed, and he showed us how to add definition to the shoulder, the beak, the feathers along the wings, and to give our crows legs with which to grasp the branch.

Crow by crow, the room filled with art. Each canvas now a masterpiece reflecting the creator’s eyes, heart, and hand.

painting group image
Crow by crow, the paintings come to life.

Now Fly Away Home
In a flash, two hours are gone. And gone with them is the nervous laughter that began this experience. It’s been replaced with smiling faces, energy filled with “yes, I did this,” and an unspoken appreciation of tapping into the place of creation we are all born with and listening to the whisper of the artist that resides within all of us.

finished paintings image
Every painting is a masterpiece, reflecting the artist’s heart, eyes, and hand.

Flavor Team Thanks
Thanks to Tooth & Nail Winery (www.rabblewine.com) for the amazing setting and wine, and to our patient, positive teachers Jami Ray and Josh Talbott for sharing your talents so all of us could unveil the painting we had inside us.

Flavor Team image
The Flavor Team with our finished pieces. Such a fun experience!

Check out Jami and Josh’s work at an exhibit at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo through February 27, 2018, and read more about the artists:
www.jamirayart.com and www.joshtalbott.com

group photo image
Thanks, Jami and Josh, from Kara and Andrew (the Flavor Team)!

PS. Flavor Tribe! We’re planning a Great Flavors wine-and-art event. Let us know if you’re game, and we’ll keep you posted about the details.

Mission Accomplished 2017: Another 100 Miles in the SLO Swim Center Challenge

2017 SLO Swim Challenge feature image
Feels so good! Our second year completing the SLO Swim Center 100-Mile Challenge. Come join us on the 2018 adventure!

One year, and many (many) hours later, we accomplished our goal of completing the SLO Swim Center’s 100-Mile Challenge for the second year in a row.

And as we rediscovered and came to understand more deeply, there’s more to reaching the goal than making it to the finish. It really is about the journey, and the adventure, camaraderie, and experiences along the way.

Week after week, as the laps added up, a lot of thoughts bubbled up and floated to the surface. Here are just a few (and we think perhaps they apply to more than logging laps).

    • A good friend will help you through the rough water and help you enjoy the calm water even more.
    • Working toward a goal means growing and finding more inner strength, no matter what the outcome is. As the Ironman Triathlon motto says, “Anything is Possible.”
    • The only secret to achieving a goal is sticking with it, and the goal is closer with every stroke. No magic wands, just the magic of time and commitment.
    • Celebrate the milestones as their own accomplishments, because together, they add up to something bigger than the parts.
    • No matter how slowly you swim, you’re lapping everyone sitting on the couch (from a poster on the Swim Center bulletin board.)
SLO Swim Center night
The SLO Swim Center in Sinsheimer Park is a great community resource for swimmers and others who enjoy water activities.

Please join us for the 2018 Challenge! It’s free to sign up, with super low daily admission costs.  

No matter what your ability or speed (neither of us will set any records) we welcome you to join The Great Flavors Swim Club. We’ll support each other along the way and enjoy this wonderful, healthy activity at the great outdoor SLO Swim Center pool.

New Year’s Activity Guide: Central Coast Style

ocean art
The New Year is here: time to celebrate the successes and lessons of the past year, and set the stage for our best year yet.

We promise not to start this with clichés about how quickly this year has whizzed past (but ain’t that the truth?!). Instead, we’ll focus on making plans to celebrate all that happened in 2017 and welcome in the New Year.

Of course, there’s always the option of making reservations at your restaurant of choice, but many are likely full by now.

Instead, here are some Central Coast-centric ideas that may be just the ticket to getting 2018 kicked off on the right foot.


New Year’s Eve

German New Year’s Eve party. There’s no need to wait til midnight for New Year’s to begin—celebrate at midnight in Germany! Beda, Helga, and the great staff at Beda’s Biergarten will share the fun of German New Year’s Eve from 1:00 – 7:00 pm at Beda’s Biergarten. Here’s more about Beda’s Biergarten, a great family friendly spot in SLO.

Campfire at Pismo Beach. Get your parking pass at the Pismo/Grover Beach or Oceano entrance stations, and say adieu to the year over the crackle of beach campfire. The beach closes at 11:00 pm., so you can get home to ring in 2018. Here’s our handy how-to guide to experiencing a Pismo beach campfire.

