Near San Luis Obispo, a drive rich in apples and autumn beauty

In The World of Apples, John Cheever praised “the pungency,diversity, color, and nostalgia” of the fruit. It’s true: hardlyany other crop stirs such powerfully sensory emotions, thatautumnal mix of tartness, sweetness, and lunch-box joy. Cheever waspraising the apples of his native New England, but California hasits own apple seasons and apple countries. And none of them aremore nostalgia-stirring than See Canyon, just south of San LuisObispo.

This is apple country on a small scale: a narrow, creek-sculptedcanyon just inland from Avila Beach. Still, it can hold its own,applewise. “We have a real microclimate here,” explains SusieKenny, who manages See Canyon Fruit Ranch (2345 See Canyon Rd.;805/595-2376) with her husband, Paul. “We get frost and cold in thewinter, and heat in the summer.” That is why this venerableranch―more than 100 years old―sells such an array ofapples in its weathered barn, ranging from current supermarketstandards like Golden Delicious to old-time rarities like MissouriPippin and Winter Banana.

Other apple ranches lie along See Canyon Road, which is the kindof country byway that makes you slow down just to admire the lightfiltering through the sycamores. Apples, however, are not the onlydraw. Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards (1947 See Canyon Rd.;805/595-9700) produces Merlot, Chardonnay, and its own specialapple Chardonnay, which will be available again in spring 2003. Atthe canyon’s south end, Avila Valley Barn (560 Avila Beach Dr.;805/595-2816) sells apples and other produce.

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Other diversions await nearby. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort(1215 Avila Beach Dr.; 800/234-5831) is one of the nicest hotsprings in California: oak-shaded and attractive, and has a goodrestauran―the Gardens of Avila. If you have kids, you mighttake them a bit farther down the road to splash in the giant poolat 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 onAvila Beach Drive to Port San Luis. Here, Fat Cats Café (AvilaBeach Dr.; 805/595-2204) offers tasty breakfasts (and more) 24hours a day. Nearby, on Harford Pier, the Olde Port Inn (AvilaBeach Dr.; 805/595-2515) serves fresh seafood in an appropriatelyoceanic, pier-top location.

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