The Best Long Weekend in California Wine Country (and It’s Not in Napa)


    wine country paso robles

    Did you know that the time between President’s Day (in February) and the very last Monday of May (Memorial Day) marks the longest time of the year that there is not a single federal holiday?

    Whose idea was that?

    There’s got to be some (past) president or pilgrim we can honor with another day off during these long winter months so we all don’t lose our minds.

    Until then, it is up to us to take the day or two that we so need. Lucky for us, in California, paradise can be found in less than a 3-hour drive in just about any direction. So take a long weekend and go.

    Our favorite direction right now is south to Paso Robles. Exactly 3 hours from San Francisco, it has everything—the ocean to the right, rolling hills and vineyards to the left, and it feels like a secret no one knows about. I am always surprised by how many California natives haven’t even been there.

    Where to Stay 

    We stay at The Allegretto. You will feel like you walked into the Italian countryside. There is so much to see right on the grounds and inside the hotel. The art is amazing, original pieces cover every wall—like MET caliber art. It has halls like a monastery, and there’s a piazza where you can sip coffee under olive trees in the morning and sip wine under the stars at night. There are bocce courts and horseshoes and a fabulous pool.

    Next to a beautiful stone chapel lies the only sonic labyrinth in the world and there is a section of a tree in the lobby from before the time of Christ. The place is enchanting and my kids LOVE it.

    Tip: The hotel restaurant is overpriced. We grab dinner out or pick up a (good-enough) pizza and eat it in the hotel’s piazza where we can also enjoy wine tasting and/or make use of the happy hour from 3-6pm which serves really well-made margaritas for $10. We also love to scout out the perfect long-weekend breakfast in the form of great coffee, amazing donutsand a proper egg and cheese sandwich. We keep dining simple, local, and delicious.

    What to Do

    Well, there’s the wine and the majestic, kid-friendly settings in which to sip it. There are over 200 vineyards that take you back in time to when Napa was laid back and affordable. Think $10/tasting (rather than $35) that are almost always waived if you buy something and bottles starting at $20 and up to (rather than starting) at $95.

    Tip: ALWAYS ask at check-in what vineyards your hotel has relationships with.

    Paso’s downtown is adorable and full of friendly people, great restaurants, and unique shopping, like this beautiful boutique and my most favorite gift shop ever. We found an authentic Thai place for dinner and the sweet owners welcomed my kids by name the second night we ate there (when something works for dinner with kids, you stick with it). After dinner, there’s a playground right in the center square that has evening lights (great idea) so the kids can run around again before bed.

    What Else to See

    There’s so much to do everywhere you turn in just a half hour drive. To the west, you can sit on the sand and take in the view at Pismo beach. Just south, stroll and have lunch in San Luis Obispo, or you can head north to the adorable town of Cambria. Each makes for a great half-day trip, with time to spare.

    What I don’t recommend, but is worth the trip anyway.

    Right next to Cambria, in San Simeon, is Hearst Castle. Some people like it, but I thought it was ridiculous. William Hearst was a guy with way too much money, very little class, and he was a terrible host (which to me, is a mortal sin). If The Allegretto is an ode to the Old World, Hearst Castle is just a gaudy (failed) attempt at imitation.

    However, there is an awesome place for lunch right around the corner, which made up for the regrettable castle tour. Sebastian’s general store was built in 1852. You can sit outside, eat a great burger, people watch and if you want, have a $15 flight of delicious Hearst wines (toast to William’s kids, may they find a slightly more noble use for their grandparents’ money).

    When to Go

    Now. Temperatures range from the 50s to 75, always inside the range of the perfect weather to shut down your computer and get outside. Right now (if ever) there are no crowds, and prices are much more reasonable than Napa at any time of year.

    Tip: I like taking a Monday (and Tuesday) off. Sunday and Monday night stays are significantly less money and offset the more expensive Saturday night stay… and you return to a short week. Ultimately, I use Hotel Tonight and let fate (and the right price) lead me.  

    We pack light, load the kids in the car and head out first thing Saturday morning. Any drive over three hours means we bring the silver screen into the back seat. Family time, one movie, and lots of great car snacks means at the first, “Are we there yet?” the answer is “Yes!”

    Do it. Tell your friends to do it, too. Maybe we’ll see you there!


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    Amy is a technologist by trade and a writer by nature. Wife to a dashing web designer, mother to a beautiful, thoughtful daughter, adorable, slightly less civilized son, and a Yorkshire Terrier who came first and is still waiting for the non- furry babies to leave. As a work-from-home mom, she believes work/life balance is not a concept but a daily (sometimes exhausting) goal. She is always in search of a community that fosters her belief that sameness is boring, money is only a means to see the world and there are no rules we should impose on one another in this life other than Be Kind. She loves her family, lives to travel, and firmly believes that a homemade meal, a handmade cocktail and an episode of the Bachelor (a day late because she doesn’t own a tv) can cure almost anything.


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