Northbound freeway travelers will find a pleasant respite at El Paso de Robles. That's what the place was named by a Spanish expedition shortly after a pass was discovered through some oak trees during a trek to San Francisco two centuries ago.
Years later, hot sulfur springs were found there and people arrived for therapeutic dips and sips. A health resort emerged and grew into a rural town that was incorporated in 1899.
These days the hot springs have been abandoned and Paso Robles has grown to a quiet agricultural community of 13,000. For motorists on busy U.S. 101 that borders the east edge of town, it's an easy detour to relax a few hours or spend the night.
Among Paso Robles' attractions are a historic home filled with art and a weekly farmers market piled high with vegetables, nuts and fruits. Grapes are a big crop that supply wineries where visitors are welcome for tours and tasting.
From Church to Restaurant
And you'll enjoy dining in a century-old church that's been made into a restaurant. Lodgings can be reserved in an 1890s Victorian that's now a three-room B&B. Or bed down at a vintage inn where residents also go for the bountiful Sunday buffet.
From Los Angeles you can reach Paso Robles by driving north on U.S. 101 to the Spring Street/Business exit at the south end of town. Go under the freeway and continue north 11 blocks to a local rendezvous, the Paso Robles Inn.
Its dining room, coffee shop and the Cattlemen's Bar are in the main Spanish-style building that replaced the original 1889 hotel that burned. The inn's unpretentious 1940s-era rooms are scattered around the well-landscaped grounds in other structures that feature covered parking.
Winter room rates (to mid-May) range from $35 to $42 for two persons. Reserve by calling (805) 238-2660.
Reservations aren't necessary for the inn's popular all-you-can-eat $7.95 buffet served Sundays from noon to 9 p.m. It's preceded by a $4.50 brunch that begins at 9 a.m.
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Sunday brunch also is served in a church-turned-restaurant called Joshua's. Go north two blocks on Spring Street to 13th Street, then turn left to Vine Street. A second floor divides the sanctuary, but stained-glass windows remind you of the building's past.
Seafood and steaks are the feature entrees for dinner, which is served nightly from 5:30 p.m. (Sundays from 5 p.m.) Lunch is available weekdays. You'll hear live music on weekends.
Two Early Residences
Vine Street is one of the city's oldest avenues, and you're welcome at two early residences in the 1300 and 1400 blocks. At No. 1315 is the Call-Booth House built by Dr. Samuel Call, who was resident physician for the Paso Robles Hot Springs at the turn of the century. It's home to the Paso Robles Art Assn.
Members and guest artists show and sell their creations in the Queen Anne-style cottage that was renovated and opened as a gallery in 1985. Shows change every six weeks. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Sunday to 3 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission free.
A block away at 1415 Vine St. you'll see another Victorian that was built a year earlier and has become the Roseleith bed and breakfast. Guests are welcomed with afternoon tea and are served breakfast in the dining room or outdoor gazebo.
There's a choice of three rooms, two sharing a shower (twin beds $65, queen $80) and the other with private bath (king $95). No children, pets or smoking. Reservations: (805) 238-5848.
On 14th Street east of Spring Street is the new location of the Paso Robles Farmers Market, a weekly harvest of produce that's sold at curbside every Tuesday from 3 to 9 p.m. Look especially for almonds, one of the area's major products.
Besides almond trees, around Paso Robles you'll see acres of vineyards planted with wine grapes. They're needed to supply the wineries that have grown in number to 24 in the past decade.
All of them celebrate with an annual wine festival held in the city park opposite Paso Robles Inn. This year you can sample the region's red, white and blush vintages on May 16 from noon to 5 p.m.
It will be only the fifth annual fest, an indication that Paso Robles wines have gained prominence very recently. But grapevines came to the area with the padres, who established nearby Mission San Miguel Archangel in 1797.
And the tradition of making wine has continued through the years; a small winery built in 1882 by Andrew York still operates. Even famed pianist Ignace Paderewski established a vineyard earlier in this century when he settled near Paso Robles to ease his arthritis at the hot springs.
You can easily view some of the crops of grapes and wineries by heading north on Spring Street to 24th Street, then turning right under the freeway and joining California 46 east. Within six miles along that highway are four wineries, all on the north side of the busy road (make left turns cautiously).
Tour and Taste