July 24, 2014

Escape to California’s Central Coast Via Charming Paso Robles

 

Even for those of us who think life doesn’t get any better than Topanga, once in a while it’s a good idea to clear out the chauvinistic cobwebs and see how the rest of the world lives.

Nestled in the coastal mountain range of Central California mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is a stunning hideaway that offers everything necessary for a relaxing and enjoyable getaway. With more than 250 wineries in the area, it’s the perfect place to experience the best of California wines in an easy and laid-back setting only a stone’s throw from charming coastal towns.

TRAVEL TO PASO ROBLES

PHOTO COURTESY OF PASO ROBLES UNCORKED.COM

Escape to California’s Central Coast Via Charming Paso Robles

The plaza in Downtown Paso Robles is quaint yet boasts many upscale restaurants.

On a beautiful day in late January, we packed up Messenger mascot, Pip, stopped at the ATM, filled up the gas tank and took off for a three-day getaway to sample the sights and sounds of the burgeoning city and its bucolic surroundings.

Traveling an easy three hours up Highway 101 through rolling hills that are normally green and gorgeous, we lamented that they had turned to drought-dried shades of brown and beige. On the bright side, the drought, we learned, guaranteed great weather. We first arrived at the scenic “Old Town” section of the city, with shops, pubs, wine tasting rooms, upscale restaurants and galleries surrounding a picturesque village green right in the center of town. For more information on attractions, dining and lodging in Paso Robles, visit travelpaso.com. For the latest news, visit http://blog.travelpaso.com.

Where to Eat—After our drive up on Wednesday afternoon, the first place we hit in Paso Robles was

PHOTO BY FLAVIA POTENZA MESSENGER © 2014

Escape to California’s Central Coast Via Charming Paso Robles

Pip, the Papillion, barks for more Duvel beer at Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub in downtown Paso Robles.

Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub on Pine Street that serves delicious and hearty pub grub (we gobbled up the crispy fried mac and cheese) and an astonishing array of beer in bottles and on tap. The front patio nicely accommodated us and Pip as we chatted with fellow customers who shared some tips about the area. Voted Best Bar / Pub seven straight years by San Luis Obispo County locals. 1122 Pine St, Paso Robles, CA 93446, (805) 238-7070 (pappymcgregors.com).

Other fun and notable places to visit in downtown Paso Robles are:

• The historic General Store Paso Robles
at 841 12th Street recently relocated here and offers local soaps, olive oils, kitchen goods and hand-made artisan products for picnics, gifts, pantry and home. We had a great time browsing through the fun and fresh offerings of kitchenware, cookies, local coffee and honey.

Brown Butter Cookie Company, 801 12th St., is a place you just can’t resist. The first thing we did was to lay in a stash and continued to enjoy their signature sweet and salty cookies the entire weekend! For more information: brownbuttercookies.com.

We Olive, 1311 Park Street, for specialty olive oil and vinegar tasting.

Vivant Fine Cheese, 840 11th St., for local artisan cheese and wine pairing.

Wineries in Downtown Paso Robles—With more than 17 wineries within walking distance of each other, no doubt you will find one that suits your mood from traditional to trendy. Some examples are Paso Underground, 1140 Pine St.; Clayhouse Winery, 849 13th St.; Pithy Wine Company, 1244 Pine St.; and the super hip LXV Wine at 1306-B Pine St.

Dinner at Artisan Restaurant—We enjoyed an elegant dinner despite our request for a light tasting menu rather than a multi-course meal. We kept our charming host, Amanda Diefenderfer, Destination Manager for Travel Paso Robles Alliance, longer than intended, mainly because her company and conversation added that important je ne sais quoi component to the evening. Artisan is credited for placing Paso Robles as a culinary destination and is a critically acclaimed leader in the farm-to-table movement. They have their own organic farm and plant and tend their own garden, which sources directly to the restaurant.

Wine News: Artisan features wines on tap, a greener way to serve wine and offers four wine taps that guests can order by the glass, half carafe or full carafe.

Spirits News: Artisan's new full bar offers a selection of seasonal craft cocktails using fresh ingredients and spirit flights to give guests an opportunity to taste a variety of classic rye whiskey, mezcal and absinthe.

Menu News: Since its move, Artisan has a new expanded menu with more cheese and charcuterie, pizza, small plates and large plates. The wood-assisted gas oven makes pizzas using Chef Chris Kobayashi's very own dough recipe.

