Road Trip to Paso Robles

Paso Robles Road Sign

My favorite road trip escape is the rolling wine country of Paso Robles, California

I call it “my happy place.” 

This sleepy, more-Western-than-thou landscape is set halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and makes a great getaway on its own or as part of a journey around the state’s Central Coast. 

If you’re in the middle of saying to yourself, “Where/what the heck is Paso Robles?,” have no worries — you’re not alone. This San Luis Obispo County ranch-and-winery town is a pretty well-kept secret, even in California. It’s not for lack of beauty or things to do, it’s just a little out of the way.

Which is exactly why I like it. 

The rolling hills of Paso Robles

The rolling hills of Paso Robles

There’s a small private airport here, but unless you have your own plane, you’ll have to get here by car (via the 101 freeway and/or Highway 1) or train (via Amtrak’s Coast Starlight). Personally, I’d opt for the car route, for three reasons:

– Traveling from either the north or the south, the scenery is simply stunning
– The tree-, farm- and winery-lined backroads are a dream to drive
– Parking is plentiful and free everywhere you go

Just another view from Highway 1 in Big Sur

Just another view from Highway 1 in Big Sur


If you’re coming from the San Francisco area, the most direct route to Paso Robles is the 101 South to the 16th Street exit. The trip takes three hours and 30 minutes.

For the most scenic route from the Bay Area, though, turn off the 101 South onto Highway 156 West, then cruise onto the legendary coastal drive of Highway 1 South. Starting just south of Monterey near Carmel, this route will add at least an hour to your journey, but…

Best reasons to take Highway 1, Northern California edition:

You can stop for lunch in Big Sur. For the best views, choose between the indoor Post Ranch Inn, outdoor Nepenthe, or the Ragged Point Inn, for a bit of both. 


The back deck at Big Sur’s Ragged Point Inn

You can make a stop in San Simeon. I wouldn’t recommend visiting the famous Hearst Castle on a travel day (it requires a lot of energy), but do take a brief stop at the elephant seal rookery in Piedras Blancas. You won’t fully appreciate your own humanity until you’ve seen an enormous, hideous male elephant seal…who’s lookin’ for love. 


A male elephant seal on the prowl at the Piedras Blancas rookery

You can take a wander along the Pacific in Cambria. This Hobbit-esque beach community is just a half-hour shy of Paso, but taking a stroll along the seaside boardwalk on inn-lined Moonstone Drive might just help find a second wind after your long drive. Bonus points if you find an actual moonstone down on the pebbly shore.

The boardwalk at Cambria's  Moonstone Beach

The boardwalk at Cambria’s Moonstone Beach on a foggy day


The most direct route to Paso Robles from Los Angeles is the 101 North to the Spring Street exit, which also takes three hours and 30 minutes.

However, my favorite route to Paso from Los Angeles is a four-hour drive: hop on the 101 North, pick up Highway 1 at Morro Bay, then turn off on Highway 46. At the end of 46, pick up the 101 North again for a few exits. 

Best places to stop along the first leg of the 101 North: Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. The latter is adjacent to the delightfully wackadoodle Madonna Inn, which looks not unlike it was decorated by Walt Disney, Liberace and a woodworker with OCD. 

Some of the many delightfully wackadoodle design choices at San Luis Obispo's Madonna Inn

Just another dining room at San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn

Best reasons to take Highway 1, Southern California edition:

You can stop for lunch in Morro Bay. Right on the harborside Embarcadero, the big picture windows at The Galley allow kick-ass views of Morro Rock and the nearby dunes. The decor at this bright, airy little seafood place looks like it hasn’t changed much since the ’80s, but the kitchen turns out some damn fine fish tacos. 

Morro Rock from the Embarcadero at Morro Bay

Morro Rock from the Embarcadero at Morro Bay

You can cruise through the seaside village of Cayucos. The downtown drag, Ocean Avenue, is lined with mid-1800s storefronts and is only a half-block from the sand. If you want to stretch your legs, I’d recommend a stop at the Brown Butter Cookie Company (a second shop opened in 2013 in downtown Paso) and a short stroll to the beach. Back out on the 1, as you speed past the bay, take a listen to a fun, fittingly-named road trip song: “Cayucos.”


Best reason to take Highway 46 (two-way tie): 46 is my favorite road in California for its views over the hills and ocean. Halfway along it, I’d recommend a stop at Jack Creek Farms to have swirled combos of  apple cider slushees and pomegranate juice granitas.

And in advance, you’re welcome. 


Apple cider slushee + pomegranate granita at Jack Creek Farms

At the very end of Highway 46, pick up the 101 North, and take the Spring Street exit into downtown Paso Robles. Hopefully, you’ve allowed yourselves a long weekend…because there’s an awful lot of exploring, wine tasting and relaxing to do. 


Continued in
Exploring Downtown Paso Robles


  1. Halfway between SF and LA? Hmmm, how about we meet in the middle sometime then 😉

  2. Done and done, my oenophile friend!

  3. Sorry, but that video is so lame … would not motivate me to visit Cayucos, not at all.

  4. Fair enough, but I still love the song! And hey, if you don’t visit Cayucos, that just means more cookies for the rest of us. 🙂


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