Oh, Thanksgiving travel. While we may welcome the opportunity to give thanks and reconnect with friends and family around a table of turkey and sweet potato casserole, first, we have to get there. For those making the drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles up and down the 101, we offer the perfect halfway stopping point: Paso Robles. Once famous for its almond trees—it was dubbed the “Almond Capital of the World”—this community of 30,000 recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Simply referred to as “Paso” by locals, Paso Robles, or “Pass of the Oaks,” is known today as one of California’s great wine-producing regions. And there’s plenty to do in this family-friendly town, whether you’re making a quick stop or planning a weekend escape. We spoke with Sierra Christensen, graphic designer, local winery manager, and mama of two boys, ages 4 and 7, about some of her favorite Paso picks. Whether you’re with or without the kiddos, here’s a healthy list of places to check out during your stop.
For a playground…
“I think the most wonderful place to stop is simply downtown Paso Robles,” says Christensen. The center of downtown is City Park, a large park square covered with lawn and shade trees, located at 12th Street and Park (view directions here). “The city just built a brand new playground on the square. It’s wonderful for little kids and it is surrounded by an open space lawn for my older son to run around, play catch, or kick around a soccer ball.”
For some shopping…
Bordering the square are restaurants, a movie theatre, and shops, including General Store Paso Robles. “They always have something cool for the home or delicious to eat. I always find the best gifts there,” says Christensen. “Often my husband will watch the kids for a few minutes at the park so I can walk around shops.” Or, if you’re hunting for something vintage, browse at Vineyard Antique Mall, right off the 101.
For a good meal…
All the restaurants in Paso Robles are pretty much kid-friendly. For more formal dining, try Thomas Hill Organics, Artisan, Villa Creek, Il Cortile, Buona Tavola, or Bistro Laurent. For a more casual atmosphere, check out Fish Gaucho for light and healthy Mexican or Good Times Cafe, reminiscent of a 1950s-style diner, for a burger. You can also order a sandwich or salad from Red Scooter Deli (right off the square) or cheeses, baguettes, charcuterie, and olives from Di Raimondo’s Italian Market and Cheese Shop (one block off the square) and take it to City Park for a picnic. “There are plenty of picnic tables scattered about or you can bring your own blanket,” says Christensen. Top off your lunch with some sweets or gelato from Powell’s Sweet Shoppe or frozen yogurt from Lily’s.
If you’re looking for a restaurant right off the 101 in Templeton, try Kitchenette for a somewhat speedy brunch or lunch, or Pier 46 Seafood, next to Trader Joe’s in the Vineyard Center, for fish tacos, chowder, salads, fish & chips, and outdoor seating.
For a fun, family-friendly activity…
Within walking distance from downtown is the Paso Robles Children’s Museum located at the Volunteer Firehouse. Exhibits include the Firehouse, a Toddler Farm, and even a Grape Stomp—a giant ball pit meant to resemble the crushing of grapes (kids in socks can burn off some energy jumping in the pit).
Or, check out BarrelHouse Brewing Co., a one-minute drive off the 101. Located near a cluster of high-end wineries called “Tin City,” BarrelHouse Brewing Co. boasts a lawn and wooden tables perfect for an outdoor picnic. Bring your own meal (homemade, take-out, anything) and let your kids run around while you enjoy the peaceful setting.
If you want to try some local wines, stop by Paso Underground (near the square), where you can sample wines from four small, family-owned wineries.
Farther out in the country, about 20 minutes off the 101, is kid-friendly Tablas Creek Vineyard with farm animals, vineyard puppies, and even a coloring table. Close by is Halter Ranch, which opened a new tasting room in February 2016. With deli items for purchase, indoor and outdoor seating with fireplaces, Halter Ranch offers a nice respite from a long drive.
Do you have other Paso suggestions? Please add them in the comments below!