Design News: Artisan's new interior showcases tables made from one black walnut tree felled in Templeton and repurposed. Reclaimed windows and barn wood with floors of recycled cork surround the dining room. The ever-changing menu at this popular restaurant continues to support local farmers and purveyors that only practice proper ethics. The restaurant prides itself on using time-honored techniques to each dish served. Located at 843 12th street, call (805) 237-8084 or visit artisanpasorobles.com.

WHERE TO STAY

La Quinta Inn & Suites, Paso Robles
—Wednesday night we were thrilled to stay at the fresh and comfortable dog-friendly La Quinta Inn centrally located off Highway 46 at Buena Vista Drive. This is their award-winning flagship location on the West Coast. For two wonderful nights we stayed in the brand new mini-suites with beautiful large bathrooms, refrigerator, sink, microwave oven and king-size pillowtop beds, so cozy that Pip didn’t mind a bit when we left him alone to go to dinner. In the morning we enjoyed their signature Bright Side® breakfast before hitting the road for a day of wine tasting. This summer, they are scheduled to open additional luxury suites, good for families or that romantic getaway. Rooms start at $79, call (805) 239-3004 or online at LQ.com.

The Paso Robles Inn & Steakhouse—Located on the town’s city square, the 50-year-old Paso Robles Inn, a favorite of locals as well as visitors, recently unveiled its remodeled and stylishly designed guest rooms. Brick-lined pathways lead guests through beautiful gardens, swimming pool and spa to cozy Monterey-style rooms. On Thursday night, we enjoyed a sumptuous dinner of a USDA Choice rib roast and fresh Morro Bay halibut with all the trimmings in their dining room replete with rustic wood appointments and a comforting fire. 1103 Spring Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446. For reservations and information, visit www.pasoroblesinn.com; (800) 676-1713; or (805) 238-2660.

Dog Parks in the Area—In deference to Pip, we checked out the local dog park in town. Locally run and maintained, Sherwood Dog Park, 290 Scott Street, is roomy and clean with separate areas for large and small dogs, picnic tables and shade structures. If you are traveling to nearby Templeton to sample the many wineries there, be sure to check out the Vineyard Dog Park, 1010 Semillon Lane. The one-acre park has big and small dog areas and a view of nearby vineyards.

Wineries—One of the greatest pleasures and challenges when traveling to Central California is choosing which wineries to visit. With more than 250 located in and around Paso Robles alone, it would take a lifetime to sample them all. We were pleased to visit two outstanding family-owned boutique wineries and were elated to find friendly faces and fabulous spirits at both.

The first winery we visited was the charming Vines on Marycrest. Old vine Zinfandel and Rhône varietals are sustainably dry-farmed on this 26-acre vineyard. Owners Victor and Jennifer Abascal, who have a Topanga family connection, guided us through their current varietals and thoroughly charmed us with the story of their beginnings of trying to run a winery from their former home in Los Angeles. Entranced, we each bought a bottle of our favorite varietal. Wine tasting $10 discount is applied to any purchase. Thursday - Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 5076 Mustard Creek Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446 (805) 237-0378; Vinesonthemarycrest.com.

Villicana Winery and Re:Find Craft Distillery—Just off a picturesque country road, another fabulous boutique winery was this unique craft vineyard that not only makes great wine but found a way to produce handcrafted vodka, gin and rum from their free-run juice, called saignée that is the cast-off from the first grape crush. They distill the saignée and create smooth and flavorful spirits that are perfect for sipping slowly. Owners Alex and Monica Villicana will tell you the entire fascinating story. We were pleased to share lunch and spend a couple of hours in their company learning all about this fascinating process and sampling their uniquely distilled spirits. 2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. (805) 239-9456 for a tour and tasting or Villicanawinery.com.

Olive Oil—Wine is not the only industry in California; local, high quality olive oil is quickly gaining notice among foodies. A short drive from Villicana, we visited Pasolivo Olive Ranch that boasts more than 6,000 ­trees, and took the 10-minute tour of the manufacturing process. Inside the charming gift shop, we tasted and bought oils made right on the ranch from their signature California Blend to lovely, light oils infused with basil, lemon or tangerine, as well as olive oil soaps, hand lotion and soothing lip balm. 8530 Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA 93446. (805) 227-0186, www.pasolivo.com.