Ready, Set, Swim. If getting more fit in 2018 is on your list, stop by the SLO Swim Center from 11:30 – 1:00. Check out the pool, which offers aqua aerobics, warm-water exercise, Masters swim club, and youth swimming classes in addition to lap swimming, and jump on in. The best fitness deal in town is the 10-pack of Swim Script coupons—swim for just $2.70 each time with no expiration date. Learn more about your community SLO Swim Center.

Explore Local Flora. The Central Coast State Parks Association will take us on an easy one-mile walk  through the Elfin Forest in Los Osos to welcome the plants waking up to winter (cross fingers the rainy season actually starts soon). Meet at the north end of 15th Street at 1:30 for the docent-led hike. www.centralcoastparks.org

New Year’s Day

Polar Bear Plunges: Ready for an iconic Central Coast tradition to start the New Year? Get thee into the chilly Pacific to wash off the old year and get invigorated for a great year ahead. Either join one of the organized ocean frolics or create one of your own. Either way, it’s the perfect way to start 2018.

Here’s a run-down of the planned events, listed in order of start time.

9:00 am: Pismo Beach Pier to Plunge. Starting at 9:00 for a tots walk, the 2nd annual event includes a 5K run/walk followed by a polar plunge. Sign up to reserve your spot (Adults $30, Youth $20), which includes a t-shirt. The first 250 finishers receive a challenge coin, and the first 250 polar plungers receive an event beanie.

11:45 am: Avila Beach Polar Bear Plunge. This annual event celebrates all the good things of the Central Coast: nature, health, camaraderie. Meet on the South side of the Avila Beach Pier in your most festive swim attire—and costumes are encouraged. Bring your verve for the new year but please leave the alcohol at home. www.visitavilabeach.com

Noon: Cayucos’ 37th Annual Carlin Soule’ Memorial Polar Bear Dip. The dip starts at high noon at the pier, but the festivities kick off at 9:30 am. Join a bunch of fellow life-loving compatriots and start your best year yet.

First Day Walk. If a dip in the ocean isn’t your thing, how about a relaxing walk up the Morro Strand Beach? The easy one- to two-hour walk starts at 3:00 pm (meet at the Morro Rock parking lot restroom area). Join the fun exploring the beach and the gifts of the sea. Shoes optional, but no dogs, please. www.centralcoastparks.org

Do or See Something New. Some say what we do on the first day of a new year sets the tone for the coming 364 days. Since it’s a shiny new year, filled with opportunity and potential, New Year’s Day is a great time to get out and do something—anything—new. Walk in a new place. Drive up a new road. Read a book of a new genre. Cook a new dish using local ingredients. Wear a new style. Try a new wine. Sign up for a new class. Listen to new music. With so many options here on the Central Coast, pick something that speaks to your heart, and let the enjoyment of it lead to many, many new experiences in 2018.

Choose Your Touchstone. During your chosen new experience (see above), choose something that will represent to you the goals and aspirations you have for 2018. It might be a shell or smooth stone from a walk on a new beach or trail. Perhaps a sprig of rosemary from that new recipe. A scrap of festive paper as a bookmark for the new genre you’re exploring. A guitar pick for the new instrument you’ll begin learning. It doesn’t have to be anything big or “important.” Place it where you’ll see it every day and allow it to remind you of your great-flavored journey ahead in the coming year.

Got Pumpkins? 7 Places to Pick Your Perfect Calabasa in SLO

pumpkins and bench image

It’s pumpkin time. Not only does that mean it’s time for pumpkin-spiced everything (and we mean everything), but it’s time to go pumpkin hunting for the perfect orange orb that will add the fall touch to your décor or become the canvas for the best carved jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood.

And, sure, you can dig a big pumpkin out of the cardboard bin at the grocery store, but there’s a much more fun way to find the perfect pumpkin.

The answer? Take a trip to one of the many local pumpkin patches or pumpkin purveyors. It’s a great outing for the whole family and there’s nothing like strolling through the vines to get you in the Halloween spirit.

Even better, many pumpkin patches are fundraisers for local groups. You get a great pumpkin; they get some funds. Win, win.

Here are a few options around town, with both pick-your-own patches and places that sell pumpkins in a fun atmosphere.

