– DOWNTOWN PASO ROBLES CALIFORNIA – No matter what direction you come from, the drive to the town of Paso Robles is punctuated with rolling hills and majestic oak trees that create haunting silhouettes against the cloudless sky. The town is approximately 3.5-hours from Los Angeles and 3.5-hours from San Francisco.
This Central California Coast community originally was named El Paso de Robles, meaning The Pass of the Oaks. It is located in San Luis Obispo County, just north of the City of San Luis Obispo. The Salinas River flows through this swiftly growing town with a population of 32,000.
Today it is surrounded by approximately 200 wineries and a quickly expanding distillery and microbrewery industry. Visitors come from all over the world to relax and experience the wineries and distilleries scattered in every direction.
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1. Historic Inn
The Paso Robles Inn opened in 1889, the same time Paso Robles became a city. The famous pianist, Ignace Paderewski, heard about the inn’s curative hot mineral springs. He made the trek from Poland to see if it would help his arthritis. The water’s effect on his body was astounding; thus, he became an international advocate of the inn and its springs.
In 1940, a fire quickly spread through this magnificent inn that dominated the center of town. Everything, except the ballroom, was destroyed. The community rallied. The redesign for the inn included a central garden and accommodations for automobiles. It opened, once again, in 1942.
2. Gardens at the Inn
Central to the Paso Robles Inn’s garden is a gigantic oak tree. Many weddings are held here, for the oak tree serves as an enormous canopy over the bridal couple and their guests. Since temperatures can soar in this area, it is the perfect place to hold any outdoor event during the summer. The light filters through its immense branches, creating an intricate pattern against the cloudless sky.
Anyone browsing the retail stores downtown can wander into the gardens and relax on one of the numerous benches. One of the delightful paths includes a walk over the bridge that carries one over a pond filled with koi.
3. Visit the Parks Kingpin
Named to the National Registry of Historic Places, the former Carnegie Library now serves as the home for the Paso Robles History Museum.
Built between 1902-1908, this Revival Classic Building was begun with a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation. The city of Paso Robles hired architect William H. Weeks to design the building, making it compatible with other buildings in the town.
Today, museum docents lead you on tours and share stories about wine history. You might even hear tales about visitors, including Jesse James.
4. Gather in the Park
The hexagon-shaped gazebo is in the center of the park. With lighting and concrete floor, you can imagine this has been the site of events such as weddings and open-air concerts for anyone who cares to listen.
Great place to have a family gathering, for there are picnic tables, a barbeque area, and even a horseshoe pit. However, make reservations if you are planning an event with a group.
5. Sweet Nostalgia Rules
While walking Downtown Paso Robles, it is impossible not to notice this brightly colored storefront that beckons you to wander and explore. If you have a kind of candy that was your favorite and have not been able to find it, there is a 95% chance you will find it here.
Miranda Battenburg and her husband noticed how people reminisced about days gone by as they browsed thrift stores. That germ of an idea developed, and 13-years ago, they opened SLO Sweets on the park’s edge.
Not only will you find a vast array of rare candy, but you can also finally get enough of M&Ms by dipping in the bulk container. Or if you want a refreshing gelato, no problem, they have many flavors. Though beware, besides deciding what kind of gelato you want, you have to select the waffle cone flavor. Their unique waffle flavors come in red velvet, dark chocolate, and orange creamsicle.
6. Wine Country BBQ
While there are numerous places to have lunch, I suggest you wander off the beaten path a bit to Jeffery’s Wine Country BBQ. You cannot miss the sign; keep going a few more feet. A large space opens before you with a well-designed fire pit in the middle of the courtyard, built with dining surfaces all the way around.
Check out the blackboard and decide which woodfire BBQ would suit your hunger needs. This family-owned business is known for its homemade sauces and mac and cheese. They have won numerous awards.
7. Creativity at the Park
Paso Robles understands the value of artists and supports their efforts at the Studio on the Park. It is across the street from the downtown park. This non-profit, with its open layout, houses six studios. Fifteen working artists work within their walls. Thus, allowing easy access for visitors to strike up conversations about their work.
Understanding the value of art education, the Studio has become a frequent host to children and adults wanting to develop their artistic skills. With four ever-changing galleries of art exhibitions, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase a unique piece of fine art or craft. If you did not find what you want in the actual studios or galleries, head to the gift shop with an array of unique gifts for any family member.
8. Whimsical Sidewalks
It is impossible not to notice these colorful barrel planters in Downtown Paso Robles. Since this is wine country, why not recycle those old wine barrels.
An active Paso Robles Main Street Association supports this beautification effort by providing supplies, and the wineries donate the barrels. This community has attracted volunteers who help transport the barrels to and from the artists’ studios, who donate their creative talent to the cause. If you are curious to see more, go to Deprise Brescia Art Gallery.
9. Cocktails with Ranchers
With a busy day exploring Downtown Paso Robles coming to an end, you feel a need for a cocktail. I have just the place for you.
Head to the Cattlemen’s Lounge at the Paso Robles Inn. This lounge has hosted many a celebration and dinners since it opened in 1942. The Paso Robles Trail Riders found it to be the perfect watering-hole after their rides. Keep in mind this area was known for its agriculture long before it was known as wine country. If you want to meet local ranchers, this is the place to greet them after their workday has ended. Strike up conversations with them while you learn more about the history of the area.
10. Dinner in Downtown Paso Robles
There is a reason The Hatch may have a line in front of it. Reservations are highly recommended because word has gotten out about their comfort food cuisine. Their unique sauces, combined with their woodfire cooking, results in tantalizing dishes. Being in the know includes ordering their appetizer, fire-roasted hen of the wood mushrooms, soy, aioli, and parmesan cheese.
If you are craving fried chicken, you may have to fight with the locals, for locals are notorious for calling up and ordering take-out, so often they run out.
While numerous wines are on their list, this casual, hip restaurant has unique specialty drinks using their small-batch whiskey. This whiskey warrants you to try to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new.
There is so much more to see in this compact quaint town. Thrift stores are numerous, and gift stores are filled with products one typically does not encounter in the other cities. If you are a shopper, there is a lot to explore downtown in this relaxing, fun casual atmosphere. Then there is always the possibility you will catch a concert in the park or the farmer’s market.
Pack your bag and head to Paso Robles. Make reservations to stay downtown. After a day of wine or microbrew tasting or distillery hopping, you can relax at one of the numerous restaurants and mingle with the locals, who will be delighted to share more stories about this rapidly expanding community.