CAMBRIA/CENTRAL COAST

Elephant Seal Rookery and Preserve
—An easy, 20-minute drive to the coast west on Highway 46 and a couple of miles south off the bluffs of the Piedras Blancas Light Station (piedrasblancas.org), you will find a sea lion rookery. Informative docents attend from 10 a.m.– 4 p.m. to explain the breeding and birth cycle of these magnificent creatures whose numbers can hit more than 15,000 animals, mothers, babies and rutting males laid out cheek-by-jowl on the beach during the January breeding season. Best times are late January, late April and late October. Hint: Take your camera and a warm jacket; it's cold on the windy coast! 250 San Simeon Ave, San Simeon, CA 93452. (805) 924-1628; check out the elephant seal camera at www.elephantseal.org.

Sebastian’s General Store and Café—For lunch, we discovered the historic Sebastian’s General Store and Café in San Simeon, literally across the highway from Hearst Castle. Sebastian’s was the first post office in San Simeon until 1905, when it was moved to the pier. It was moved back on land in 1945 and remains one of the most iconic buildings in the area. At the café, we ordered their awesome Hearst Castle grass-fed burgers; they are giant, juicy and loaded if you like ‘em that way! Eating on the patio, we enjoyed the sun and local ambiance and were lucky to get there early; lines in the afternoon were out the door while we dined. Sebastian’s is also the place to sample Hearst Castle wines. 442 Slo San Simeon Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, (805) 927-3307, Wed.-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Cambria—After lunch, we headed up the coast to visit Cambria (the Latin word for Wales according to Funk &

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN MESSENGER © 2014

Escape to California’s Central Coast Via Charming Paso Robles

Exploring Cambria reveals adorable shops such as Moonstones in the center of town. The charming downtown district also boasts many unique restaurants, including Linn’s Restaurant on Main Street, home of the famous olallieberry pie and jam.

Wagnall's) that was incorporated as a town in 1869. The local Chamber of Commerce said the charming Western-flavored Cambria began as a fishing and quicksilver mining town, then later became important for its dairy and lumber exports. Many interesting buildings remain from Cambria's early days, including the Old Santa Rosa Church, the Squibb-Drake house, the 100-year-old Brambles (now a restaurant), Santa Rosa School, the Hoosegow, the Gordon Howard home and the Lull house, now part of the charming Bluebird Inn Bed and Breakfast in the center of town.

WHERE TO STAY

Moonstone Beach
—For lodging, this is the place to stay. The romantic inns lining the coast attract couples for the weekend who flock there Friday nights and leave Sunday morning. Peak season is August to November, when cooler inland temperatures push fog banks offshore creating stunning sunsets.

Cambria Shores Inn—If you’re traveling with a pet, book a room at this fun and dog-friendly lodging on Moonstone Beach, literally steps away from the coastal bluffs. Relax on the Adirondack chairs out front with your dog(s) and you will be sure to make wonderful new friends with fellow dog-loving travelers, as well as the dog-loving proprietors. 6276 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA 93428, (805) 927-8644 or cambriashores.com.

What most people do upon arrival at Moonstone Beach is take a brisk walk along the boardwalk. Then, take the steps down to the rocky beach at low tide and find fabulous starfish, muscles and seashells. For more information on where to stay in Cambria, go to tripadvisor.com.

WHERE TO EAT IN CAMBRIA

Moonstone Beach
—Stay here and for dinner you can walk a short distance up the road to the historic Sea Chest, famous for its oyster bar and seafood. Cash only. 6216 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA 93428, (805) 927-4514, Open Daily, 5:30 – 9 p.m. seachestrestaurant.com . Located right on the coast, the Moonstone Bar and Grill is popular with the party crowd, who fill up the patio to watch the sunset while feasting on clams, lobster, filet mignon, fresh salads and local wines. 6550 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, CA 93428; (805) 927-3859, moonstonebeach.com.

PET-FRIENDLY EATERIES

Because we were traveling with Pip, we also wanted to find the best dog-friendly eateries in Cambria.

Cambria Pub and Steakhouse—offers a fresh and seasonal contemporary menu in a pub-style area. The pet-friendly patio is perfect in warm weather and overlooks shops and galleries on one of the cutest streets in town. 4090 Burton Drive (805) 927-0782 thecambriapub.com.

Redwood Café—tucked into a cozy corner of Main Street, offers hot delicious café fare. 2094 Main St. (805) 927-4830.

Wild Ginger—boasts an Asian and Pacific influenced menu. 2380 Main St.; (805) 927-1001; wildgingercambria.com.