Avila Valley Barn image
1. Avila Valley Barn. Off Highway 101 on the way to Avila Beach, Avila Valley Barn brims with its own farm-grown pumpkins. Choose one already picked or take the tractor ride out to the fields and pick your prized pumpkin. Open: Daily 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Branch Elementary School Pumpkin patch Arroyo Grande
2. Branch Elementary School Pumpkin Patch.
Located right next to Talley Vineyards on Lopez Drive outside of Arroyo Grande, the large patch is operated by the winery. The tranquil area encourages a quiet stroll through the pumpkin vines, and proceeds benefit Branch Elementary School. Open: Weekends in October, 10:00 am – 5:00
Cornercopia market image
3. Cornercopia Farm Stand.
This little yellow farm stand is at the corner of Crestmont Drive and Edna Valley Road / Highway 227 south of the SLO Airport. Choose from pumpkins small to large, plus gourds and other fall delights. Open: Fridays – Sundays, noon – 6:00 pm
4. County Line 4-H Club. As you drive west out of Arroyo Grande on Lopez Drive, keep an eye open on your right. There, the County Line 4-H club has its honor-system pumpkin patch. Looks for the scarecrow family to find prices by size. Pick your pumpkin and put your payment in the mailbox. Sweet little patch. Open: Always
Gopher Glen farm stand imate
5. Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm.  Just a short drive up See Canyon Road, Gopher Glen has lots of pumpkins pre-picked and ready to choose from. And of course, their delicious apples in a bunch of varieties. All the pumpkins and gourds, inside and out, are for sale to take home and enjoy a touch of fall. Open: Daily 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Sundays opens at 10:00)
The Pumpkin Patch in Edna Valley image
6. The Pumpkin Patch. Operated by the same family for five generations, this landmark and picturesque pumpkin patch is at the intersection of Edna Valley Road / Highway 227 and Biddle Ranch Road. In addition to pick-your-own pumpkins, they have gourds, vegetables, and other items. Open: Fridays 3:30 – 6:00 pm; aturdays & Sundays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm; otherwise on the honor system. Look for pumpkins near the stand with sizes and prices.
SLO Creek Farms image
7. SLO Creek Farms.
Just a short hop east from Highway 101 at the San Luis Bay Drive exit but a world away lies this  pick-your-own organic farm. In addition to pumpkins, you can pick your own vegetables and fruits in season. Open: Daily 10:00 – 5:00 pm

Where’s Your Favorite? 

Do you have a favorite pumpkin patch we didn’t mention? Please let us know so we can give it the recognition it deserves!

What’s SUP! 10 Easy Tips to Rock your First Stand-Up Paddleboarding Experience

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Otters raise their heads in hello. Silver schools of fish flow and reshape through the kelp like mercury. Harbor seals bark their greeting. Or perhaps they’re barking a strong suggestion for you to slow down, breathe, and relax.

After all, you’re on a Stand-Up Paddleboard.

As you gently dip your paddle and glide across the water, ripples move beneath your board. The sun warms your face, time slows down, and your biggest concern is… nothing.

This is what Stand-Up Paddleboarding (also known as SUP) is all about.

If you’re ready to experience the simple joy (and it is pretty simple) of gliding on the ocean, here are 10 easy tips to get you from land to the sea and the joys that await you.

SUP: The Quiet Bridge to Ocean Exploration

While surfing is the activity most people think of when they think of ocean activities, we think its quiet cousin—Stand-Up Paddleboarding—has all the elements of an even better adventure.

Here’s why:

  • You don’t need to be super athletic.
  • The initial learning curve is short and not too steep.
  • It’s fun for a wide range of ages and abilities.
  • You can experience the marine world—and the life waiting back on land—from another perspective.
  • It’s quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.

All you need is a sense of adventure, the right gear, and a good guide to get you started.

It’s no wonder Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the fastest-growing sports. It’s relaxing, easy to learn the basics. and is a good activity for the whole family.

From the initial planning to how to, yes, stand up on your SUP, here are our tips to get you out on the water and experiencing the fun of SUP for yourself.

Ready? Let’s head out for a SUPer time!

Where it all Began: Hawaii, of Course

Fishermen have been plying the seas standing up on floating rafts and small boats for thousands of years. It’s thought that what we consider the modern version of SUP started in Hawaii in the 1960s, but it didn’t start gaining popularity until about 20 years ago. As one story goes, Laird Hamilton and other pro surfers used SUP so they could continue to train when the waves weren’t good for surfing.

