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bineba Paso Robles - A travel report by Sabine
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Paso Robles,  United States - flag United States -  California
8654 readers

bineba's travel reports

Sideways with Jesse and Jimmy in Paso Robles

  9 votes
Page: 1 2
Mention Californian wine and most people think of Napa and Sonoma Valley, but my favourite wine growing region is Paso Robles, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a small historic town with a lot to offer – and not just wine!

Wine country with a heart!
Wine country with a heart!
Originally called ‘El Paso de Robles’ or ‘Pass of the Oaks’, the town’s name was changed to Paso Robles when California gained independence from Mexico, today locals call it just ‘Paso’.

Paso Robles was a stop on the Camino Real trail which connected 21 Spanish missions in California and in the mid 1800’s it was purchased by two brothers as part of a Spanish land grant. They later successfully attracted pioneer farmers into the area, who specialized in cattle, almond and apple farms (if you drive East on Hwy 46, you pass through miles and miles of almond and apple orchards – it’s really beautiful in the spring, like driving through pink cotton candy!), as well as vineyards, but more about those later.

Apart from wine, Paso Robles other claim to fame are its hot mineral springs, which I will also cover in some more detail below.

Paso Robles is proud of its heritage and has been celebrating Pioneer Day, to honour those first settlers, since 1931. There is also a great museum in town, the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum, which features buildings, cars, farm machinery and shops and workshops, as well as scenes from everyday life from times gone past. It’s really interesting and great for adults and kids – and it’s free! There is also a new Children’s Museum in town in an old firehouse which might be worth checking out.

There is always something happening in Paso Robles. Concerts in the park & Winery Music Awards, art exhibitions, several wine festivals (Zinfandel Festival in March, Paso Robles Wine Festival in May and the Harvest Wine Tour in October), there’s a Basil and an Olive Festival, the Oaktoberfest (sic) in September (you can also tour the Firestone Walker Brewery – it’s not all wine here!), the Paso Gathering (think cowboys!) in November, and much more!

Paso Robles is deceptive – it looks like a small sleepy town, but there is so much going on! And the surrounding scenery is gorgeous!

Favourite spots:
Tobin James Cellars
Tobin James Cellars
The first and foremost reason to visit Paso for most people are the wineries and with over 170 to chose from, you can happily spend a few days just exploring those.
The first vines were planted by Franciscan monks for ceremonial purposes, but it wasn’t before long that wine was grown commercially. Today there are large scale wineries as well as numerous boutique and family owned wineries and most of them will offer wine tastings for a small fee or even for free.

Tempting as it might be, don’t plan too many tastings in a day. The wineries are quite spread out and you do need transport. You can join a tour, which would solve the problem, but you won’t be able to pick your favourites from the excellent list of winery profiles on The other options are to taste, but not drink or to have a designated driver. Or, my personal favourite, have breakfast, go to two wineries, have a big lunch and then hit another couple in the afternoon. And drink lots of water!

What's really great:
Paso Robles Inn
Paso Robles Inn
Before it became famous as one of California’s major wine producers, Paso was famous for its healing, sulphurous hot waters. The Salinan Indians recognized the healing power of the mineral waters, as did the Franciscan monks who lived in the missions nearby.
In 1864 the first bath house was opened to the public and not long after, a grand new hotel, the El Paso de Robles Hotel, was opened with much fanfare. It was famous throughout the country and attracted presidents (Theodore Roosevelt), film stars (Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks amongst others) musicians (Ignace Paderewski) and athletes (several Major league baseball teams). In December 1940 the hotel was completely destroyed by fire and later rebuilt as the Paso Robles Inn, which is still open for business and you can still soak your weary bones in the famous healing waters. Two other places you can experience the hot springs are River Oaks Hot Springs & Spa and Franklin Hot Springs.

James Dean
James Dean
On September 30th, 1955 James Dean, the iconic Hollywood film star, was travelling with his car mechanic in his Porsche 550 Spyder on his way from LA to Salinas where he was to take part in a sports car race. He was on route 466 (today Hwy 46) on his way to Paso Robles and Hwy 1, when he was in a head-on collision with another car near Cholame and fatally injured. He was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was just 24 years old.
Today you can find several reminders of this tragic event. In Cholame, in a café parking lot, is a memorial made out of concrete steel around a tree, engraved with is name and his favourite quotes. A bit further on is a huge James Dean billboard in, what is claimed the ‘biggest parking lot in the world’. And in 2005, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death the intersection of Hwys 41 and 46 became the ‘James Dean Memorial Highway’.

