Aside from its top-notch wine-making reputation, Paso Robles’ historic sites and recreational opportunities make it an ideal destination.
By Doreen Daily, F157939
It is bucolic, pastoral, and rustic. Cattle, horses, and vineyards dot the rolling hills of the lovely, lively community of Paso Robles, California. A community effort is under way to maintain this popular feeling of small-town America, because the town is attracting outsiders at a rapid pace. An article on Forbes.com recently described Paso Robles, located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, as possessing most of the wine-making potential of the famed Napa Valley “but almost none of the traffic jams.” The family-owned wineries in and around Paso Robles host approximately 1 million visitors each year. Although relatively unknown, the offerings of some of these vintners have been noticed by nationally recognized wine experts.
Paso Robles is a Spanish name, but locals do not pronounce “Robles” as one would in Spanish “” they rhyme it with “nobles.” The town’s full original name is El Paso de Robles, which means “the pass of oaks,” most likely for the abundant oak trees that dot the countryside.
The area was part of an original Mexican land grant consisting of 25,993 acres held in title by Petronillo Rios, a retired sergeant in the Mexican army. In 1857 it was purchased by Drury James (an uncle of famed outlaw Jesse James) and Daniel and James Blackburn. They platted out a town, and, when the Southern Pacific railroad arrived, the area became quite prosperous.
Natural hot springs occur in Paso Robles, and using the water to “take the cure” was very popular at the time the town was developed. The Hotel El Paso de Robles was built in 1891 to accommodate health-seekers from around the globe. Pianist and Polish dignitary Ignace Paderewski, who suffered from severe neuritis in his hands, discovered the hot springs’ curative powers. He was a frequent visitor, and his music would be heard in the parlors, verandas, and corridors of the hotel. He also planted the first Zinfandel grape vines in the region.
In vino veritas: Truth comes out in wine
Paso Robles is located in a verdant valley 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean. At 721 feet above sea level, it enjoys drier, sunnier days than its coastal cousins, because it is protected by the nearby mountains. Cooling sea breezes manage to funnel into the numerous finger-shaped canyons that thread through the coastal range, affording summer temperatures in the middle 80s, rather than the 100s, as is common in neighboring areas.
This climate also includes moderate rainfall and low temperatures that are not as cold as the state’s northern valleys. In addition, Paso Robles is blessed with one of the largest underground water supplies in California. All of this, as well as supportive soil, combine to help Paso Robles wine makers produce some of the finest vintages in the world.
Grape growing and wine making in this area date to 1797, when the Franciscan monks at the Mission San Miguel Arcangel, a few miles north of Paso Robles, planted grapes. Today rural roads lead through scenic, rolling hills and deep, lush valleys to more than 60 family-owned wineries that offer tastes of their vintages.
Most of the wineries welcome visitors seven days a week, but some are open only on weekends or by appointment. You can chat personally with the wine maker, shake paws with the resident pooch, and enjoy the best fruit of the vine. Most of these vintners operate on a small scale and do not sell their wines throughout the country. But they are available for purchase at the individual vineyard. The region is noted for its outstanding Zinfandels, Merlots, Cabernets, and Syrahs “” all are consistent medal winners.
Because good food should be paired with fine wine, restaurants in Paso Robles offer many local vintages. In addition, wine-oriented festivals and celebrations take place throughout the year. On March 14, 15, and 16, 2003, Paso Robles will host the 11th annual Zinfandel Festival. And many people refuse to miss the annual Paso Robles Wine Festival, which will take place May 16, 17, and 18 this year. Wine makers also host their own celebrations occasionally, with dinners and a variety of activities at each winery “” everything from live music and wine tasting to grape stomps and barbecues. Venues and prices vary, so contact the Paso Robles Visitor & Conference Bureau (listed below) or the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association “” (805) 239-8463; www.pasowine.com “” for more information. Maps to wine-tasting locations are available.
Folks who do not drink wine will find plenty of other tastes to savor in Paso Robles, for the soil yields much more than grapes. Cider Creek Farm offers apple cider and home-baked goods, including gourmet bread; Chadmark Farms sells apples, pears, pomegranates, and more; Sycamore Farms features herbs, fruits, and vegetables and is home of the Bonny Doon Winery (Vineyard Tasting Room). Farmers markets are set up around town twice each week, offering more fresh produce and locally made treats.
Some of the best of the area’s produce winds up on display at the California Mid-State Fair, held July 23 to August 3 this year at the fairgrounds in Paso Robles. Thousands of people converge on the town to be entertained, vie for prizes, and celebrate the harvest.