Another story says that a group of surfers were floating on their boards waiting for a good wave on a day that had few good surfing waves. As they lamented the lack of action, one of them had a brilliant idea. How about if I stand up on my surf board? At least I could be doing something instead of sitting here in the water.

It was fun. It had potential.

The next day, he took a kayak paddle out with him, and SUP was born.

Regardless of which story is true, the fact is that SUP is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. And it’s gaining so much street cred it’s being considered as a new Olympic.

Where My Hankering Began

I’m not sure why, but I (Flavor Team member Kara) have always been eager to try SUP, and it started way back when I lived in land-locked Colorado.

When I moved to the Central Coast a few years ago, I tried surfing. It was fun, I caught a few waves, and I knew in my heart I would not become a surfer.

SUP remained on my Must Do list, and the dream finally came true as part of my recent Week of Kara activities. (Yes, life’s too short to limit birthday festivities to a single day, for heaven’s sake, so I choose to celebrate for a week. Or two.) And lucky for me, fellow Flavor Team member Andrew and his family agreed to join me. The more the merrier when it comes to SUPer fun on a paddleboard!

Choosing the Teacher

Tom Reilly, owner of Central Coast Kayaks, and his crew unload the gear for our inaugural SUP outing on Avila Bay.

A few years ago, I first joined the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce for my corporate writing business. At the second event I attended, I happened to meet Tom Reilly, owner and CFO (Chief Fun Officer) of Momentum Paddle Sports. We talked about SUP and kayaking and how much I wanted to try SUP. I took his card. I learned later he bought Central Coast Kayaks in Shell Beach and combined it with Momentum Paddle Sports.

Two years later, I still had his card. As the plans started taking shape for a group SUP outing during the Week of Kara, I called Tom to inquire about a group lesson and tour in Avila Bay. As a matter of fact, Tom is the only person I reached out to so this dream could become a reality.

Good decision.

10 Tips for Your Successful SUP Trip

We want you to experience the fun and success we had on the inaugural Great Flavors SUP outing.

Here are 10 tips we gleaned that will help you have a super first SUP experience.

Tip 1: Planning Your Trip

SUP is best done in the mornings. The winds are generally calm, which means the ocean is calm. Glassy water is much more friendly for first-time SUPers.

If you want to take a lesson—which we highly recommend (read below for more on that)—it’s good to book ahead. This way, the outfitter can be sure to have all the gear needed, as it’s all sized based on the paddler’s height, weight, and shoe size.

Our Stand-Up Paddleboards await on a cool foggy morning at the Avila dog beach.

Especially if you have a group, call ahead to book your desired day. Also ask about minimum age requirements for children to SUP.

If the outfitter offers rental gear (farmer john wetsuit, PFD, and booties), use it. It may cost a little bit more than just renting the board and paddle, but it’s worth it. Even if you have a surfing wetsuit, it will be restrictive and hot for the active nature of SUP.

The morning of your trip, arrive at the designated location wearing a swimsuit of some type. As mentioned, because the wetsuits used for SUP aren’t skin-tight like surfing wetsuits, you can wear board shorts and other loose swim gear under your wetsuit.

Tip 2: Land Lesson

Tom gave us a land lesson before we headed into Avila Bay.

While some folks may just rent a board and paddle and then head into the water, I believe the good instruction we received beforehand helped everyone in our group have a great time.

In a lesson, you’ll learn:

  • basic stances: prone, kneeling (and sometimes sitting), standing.
  • how to hold the paddle, and how to use it—long, reaching strokes using our center rather than little skimming dips using our forearms
  • how to get back on your board while you’re in the water (it’s easy, really!)
  • how to get back to shore once your excursion is over
Chris with Central Coast Kayaks was filled with positive energy and helped make for a great first SUP experience.

In about 15 minutes, you’ll be ready to head into the waves and start your SUP adventure.

Tip 3: Onto the Board

Once you’re beyond the breaking waves and the swimming area designated by buoys, get onto your board in the kneeling position.

Then play and explore a bit.

Getting from the shore and paddling out past the breaking waves is our first chance to practice what we’ve learned on land.

Use the paddle on both sides. Get used to the feel of the paddle, and how different movements affect the direction and speed of your board.

Now it’s time for the standing-up part of SUP.

SUP is all about balance, not strength or sheer athletic ability. If you’ve tried surfing, you know that the pop-up from prone to standing is crucial to success—and my goodness, is that an athletic move. Whew.

With SUP, it’s quite easy to stand up on your board.

