In The World of Apples, John Cheever praised "the pungency, diversity, color, and nostalgia" of the fruit. It's true: hardly any other crop stirs such powerfully sensory emotions, that autumnal mix of tartness, sweetness, and lunch-box joy. Cheever was praising the apples of his native New England, but California has its own apple seasons and apple countries. And none of them are more nostalgia-stirring than See Canyon, just south of San Luis Obispo.
This is apple country on a small scale: a narrow, creek-sculpted canyon just inland from Avila Beach. Still, it can hold its own, applewise. "We have a real microclimate here," explains Susie Kenny, who manages See Canyon Fruit Ranch (2345 See Canyon Rd.; 805/595-2376) with her husband, Paul. "We get frost and cold in the winter, and heat in the summer." That is why this venerable ranch―more than 100 years old―sells such an array of apples in its weathered barn, ranging from current supermarket standards like Golden Delicious to old-time rarities like Missouri Pippin and Winter Banana.
Other apple ranches lie along See Canyon Road, which is the kind of country byway that makes you slow down just to admire the light filtering through the sycamores. Apples, however, are not the only draw. Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards (1947 See Canyon Rd.; 805/595-9700) produces Merlot, Chardonnay, and its own special apple Chardonnay, which will be available again in spring 2003. At the canyon's south end, Avila Valley Barn (560 Avila Beach Dr.; 805/595-2816) sells apples and other produce.
Other diversions await nearby. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort (1215 Avila Beach Dr.; 800/234-5831) is one of the nicest hot springs in California: oak-shaded and attractive, and has a good restauran―the Gardens of Avila. If you have kids, you might take them a bit farther down the road to splash in the giant pool at Avila Valley Hot Springs (250 Avila Beach Dr.; 805/595-2359).
Or, if you're hungry and want a view of the sea, head west on Avila Beach Drive to Port San Luis. Here, Fat Cats Café (Avila Beach Dr.; 805/595-2204) offers tasty breakfasts (and more) 24 hours a day. Nearby, on Harford Pier, the Olde Port Inn (Avila Beach Dr.; 805/595-2515) serves fresh seafood in an appropriately oceanic, pier-top location.