Hollister is perched in the forests not far inland from Monterey Bay. The area's outdoor charms and adventures are well worth this weekend getaway, with nearby Pinnacles National Park showing off its unworldly scene formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions. The towering rock formations and talus caves of Pinnacles have been whittled by time and erosion, and draw visitors from all across the world.
Hollister also is home to several wineries that, pleasantly, are off the well-trod path of its more famous cousins to the north: Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Nonetheless, Hollister is a strong wine tour locale in its own right. But don't linger too long in the vineyards, restaurants, shops and world-class golf links also beckon.
The secluded hiker’s paradise and vineyards that surround Hollister are a short 90-minute drive from San Francisco. Jump on 101 S toward San Jose for about 80 miles. Take exit 353 for CA-25 toward Hollister. Easy-peasy.
This charming roadside motel just 10 miles from Hwy 101 is painted a cheery bright yellow and flowerpots dot the walkways. The utilitarian rooms are clean, comfortable, and well-appointed with coffee machines, microwaves, and refrigerators. Hotel staff is available 24/7 and housekeeping services are offered daily. This is a great bargain option for visitors looking for a convenient place to rest their heads. The prices can’t be beat.
If you’re looking for accommodations right in the center of nearby Paicines, you’ll love the studio cabins at the San Benito Camping Resort. These rustic units have satellite TVs, kitchen facilities, and private bathrooms. Breathe in that mountain air as you enjoy your morning brew from your private patio. Many units also have sitting rooms or dining areas. The resort features a game room with pool tables, a playground, swimming pool, library, BBQ pits, and even a mini golf course.
The Ridgemark Golf Club & Resort in Hollister is a property with history, but it is extremely well-kept. The rooms here are ridiculously large with comfortable bedding and clean bathrooms, some of which feature spa tubs and separate dressing areas. There is a restaurant that offers room service, a full bar, and evening entertainment, including karaoke. Guests can access the golf course and tennis club for an additional fee.
Fisher’s in Hollister is truly a gem. They serve crazy fresh food in a convivial dining room that’s a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Mike, the chef/owner, is passionate his food, his wine, and making sure that every guest leaves happy. The chalkboard menu changes daily and takes full advantage of seasonal ingredients, but mainstays to try are the juicy French dip, the grilled sweetbreads, and the tender flatiron steak with frites. Open for lunch and dinner services Tuesday through Saturday.
Running Rooster is all about the comfort and classics of American cuisine. Get a hand-tossed pizza pie or a El Jefe burger, a fried chicken and mashed potatoes plate or Cobb salad. The range is wide and the flavor full. Running Rooster is known for its casual atmosphere and friendly staff. You can't go wrong here, so dive in.
The orangey-red paint on the walls and wood furnishings create a warm atmosphere in this authentic Italian-American restaurant. The service is friendly, and portions are huge – there’s plenty to mangia here! Their carbonara is out of this world and scampi with pasta is unbelievable. Soak up the sauce with gooey, cheesy garlic bread. Open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday, this moderately-priced restaurant is a great place to bring the kids.
Calera Wine Company isn’t a tourist destination with crowded gift shops or themed attractions. It’s a serious vineyard that produces very serious wine. They’re renowned for their Pinot Noir, an elegant, fruity wine with rich, spicy undertones that has been lauded by Wine Spectator magazine and recommended in Wine & Spirits and the Wall Street Journal. The friendly staff in the tiny tasting room are excellent hosts who really know their stuff. Calera Wine Company has picnic tables with spectacular views. Guests are encouraged to bring lunch and make a day of it.
Twenty-three million years ago, volcanic eruptions formed the towering spires, talus caves, and volcanic fields that are the foundation of Pinnacles National Park. This is a hiker’s park, so leave your car at the trailhead. The relatively low elevation and easy terrain make it a perfect place for beginner hikers and families with kids. High Peaks/Condor Gulph Loop is a five-mile roundtrip trek with spectacular views. Balconies Cave is one of two talus caves created by gigantic boulders wedged into the ravine. Flashlights are an absolute must to navigate the caves, and make sure to bring plenty of water.
Panoche Hills Ecological Reserve in Hollister is a haven for visitors interested in viewing wildlife or collecting fossils. The rolling landscape with gentle hills is a beautiful drive, though access is restricted as some areas are privately owned. Although popular with bicyclists, many visitors prefer to explore on foot to search for treasures. Vertebrate fossils are protected by law, but invertebrate specimens are yours to keep. Many unique bird species call this area home and you’ll also spot roadrunners, deer, San Joaquin kit fox, and the unusual blunt-nosed leopard lizard among others. Late spring is the ideal time to explore Panoche Hills.
Bear Gulch Cave is the more popular of the two talus caves in Pinnacles National Park. It’s just a short hike from the trailhead and it’s easy for novice hikers and young children to navigate the lower sections. The upper caves are a bit more strenuous, though the breathtaking waterfalls here are worth the effort. The cave is home to a colony of big-eared bats, and visitor access is restricted during the maternity period from mid-May through mid-July. The lower caves are almost always open through the rest of the year, though access to the upper caves may be limited at times. Bring a flashlight!
Pietra Santa is another great Hollister vineyard with a unique flavor all its own. Located on the Pietra Santa estate, the Dickensen House is a stunning example of Prairie School architecture. The balcony of their second-floor tasting room is a lovely setting from which to enjoy their award-winning wines while taking in stunning panoramic views of the Cienega Valley and Gabilan Mountains. The Pietra Santa estate also grows olive trees and they make their olive oil with a press that the owner brought from Italy. The welcoming staff provide informative tours and the gift shop has a wonderful selection of wine, olive oil, and gourmet treats.