From the kneeling position, first breathe. Breathing is very important in SUP (as in life).

Put your hands on the paddle about shoulder width apart, and place the paddle across the board in front of your knees. Bring up one foot at a time in the place your knees were, and stand up. Verrrry slowly. Keep your knees bent, keep your weight centered, both side to side and underneath you, and keep a little more weight in your heels than your toes.

If things get shaky, pause, keep your knees bent, breathe. Recenter and and try again.

You very well may nail it and stand up on your first try, or it may take a couple times. But you’ll likely be standing on your board in about 15 minutes.

Tip 4: The Fun of Falling Off

Starting with kneeling is a good place to start your SUP adventure. Then, place one foot at a time on the board and slowly stand up. In no time, you’ll be SUPing!

If your first attempts at standing up lead to falling off, it’s no big deal. Really. Like imploring the ocean to stop moving and finally realizing you can flow with the movement (more about that later), it’s also a huge relief when you discover how easy it is to get back on your board.

Just shimmy your torso onto the board, reach across the board and hold the other side with your free hand, and put some weight onto that far edge. Pull yourself out of the water, and you’re back on your board. Easy peasy.

If you didn’t fall off while trying to stand, now is the time to step off your board and practice getting back on. Doing this will boost your confidence a ton.

Standing, falling, getting back on. It’s all easy and you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Tip 5: The Art of Paddling

The paddle stroke is more about using our core than our arms. Practice taking long strokes and pulling the paddle out as it passes your foot.

Play with turning, stopping, going backwards. Explore direction and steering.

When you get that down, and you will quickly, try moving one foot in front the other a bit. This is a more advanced move for better steering and maneuverability. It may result in more practice getting on your board from the water, haha. And that’s a good thing.

Even More Tips!

  1. Go with the flow. The ocean doesn’t stop moving. I know, that sounds obvious, but at first your brain will be insisting that if the ocean will kindly stop moving, then you can stand up. It won’t. The sooner you accept that reality, the better. Instead of bracing against it, flow with it. It helps to hum a reggae tune in your head at this point, or sing. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is a good choice.
  2. Breathe. Remember to breathe low into your center. When you get tense, you may hold your breath and that makes everything else tense, and the Paddleboard juju does not like tense.
  3. Look up. Look where you want to go and the body will follow. If you look down at the board or at the water, the weight of your head will tip you forward and your body may end up at the place you’re looking: in the water.
  4. Keep your knees soft. You don’t have to paddle in a squat position the entire time, but not locking your knees helps you absorb the movement of the ocean. See Tip #6. If you need a break, you can kneel or even sit for a while.
  5. Smile. You’re SUPing! In the Pacific ocean! With the otters! And seals! For as long as you choose to put the paddle in the water and pull it back out, all that matters is the glide and ripples and the sounds. It doesn’t get much better than this.

You’re Steps Away From Bliss

It’s easy to get out and try SUP on the Central Coast.

Just book a lesson, reserve your gear, meet your outfitter on the beach, and get ready to have one of the most fun, relaxing, rewarding experiences possible.

It’s SUP Time

Let the ripples quiet your mind as time slows down.

We’re all smiles after our first Stand-Up Paddleboarding experience in Avila. Thanks Tom and Central Coast Kayaks! We’ll be back for more SUPer times!

Say hello to the otters and watch the mesmerizing sway of the kelp as you become one with your board and your paddle becomes your engine.

Breathe, and explore the simple joys that SUP can offer.

The waves are waiting.

It’s SUP time.



Here are a few local companies that provide SUP rentals and lessons.

Avila Beach

Morro Bay

Firelight Rhapsody: Enjoy the Simple Pleasure of a Pismo Beach Campfire (10 Easy Steps)

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Sitting with friends around the campfire, watching the waves, cooking simple camp food, and enjoying life…. Ah, yes. This is one of the Flavor Team‘s favorite activities, all year round.

Over the years, we’ve learned a few tricks to building a beach fire. Here’s what you need to know to create your own firelight memories.

Pismo Beach is the Place

The long stretch of sand that connects Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, and Oceano has a lot going for it. First, you can walk for miles, and at any time of day. This sandy expanse is broad and open, so you won’t get caught by high tide and be stranded (or worse!).

Second, Pismo Beach is one of the few beaches in California (and maybe the world) where you can drive your car. Between the entrance stations at Grover Beach and Oceano, and a bit south to the designated beach camping area, you can drive about three miles of coastline.

