If I told you that my husband and I just returned home from an amazing wine country vacation you probably wouldn’t be surprised. But if I told you that we brought our eight-year-old son, Jayce, along, that might catch you off guard, right? I know. Usually the terms ‘family-friendly’ and ‘wine country vacation’ don’t coexist. Oh, but friends, I’m here to tell you about a destination that makes it possible to have fun with the kids whilst enjoying fine wine and amazing food. You didn’t think such a thing existed, did you? Better yet? It’s not far from our southern Arizona home.
So where is this mythical destination, you ask? The place we visited is Paso Robles, a gem of a small town nestled in the rolling hills of California’s central coast. For me, it was the chance to go home again; I grew up in Paso Robles and lived there for twenty-two years. For my husband, it was the chance to visit the town where we met and fell in love. For our son, it was just plain, old-fashioned fun.
When I left Paso—as the locals call it—to move here to Tucson, I had no idea that the little town I was leaving behind was about to bloom into a foodie’s paradise (If I had, I might not have left). Growing up, the kids around town weren’t exactly fond of all the cattle and produce and vines—made for a boring backdrop by teen standards. These days, it is precisely that backdrop that allows the region to boast restaurants that practically define the farm-to-fork philosophy. Those restaurants—and the local wines that burst with layers of bold flavors—are making Paso a top vacation spot for foodies and wine enthusiasts like myself.
Not to worry, though, my husband and I didn’t leave poor Jayce with a sitter while we sipped and savored our way around town. Quite the opposite, in fact. The wineries we visited (Brochelle, Calcareous and Ancient Peaks) didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow when we stopped in for tastings with a child in tow. It helps that he brought along a Kindle and quietly lost himself in his books while we chatted with tasting room attendants and fellow travelers. There was so much more to our trip than wine tasting, though. We stopped in at the local Children’s Museum, where Jayce was able to climb aboard a real fire truck. We went on a scenic horseback trail ride through a gorgeous vineyard (with Outback Trail Rides). Our guide, Mick, was a real cowboy from down under--Australian accent and all. He even wore spurs! I trust I don’t have to tell you how impressed Jayce was by that. And, in what was perhaps Jayce’s favorite excursion, we ziplined over pastures and vineyards on a working cattle ranch (with Margarita Adventures). When you’re eight-years-old, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
As a mom to four who has never embraced the idea of completely abandoning my own preferences in favor of Chuck E. Cheese outings, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to take more vacations that offer families like mine a mix of beautiful sights, active, family-friendly excursions and opportunities to dine on locally-produced, artisan food and fine wine. Admittedly, lifestyle destinations like those are hard to find. All the more reason I plan on returning to Paso sooner than later.
Tips to make a visit to Paso top-notch:
- The Courtyard Marriott offers families spacious rooms in a central location. For more luxurious accommodations, check out Hotel Cheval.
- Be sure to stroll through the park downtown and stop in at the Paso Robles Historical Society Museum to get a feel for the town’s charm.
- Look into special events that coincide with your travel dates; the town hosts several wine festivals throughout the year and free concerts in the park every summer.
- Thomas Hill Organics, Fish Gaucho or Artisan are all great bets for dinner out.
- For a quick lunch, try Haymarket or the Full Belly Deli.
- Day trips to local beach towns (Morro Bay, Cambria and Pismo Beach) will give the kids their ocean fix.
- The General Store downtown is the perfect spot to pick up locally-produced gifts.
- The nearest airport is in San Luis Obispo; direct flights from Phoenix are available.