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Western Travel | WEEKEND ESCAPE

3 mommies minus their `me's

Friends head to Atascadero to relax and catch up during a stay at a renovated hotel and a visit to the wine country.

April 02, 2006|Kelly Scott | Times Staff Writer

Atascadero, Calif. — IS there a bond stronger than the one between women who survive "Mommy and Me" class together?

I think not, and my friends Sara and Patricia agree. From that early connection though our first-born sons, we quickly found we had the same mordant sense of humor about motherhood, a path fraught with issues for three working moms.

When the kids were little, we compared notes while they played in a local park on Saturday mornings. Now with seven kids spread among three school districts, even with one of us working part time and another in business for herself, it's hard to find time. We meet for breakfasts on our birthdays and yak for hours, but it never seems enough.

Apparently, we're not alone in this time deficit. In fact, we're a whole segment of the travel industry, where the "girls' getaway" has joined the "romance weekend" on the standard list of hotel packages. They typically push shopping, martinis or yoga. We have nothing against those things, but all we really needed was time to talk.

Of course, securing a weekend when all three of us could leave town was another challenge. Our getaway was shaved to an overnight -- 36 hours, to be exact -- but at least our destination to the wine country around Paso Robles would provide hours of car conversation.

In Sara's minivan Saturday morning, we started by dissecting our sons' soccer seasons and wondering what they really get out of sports. Two of us were facing the pressure from our oldest, about to enter middle school, for cellphones.

Before we could even start complaining about our husbands, we were in downtown San Luis Obispo in time for brunch. At the Big Sky Cafe, a busy, roomy restaurant with Western decor on a little side street, we had some strong coffee, omelets and sandwiches.

From there, it was a short hop to Atascadero and the Carlton Hotel, a historic three-story terra cotta-colored building that reopened 18 months ago after extensive restoration. Its spotless lobby is compact but plush, with plum, burgundy and gold upholstered furniture and marble floors and counters. The ground floor also holds a coffee shop-bakery and a spacious restaurant with windows on the main intersection.

Our room had two queen beds in the deep pillow-top style, with abundant pillows and shams, and the rollaway we'd requested was already in place. French doors opened onto an interior courtyard (there is no pool) with tables and umbrellas that looked like a lovely spot to lounge in sometime other than late February. The spacious bathroom had a whirlpool tub and separate glass-walled shower, as well as a sliding door to close off a toilet alcove. Patricia pointed out the high-end Frette towels.

The hotel staff, however, was a little more tattered around the edges, unable to provide directions ("I don't live here," one clerk said). In one case, a clerk couldn't tell us how to find the day spa a hotel staff member had recommended over the phone before we arrived. When we asked for hiking routes, a 20-ish desk clerk was clueless until we found a map in a display rack in front of him.

Paso Robles millionaire David Weyrich spent $12 million renovating the Carlton; a front-desk clerk said only the exterior walls were original. Weyrich has said a reinvigorated downtown will help make Atascadero a "destination," rather than a synonym for the state psychiatric hospital.

The hotel's corner of the Camino Real is a block from city hall (also being restored) and a small park. Newish-looking shops -- mom-and-pop flower, dress and antiques stores -- line the block around it. But the weekend we were there, downtown didn't seem actively used; the true energy of the town seems to remain in the strip malls that line the north-south Camino Real and the tree-lined residential boulevards that branch out from it. As a destination for out-of-towners, it has a way to go.

What Atascadero does offer is easy access to the wine country of San Luis Obispo County. Our first outing was down California 46, a rolling, winding two-lane road with overhanging oaks, toward the Tablas Creek Vineyard. The wines had been highly recommended to us, and we found the large tasting rooms hopping, with at least five stations of pourers at work.

From there, we headed to the cozier Adelaida Cellars vineyard, where Van Morrison was playing on the sound system and tasters were lined up at a single granite bar under soft, flattering lighting. We found a narrow place to wedge in and tried the Adelaida and Adelaida SLO labels.

We had to hurry back to the hotel, because Patricia and I had appointments at the Heart and Soles Day Spa before dinner. Sara napped while Patricia and I walked the four blocks -- not particularly scenic ones -- to the spa, where I had a pedicure and she had a facial that somehow incorporated red wine.

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