OUR LAST DAY

Back Bay Inn
—Traveling south from Cambria is an easy drive down 101 to Morro Bay. That evening, we approached our destination on a torn-up street, where the city was installing a new sewer system, to arrive at the magical Back Bay Inn, a private two-story haven located on the water in the Back Bay region of Los Osos, just a few miles west of Morro Bay. Annemarie received a room on the ground floor with a lanai; Flavia and Pip landed in the dog-friendly room closest to the water. This pet-friendly inn offers complimentary breakfast, a daily wine reception and free Wi-Fi. What we experienced was a too-short, truly relaxing stay that feels like nothing else in California. We all want to go back for a longer stay. 1391 Second Street, Baywood Park CA 93402 (805) 528-1233; backbayinn.com.

Pet-friendly Back Bay Café—With coupons from the Inn, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and tailored our choices of a variety of coffees and endless refills to our personal tastes. After breakfast, we walked along the beach watching paddle surfers head out, among them a man and his Australian Shepherd who planted all fours between his master’s feet. We watched as they paddled out to who-knows-where on the glassy Back Bay waters. To our surprise, Pip excitedly explored the beach and left his tiny footprints in the sand (a sign that we’ll return?). Before our reluctant departure, we relaxed as we sipped our coffee and lounged on Adirondack chairs, still damp from the morning dew, and gazed once more over the bay and out to sea before taking off on our next adventure.

The Elfin Forest—After saying a grateful farewell and thank you to the proprietor, we ventured a short way to walk through the pet-friendly Elfin Forest, which at first is coastal brackish marsh, maritime chaparral among more than 200 species of plant, but became like a walk through fairyland in the pygmy oak woodland. The 90-acre preserve has a fabulous 4/5 mile boardwalk loop that provides access for young and old, walkers and wheelchair users, and protects the forest's sensitive habitat. You may not think so, but this is a “don’t miss” excursion. (elfin-forest.org).

We ended our trip with a quick stop in Pismo Beach to view the monarch butterflies at their annual migration layovers. Crowds of people were asked to watch for butterflies on the ground and not step on them. Pismo Beach, CA 93449, for more information call (805) 773-4382 or monarchbutterfly.org.

WHAT WE'LL DO NEXT TIME!

Central Coast Food Tours
—Featuring custom crafted tours that include insider access to people and properties not generally available to the public, Central Coast Food Tours has added some new adventures to its list of popular activities, including Santa Margarita Zip Line, with wine tasting and hosted gourmet picnic; personalized wine tasting tour with hosted gourmet picnic or gourmet four-course dinners. Private Sailing Charter along the Central Coast with hosted gourmet lunch or dinner. Farm Tours and hosted picnic or gourmet four-course dinner. Prices vary depending upon itinerary, starting at $189 per person. Since the tours are custom designed, please allow two weeks’ notice. For more information, visit centralcoastfoodtours.com or call (800) 979-3370.

Outback Trail Rides—Imagine an adventure through the vineyards and hills of the Paso Robles wine country on horseback. Outback Trail Rides is proud to announce it has partnered with two new locations in the area, Cass Winery and Calcareous Vineyard. Each ride is paired with a complimentary wine tasting upon return to the winery for those 21 years and older. Call (805) 286-8772 or visit outbacktrailrides.com.

­­­Grapevine Wine Tours—has launched a series of specialty tours called the “Signature Series” that focus on the particularly unique aspects of Paso Robles. The company has also partnered with Thomas Hills Organics for food-paired tours featuring Paso Robles wines. Visit gogrape.com for more information.

Pacific Coast Wine Trail—Visit wineries and tasting rooms nestled in quaint, seaside towns dotted along the Pacific Coastline. Stretching from San Simeon to Cayucos, with stops in between in Cambria and Harmony, the Pacific Coast Wine Trail offers guests a wine experience as unique as the coastal communities themselves. Contact the Pacific Coast Wine Trail at pacificcoastwinetrail.com info@pacificcoastwinetrail.com.

Stewardship Travel Along Central Coast Highway 1 Discovery Route—Enjoy a meaningful vacation by participating in the Stewardship Travel program. Add volunteer time to your day, or schedule a travel adventure to a natural, cultural or historic site. Plant seedlings in a native garden, contribute to a historic lighthouse, make new friends at a beach cleanup or become a “citizen scientist” at a nature center. Your stewardship benefits the Central Coast, and adds deeper purpose to your vacation. The country's first Stewardship Travel program heralds California's next big step in eco and heritage travel. coastaldiscoveryroute.com.

—For the latest news on the area, visit Travel Paso Robles travelpaso.com; facebook.com/travelpaso; and follow on Twitter www.twitter.com/travelpaso.