Miles of sand stretch between Pismo Beach on the north to Oceano on the south. South of Pismo Pier lies the Grover Beach entrance station and the start of vehicle access.

The third—and in our opinion the most special—reason? You can build a campfire right on the sand! 

Before You Go: Campfire Prep Basics

There’s nothing more sad than watching a group unload their car, super excited to set up camp for the afternoon or evening. With chairs circled up and coolers unloaded, they turn to the business of fire starting. Despite liberal dousing of lighter fluid and the entire Sunday newspaper to act as kindling, they only get sputters and lots of smoke for their efforts.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Just read through these tips before heading out. Your campfire success is virtually ensured.

Campfire-Building Supply Checklist
 Beach auto access pass
 Tide schedule
 Firewood
 Shovel or plastic funnel
 Newspaper
 Long matches
 Old towels or blankets
 Beach chairs
 Campfire-friendly food

Step 1: Know the Tides
Oceans mean tides, and for the unsuspecting, they can be result in funny moments that will become great stories later, or big Oops moments that you’ll wish never happened. (Like the one time we saw a guy doing donuts in his truck right next to the water. Cool and all. Until a couple rogue waves brought the water level up to his doors and exhaust pipe. Panic ensued, he gunned the engine, the rear wheels dug a hole, and he was stuck. And the water kept coming. Luckily, guys with bigger trucks were able to pull him out before his truck went to a deep and watery grave. Just saying.)

Before you head out to the beach, check the tide schedule for the day. We like www.tides4fishing.com/us/california/port-san-luis, or the free “Tides Near Me” app using Port San Luis as the location.

Note both the times for high tides and the height of the high tide during the hours you plan to be at the beach. High tides of 6’ and more can seriously limit the amount of sand that’s easy to drive on. This may, in turn, affect your ability to drive on the beach to have a campfire.

Step 2: Wood Matters
For beach campfires, the right firewood is critical to success.

Grand Liquors in Grover Beach is the Flavor Team’s go-to place for the best firewood at the best price.

One of the best, and cheapest, places we’ve found for firewood is the Grand Liquors store at the corner of 8th and Grand.

The price never seems to waver from $3.99 per bundle, and it’s dry, sappy, and super easy to get started. While you’re there, pick up last-minute snacks and beverages (remember, no glass containers on the beach).

For a fire that lasts from late afternoon through the evening, plan to get five or six bundles of wood.

Pick up your day pass from one of the friendly California Parks employees at the entrance station at Grover Beach or Oceano.

Step 3: Pick Up your Pass
If you’re visiting Pismo Beach for just a day or two, stop at either the Grover Beach or Oceano entrance station and get your day pass. It’s $5.00, and the beach is open from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm.

If you’re a new resident or going to be in town for a while, spring for an annual pass at $50. Note that this is the price at the time of this article. We’ve heard some rumors that the price for the annual pass will increase to $100 in the fall. Get yours now if you plan lots of beach outings in the next year.

Step 4: Driving School
While it’s best to have a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle, it’s not absolutely required—if you pay attention to the tides and drive according to the rules of sand.

If you can pick a time when the tide is going out or is already at low tide, you’ll have the widest path of packed sand. This can be driven with a normal vehicle.

While it’s fun to watch the big trucks with flags flying negotiate the deeper sand, it’s a sure-fire way to get stuck. Even four-wheel-drive vehicles get stuck.

For serious sand driving, you may hear the tip to let some air out of your tires. It does help increase the surface area and decrease the likelihood of getting stuck, but for our purposes, we won’t need to do this.

Our primary tip: stay on the hard-packed sand as you scout your spot. Drive steadily, but not too slowly, like you would on snow or iced or rain-slick pavement.

If you mind your (sand driving) manners and pay attention to the tide schedule, you can drive a car or van without four-wheel drive on the hard packed sand.

When you find your campfire spot, back in gently. Don’t rev the engine or accelerate suddenly, as this will create a nice tire-engulfing hole from which you’ll spend the next hour digging out.

Also be sure to park far enough away from the water’s edge to allow for the tide to come in as well as to be out of range of rogue waves and traffic. You can judge roughly how far back to park by where others are parked, and the lifeguard stations are well beyond the reach of the ocean.