Paso Robles’ hot springs still flow today. Helping everyone take advantage of them fully is the newly remodeled Paso Robles Inn, today’s name for the original 1891 hotel. Portions of this establishment, such as a renowned 1940s-style coffee shop, have been reopened, and the historic ballroom now reflects its former glamour. Stop by for a look at the past.
Speaking of history, the Pioneer Museum (in Pioneer Park next to the Mid-State Fairgrounds) takes visitors back through time. As its name implies, it includes collections of old-time objects, such as barbed wire, rifles, and other artifacts. It also highlights the age of early telephones, as well as carriages and automobiles.
Simply strolling around town is a history lesson, too. Paso Robles boasts many beautifully preserved Victorian-style homes and businesses along Vine Street.
Memories of World War II, and more recent times as well, are relived at the Estrella (“es-TRAY-ya”) Warbird Museum. This facility is located at the Paso Robles Municipal Airport, east of town on Dry Creek Road. Its name honors the memory of the Estrella Army Air Force Base, which once was located there, and it displays aircraft from several eras. A 1943 Stinson L-5E, a 1952 North American QF-86F, and a 1961 Bell “Huey” helicopter are among the airships in the collection, as is a fleet of military vehicles, including weapons carriers. Admission to the museum is free; it is open only on weekends and Friday afternoons.
Just a few miles north of Paso Robles is the Helen Moe Doll Museum (805-238-2740). This collection includes a doll from 1540, believed to have belonged to Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII. Other antique dolls from all over the world are on display. Phone before you visit, as visiting hours are sometimes staggered.
Art and antiques
The Carnegie Historic Library Museum and Western Art Museum, in Paso Robles’ City Park (between 11th and 12th streets), is surrounded by lovely gardens. Inside is a gallery dedicated to art with Western themes. Sculptures, prints, and paintings by local artists and others are featured. The gallery is open from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Paso Robles is gaining quite a reputation for antiques, too. More than 125 dealers showcase their treasures at six major antiques malls in town. Look around on Park Street and Spring Street for other shops carrying specialty items.
Visitors can enjoy hours of leisurely drives that lead in every direction away from Paso Robles. These roads twist and turn through oak forests dripping with Spanish moss, reminiscent of the Deep South. Travel along State Route 46 west toward the coast, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the mountains and the sea. You can head out into country once visited by Jesse and Frank James when they spent time on their Uncle Drury’s La Panza Ranch.
Golfers will want to visit one (or all) of three courses in the area. And anglers will be interested to note that bass, catfish, trout, and bluegill are waiting at Lake Nacimiento. Located 17 miles north of Paso Robles via Route G 14, this lake offers recreational opportunities such as jet-ski rentals, a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, picnic areas, and full marina facilities. A campground with more than 400 sites, including some with full-hookups, is available. (See the campground information below.)
Just beyond town
After you’ve explored Paso Robles, travel 5 miles north of town via U.S. 101 to a little hamlet called San Miguel, where two historic spots await. First is Mission San Miguel Arcangel, founded in 1797, the 16th of California’s 21 missions. The original building at this site was destroyed by fire, and the current structure was completed in approximately 1818. Still an active parish, the mission is renowned for its well-preserved interior, including original paint and decorations. A museum at the site is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
The second must-see is the Rios Caledonia Adobe, built in 1835 for the mission’s administrator. Over the years the adobe also has served as a hotel, a stagecoach stop, and a bar. In fact, it was a seedy joint at one time, hosting outlaws such as the James brothers and the gunslinging Dalton Gang. Visitors can view historical furnishings and artifacts, and admission is free.
One more museum, only 4 miles north of San Miguel, may also strike your fancy. The Camp Roberts Historical Museum and Museum Annex, located along U.S. 101, contains a collection of uniforms, unit patches, and other items pertaining to this former Army installation. It also displays several military vehicles dating from World War II to equipment captured in the Persian Gulf War “” including tanks, half-tracks, and armored personnel carriers. The museum is open on Thursday and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Phone (805) 238-3100 or visit www.militarymuseum.org/camprobertsmuseum.html for more information.
You will be captivated once you experience any of Paso Robles’ riches. So, come enjoy the endless “Pasobilities” in this beautiful part of California.
Paso Robles Visitor & Conference Bureau
1225 Park St.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
The following may not be a complete list. Please check your favorite campground directory or FMC’s “Business Directory,” published in the January and June issues, and available online at www.fmca.com, for additional listings.
California Mid-State Fairgrounds
2198 Riverside Ave.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Lake Nacimiento Resort
10625 Nacimiento Lake Drive
Bradley, CA 93246
Paso Robles RV Ranch
398 Exline Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Wine Country RV Resort
2500 Airport Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446