Hidden Charms of the Central Coast:
Five Big Reasons to Visit Paso Robles
By Kathy Chin Leong
Paso Robles, an inland farming community located in Central California, is that unassuming, shy girl in the back of the class picture. She is that same person who is so fascinating she will quickly become your best friend. In this crazy Covid-19 era, Paso Robles (nicknamed Paso) is reopening to the world. I present to you five major reasons you will probably make this town, less than an hour from the beach, your regular relax-cation destination.
Reason #1: Beaches
You are 45 minutes from the beaches, and Paso Robles is a great spot to settle in and use that as your pivot point. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, is one that features a boardwalk, so you can enjoy a stroll with you kids and babies. A lineup of others up and down the coast including Avila Beach which features a playground, and Montana de Oro that provides outstanding views and hiking trails.
Reason #2: Grub, grub, and more grub
Taking all-American comfort food to a new level, Paso Robles’ eateries are finally open for outdoor and indoor dining. Tucked In an alleyway is Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (www.jeffrywinecountrybbq.com), already a local’s favorite. It’s pretty cool to know that Jeffry, the owner, was already a caterer often encouraged to open his own restaurant. Today, the dining is all outdoors, under pop-up tents, and the owner is making quite the name for himself with his pork loin ribs and secret paella that you must order ahead of time and not listed on the menu.
What to try? It’s a hard call. Everything on the menu is tantalizing. Request the signature mac and cheese, smoked pork belly ribs, the sampler platter of pulled pork, pulled chicken and chopped brisket, and plenty of wet wipes. Follow your nose to Opolo Winery (www.opolo.com ), nestled far off the country road of Vineyard Drive. Open for lunch, the winery features an outdoor restaurant with vineyard views. It takes pride in its selection of hand-tossed blistered crust pizzas, fresh salads with ingredients harvested on site, and homemade sausage where one order’s worth is just not enough to satisfy.
In downtown Paso Robles, The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar is celebrated for its hearty dishes that take advantage of its wood-fired oven and grill. If you get a chance to come to this casual and friendly restaurant, order a table full of sharing dishes such as: the honey cornbread served in its own skillet, seared and grilled artichokes with house aioli dipping sauce, juicy rotisserie chicken, and unique hen of the woods mushrooms that unearth bold flavor. Take a cue from me: order plenty of dishes so you have leftovers. The next day, for the flavors are even more sublime.
Reason #3 Shop, shop, and shop some more
Travelers like me love off-the-beaten path destinations. And, when you go to fun places, kids do love shopping too. The Kiler Ridge Olive Farm (www.kilerridge.com) is a fantastic gem. I have already been boasting about to friends. Found off of Kiler Canyon Road, perched on a hill, outside of the downtown core, the entrance can be easily missed if you are not careful. Just drive slowly! For just $5 for a tasting, you sample five olive oils, and if owner Audrey Burnam finds you particularly nice, you will end with a scoop of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream topped with sea salt and olive oil. Outdoor tastings on her patio are a multi-sensory experience as you sit, sip, and savor the sight of her groves consisting of 2700 olive trees. You learn about the three properties of olive oil: fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency. She will tell you the truth and scams in the industry and about the oil’s health benefits. You appreciate for her extra virgin olive oils that undergo only one pressing. And you will not be able to resist purchasing her bottled wares and the related olive oil soaps and products from her gift shop.
Merchants in downtown Paso Robles are slowly opening up. You can get up-to-date details at www.pasorobles.com. Ever the sucker for all things related to food and drink, I had to stop at the Spice of Life (www.pasospices.com) to wander the spice and tea aisles. However, the owner is extremely knowledgeable and seems to carry every type of spice and spice combination for baking and grilling. Prices are very fair compared to other spice shops, and I was able to purchase two vials of black truffle salt I use now for my popcorn.Another boutique is Viva Paso (www.vivapaso.com ), a small, eclectic shop owned by an artist who gets to showcase his paintings and sell a mishmash of trinkets. He’s got everything: succulent vases, art books, greeting cards, zipper cosmetic cases, and many imprinted items with the face of artist Frida Kahlo.
Another wander-worthy enterprise is The General Store (www.generalstorepr.com ), which offers all-things-Paso including Paso Robles roasted almonds, soaps, artwork, and clothing. Toys and gourmet goods and jewelry round out the offerings here. And yes, they sell handmade face masks with patterns to match every person’s interest and hobby.
Reason #4 Good, good sleeps
Lodging is easy to secure with price points suitable for most wallets. Want to bed down in Paso Robles? Pay less $50 a night to tent camp at the KOA campgrounds. Motels in town go for as low as $70 a night. Posh digs such as Hotel Cheval (www.hotelcheval.com) can run over $400 for opulence and high-end décor and services.
A recent stay at the Stables Inn (www.stablesinn.com) was an ideal find, for it is a completely refurbished motel. It is newly acquired and operated by real estate couple Robert and Sherry Gilson who own many properties in Paso Robles and serve as their own interior designers. The inn opened this month, featuring a kicky equestrian theme. Charming and chic, the Stables is a must-stay if you are on a budget and want something new, spanking clean, cute and modern. It runs about $155 weekdays and $200 on weekends. Stylish rooms are petite with mini refrigerators, flat screen TVs, wifi, and rain head showers. In the morning you can go to the common room for free coffee, tea, milk, and a packaged pastry.
Reason #5 Location, location, location
One of the best reasons to hang out in Paso Robles is the fact that you are within 45 minutes of the ocean and ocean-hugging towns of Cambria, San Simeon, and San Luis Obispo, all located off Highway One, a ribbon of highway world famous for its aquamarine coastline. Cambria (www.visitcambriaca.com) is well known for art galleries and playful shops in a walkable setting. What many do not know, however, is that Cambria features a handful of exquisite garden stores, each rich with treasures. Anyone arriving to the Cambria Nursery and Florist (www.cambrianursery.com) will be floored by its variety of shed shops and vast acreage of parklike gardens that includes a fairy garden, a Japanese garden, and more.
And minutes from the downtown core is Moonstone Beach, a lengthy, quiet beach that features a wooden boardwalk path leading to tidepools and more.San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle (www.hearstcastle.org), now owned and managed by the state park system. You can spend a day on a tour of the castle with includes a guided bus tour and a movie inside the lobby theater. And going south on Highway One, visit the college town of San Luis Obispo (www.visitslo.com) to hit up its Thursday Farmer’s Market. It is one of the top markets in the nation, and it will be interesting to see how crowds are managed during 2020. However, any time you visit San Luis Obispo, you will immediately find yourself slowing down to relax and enjoy the relaxed vibe of eateries and shops in the town center as well as its plentiful bicycling and hiking trails.
On your next jaunt to California, put Paso Robles down on your Must-Go list and don’t let Paso pass you by.
When You Go:
Visit Cambria - www.visitcambriaca.com
Cambria Nursery and Florist - www.cambrianursery.com
Hearst Castle - www.hearstcastle.org
Visit San Luis Obispo - www.visitslo.com
Stables Inn - www.stablesinn.com
The General Store - www.generalstorepr.com
Hotel Chevral - www.hotelchevral.com
Spice of Life - www.pasospices.com
Jeffry's Wine Country BBQ - www.jeffryswinecountrybbq.com
Kiler Ridge Olive Oil - www.kilerridge.com
Hatch Rotisserie - www.hatchpasorobles.com