Unless you’re coming at the top of high tide and will be leaving before the tide comes back in, don’t set up camp just a few feet away from the ripples. It’s a drag to move chairs and belongings in a mad dash when the tide’s coming in.

Step 5: Digging It
Now it’s time for the most crucial step: digging the hole. Like Goldilocks, the hole needs to be not too deep, not too shallow, not too wide, but just right to give the wood room to burn but protect it from the westerly winds that can kick up before dusk, have it close enough to ground level to allow for hotdog and marshmallow roasting, and warm your legs as you sit around the fire after dark.

We’ve found that about 24-30 inches in diameter and about a foot deep makes for a good fire pit.

A plastic funnel is one of the best tools to dig a fire pit! Aim for a pit about two feet in diameter and one foot deep.

To dig the pit, if you have a small camp shovel, by all means use it, but don’t go buy a shovel just for your digging the pit.

Nosiree. One of the best, cheapest tools is the plastic funnel for adding oil to your car! Not the one with the super long tip, but the normal round funnel with a tip about two inches long. Trust us on this.

Voila! Pit finished in record time with the Great Flavors secret digging tool. The firewood and firestarting supplies can’t wait to jump in and start the party.

The funnel shape makes it easy to both scrape the sides of the pit and toss out the loose sand. Your pit will be dug in minutes flat.

Step 6: Newspaper Nest
Take one sheet of newspaper at a time and crumple it into a ball. Make a nest in the bottom of the pit with a full layer of crumpled newspaper. Don’t get lazy and crumple up several sheets at once. The fire needs air and thin paper to start, so a thick wad of newspaper won’t cut it.

The easiest way to unwrap a bundle of firewood is to hold it vertically and unwind. Doing it the other way is just frustrating.
Make a nest of single sheets of newspaper crumbled into balls and lay in the pit. Top with a large log, and then prop one end of smaller logs in a triangle pattern, keeping space for air circulation. Strike the match low in the pit so it doesn’t blow out in the wind, and light the newspaper from underneath in several places. A One Match Fire is always our goal, and you can do it, too!

Step 7: The Art of Wood Stacking
Now, channel your inner Girl Scout or Boy Scout. Lay one large piece of firewood on top of the newspaper nest. Then prop the ends of thinner logs on top in a rough triangle shape. Be sure to leave enough space between the thinner logs so the air can get through. Fill in the holes with more crumpled newspaper.

Step 8: Light and Feed
Using a long wooden stove match, light the paper from underneath in several places. We’ve found that matches work better than even long lighters, which tend to blow out with very little wind.

Add more crumpled paper as needed, stuffing it in the holes but allowing for air circulation. Watch for the wood to start burning and add a more paper if needed in spots that aren’t burning yet. Go gently with the paper and allow the wood to ignite. Let the flame spread and grow before adding more logs on top. This is the critical point of fire starting.

Impatience here can choke out the tender flames. Once the wood is burning well, and a log at a time, always keeping some space for air circulation.

Within a few minutes, your fire should be going nicely. Woohoo!

Dinner. Why not forego the hotdogs for skewers of shrimp and vegetables? S’mores, of course, are the highlight later in the evening.

Step 9: Now We’re Cooking
In addition to the ubiquitous hotdog (we opt for upscaling the usual dog with sausages that are already cooked and just need to be heated), one of our favorite campfire meals is skewered jumbo shrimp, bell peppers, mushrooms, and squash. These all cook quickly and about the same rate.

S’mores, of course, top off the meal. We enjoy swapping out Great Flavors Bakery gluten-free graham crackers or cookies (snickerdoodles are a good choice) for the usual box of graham crackers. Or, just go with a toasted marshmallow open face on a bar of chocolate.

Step 10: Time for the Old Towels
And what about the old towels or blankets mentioned in our supply list? They’re actually for keeping your legs cool, not warm, as the hot embers can really put out the heat and almost scald bare skin.

You’ll be glad you brought these, and please be careful around the open flame.

The Last Notes of the Rhapsody

The beach closes at 11:00 pm., and Park Rangers will start making their way up the beach to remind folks it’s time to go home.
When you’re done, leave the fire burning. That way, walkers and drivers can see the fires in the dark instead of walking or driving over hot coals. Doh. That’s a quick way to ruin a beautiful day.

Pack up your trash, and be a sport and take any other trash you see, and do a final check for a clean campsite.

Then spend a moment at the water’s edge and say goodnight to the waves and the stars.

They look forward to seeing you again soon.

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