Paso Robles Pioneer Museum
Paso Robles Pioneer Museum
There is a big choice of accommodation in Paso Robles, from cheap chain motels to historic inns and luxurious Bed & Breakfast places.
We have always stayed in the Motel 6, nothing fancy, but cheap, clean & comfortable, with a pool and laundry facilities (very important if you want to keep your luggage to a minimum!).
If you want to splash out, there’s the Paso Robles Inn in downtown, which has a lot of history and offers rooms with their own hot tubs. Several of the vineyard owners are also offering Bed & Breakfast as well. For a completely unique place try the Wild Coyote Winery, housed in a beautiful adobe building on a hill, a little way out of town. As the number of visitors increases every year, more places open up, like the Hotel Cheval, a new boutique hotel near Central Square Park.
It really is up to you, how much money you want to spend.

Wild Coyote Winery
Wild Coyote Winery
Do you really need much nightlife after you’ve been tasting wine all day? I don’t, so here is a list of my favourite wineries:

Tobin James Cellars – the only winery we try and visit at least twice when we’re there. On the site of an old stagecoach stop with a 140-year old bar it looks more like a Western saloon than a wine tasting room, but don’t be fooled. The wines are excellent (try the Ballistic and Liquid Love) and the people are really friendly. One time we were invited to stay for a bar-b-q they were having for friends. The food was great!

Wild Coyote or ‘The House of Reds’. Gianni Mannuci, the owner, conducted the tasting himself. The Zinfandel Port ‘Little Fawn’ comes highly recommended.

Clautiere McKnight – a bit of a drive, but worth it. There is a small lake, paddocks with horses, llamas, sheep, chickens. They also sell an excellent olive oil.

Clautiere Vineyard – relatively new winery with a funky tasting room. Try on their collection of wigs and hats!

Central Square Park
Central Square Park
The town’s life centres around Central Square Park, a space donated to the public by two of its founding fathers. There are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants to keep you occupied or just enjoy the greenery around you. Just occasionally you’ll get a whiff of rotten eggs from a sulphurous sinkhole that appeared near the town hall during the major earthquake of 6.5 that hit Paso Robles on December 22nd, 2003. Most of the destruction was centred at the square. Two people lost their lives and many buildings were damaged. The clock tower, one of Paso Robles landmarks, has been restored.

Talking of hangouts, one famous person that used to hang out in Paso was outlaw Jesse James and his brother Frank. His Uncle Dury had a ranch in the area and Dr. Woodson James owned Sulphur Hot Springs where Jesse recovered from a gunshot wound he received during a train robbery. He also liked to drink at the Paso Robles Inn, the underground tunnels there making for great escape routes.

The new clock tower in historic downtown
The new clock tower in historic downtown
There are, of course, all of the usual fast food suspects in Paso Robles, but there is, thankfully, also a number of alternatives. There are grills and gourmet burger bars, Mexican and Chinese restaurants, family and more fancy restaurants serving Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, French bistros, continental cafes and good ol’ Western BBQ dives. Check out the following websites for more info and

There used to be a fantastic bakery next to the Central Square Park, which sold the best cinnamon buns ever, but unfortunately it was destroyed during the earthquake and doesn’t seem to have reopened.

Some of the wineries also have delicatessen shops attached to them, where you can stock up on cheeses, etc. for a nice picnic.

Other recommendations:
Elephant seal pups
Elephant seal pups
For something completely different, take Hwy 46 west out of town and after 30 minutes drive you join the famous Coastal Hwy 1. Head north and ca. 10km north of San Simeon you reach Piedras Blancas Beach, home to one of the biggest colony of Northern Elephant Seals in the world.
After being thought extinct in the late 19th century, numbers of these amazing animals have steadily increased. The Piedras Blancas Rookery started with just about 20 animals in 1990, the next year there were 400 and today it is estimated that about 15,000 elephant seals call this place their home.
The best time to visit is between November and February during the birthing and breeding season, when you can observe males, females and pups on the beach from the boardwalk, but there are always some animals on the beach as they return here twice a year (they also come here when they are moulting) from their 8-10 months living in the open sea.
Parking and entrance are free and it’s open daily.

Published on Monday January 21th, 2008

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Sat, Feb 09 2008 - 02:07 PM rating by eirekay

You have captured Pasa Robles beautifully! I would rather wine taste through this area then Napa any day! Nice report!

Fri, Feb 08 2008 - 07:47 PM rating by mahamoud

is very niec

Sun, Feb 03 2008 - 03:24 AM rating by downundergal

Really interesting - I love the historic slant that you gave to the report. Those wineries sound all to tempting.

Sat, Feb 02 2008 - 04:03 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Useful and nice report

Sat, Jan 26 2008 - 01:27 PM rating by alfonsovasco

you did a very good job

Wed, Jan 23 2008 - 08:05 PM rating by mistybleu


A really interesting report, I especially liked the mention of James Dean, who knew....

All the best

Wed, Jan 23 2008 - 12:07 PM rating by christianj.

Hi Sabine,

that's a well written, very informative and enjoyable read - superb!!

Regards, Christian

Tue, Jan 22 2008 - 09:59 AM rating by davidx

Masses of good information in an interesting report - that makes the mouht water!

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