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Downtown Paso Robles: An Intimate View
Paso Robles City Park
City Park Is In the Center of Downtown
I first stopped in Paso Robles about 25 years ago for a rest stop and we happened upon City Park because we got off the 101 Freeway on Spring Street --the Paso Robles equivalent of Main Street. We let the children stretch their legs a bit, but I wasn't impressed with what appeared to be a sleepy old town with not much to offer. Little did I know I'd be living ten miles from that park within another five years.
How much has changed! Although I live and work in Templeton, I make the drive to Paso Robles at least three times a week and often walk its downtown area when I'm doing errands. As I walk, I now know the stories of some of the old buildings I see. I've lived here long enough to have experienced the 2003 earthquake which destroyed many of the buildings downtown, and I have seen them rebuilt. I've seen what used to be Carnegie Library, a building which sits in the middle of City Park, renovated and changed to a historical museum after the new library was built across the street. I've also witnessed the building of a new Superior Courthouse and a new Public Safety Center. An old auto supply store became the art hub of Paso Robles -- Studios on the Park.
I plan to write much more about Paso Robles, since it has much to offer both residents and tourists. In this article I will give you an intimate view of the downtown area. It covers about 16 square blocks and you could walk its perimeter in about an hour if you don't stop. But you will stop, because there's so much to notice, taste, drink, and look at -- especially if you take your walk in the daytime on a weekend. I'll show you scenes from many walks I've taken, and I'll give you any inside information I happen to have that you won't find in the travel guides. Let's get started.
I took the picture in this module on January 31, 2013. It is the bandstand at City Park where free concerts take place in the summer, speakers and musicians take the platform during many events year round, and others just take shelter from the heat on ordinary days.
All photos in this article were taken by me. They are copyrighted and not to be used elsewhere without my written permission.
Where is Downtown Paso Robles? - It's the area around the City Park, extending a few blocks each way
Downtown's center is the City Park. It spreads out in each direction a few blocks. Those blocks, especially between 8th Street and 16th Street and between Riverside Avenue and Oak Streets contain most of the businesses, shops, and restaurants the locals frequent. Most of the downtown lodging places and the Civic Center and City Library are there, too.
The downtown area is where most important city events and entertainment take place. Almost very major city bank has a branch downtown. The unique and quaint shops, including most antique shops, are downtown. If you want a supermarket or fast food place, you will have to look outside of downtown. The downtown area expresses the historic character of Paso Robles as a city built by pioneers. It embraces its history. I recommend satellite view and clicking the + until you can actually see the buildings close up. It's like walking downtown without being there. Then, for a closer look, see my pictures.
An Overview of Paso Robles City Park
Carnegie Library Is Now the Headquarters for the Historical Society
The Paso Robles City Park
Where the Action Is
It seems something is always going on in City Park. On Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons (as I write this) vendors and their customers meet for farmers markets. Farmers and craftsmen bring their products to sell, and musicians often come to play for tips. Whether you want bread, strawberries, carrots, handmade soap, or a warm hand-knit scarf, you are likely to find it. Parking may be scarce right around the park, but locals often stop first at the library across the street, park in the lot, do their library business and proceed to farmers market from the 11th Street library exit.
There are many special annual events at the park on weekends. These occur during the spring and summer months when rain is least likely to occur. Past events include The Vintage Sidecar Rendezvous with Recycled Treasures, and Antique Motorcycles. This was a huge marketplace for arts, crafts, and antiques.
May is a double header. The Annual Paso Robles Wine Festival occurs first. There is normally a big daytime wine tasting event at City Park -- one of the few with paid admission to cover the wine tasting. The rest of this event takes place in the countless wineries in the areas which each sponsor their own dinner, concert, or other celebration during the weekend. On the last weekend in May the park is the venue for the main event of the annual ArtFest. That event might also include some Friday and Sunday events as it did last year, but they occur either at Studios on the Park across the from the Park on Pine Street, in the library, or in some other location.
In June there is a Kids Day in the Park and usually a Trading Day and Kids' Flea Market at City Park. The weeknight concerts in the park also start in June and continue through the summer. They are being moved to Thursday nights in 2015 . They used to be on Fridays, but local businesses complained they took too many of their Friday night customers' parking spaces. Parking downtown remains a problem for people who don't want to walk a few blocks.
July brings the Lavender Festival, one of my favorite events. You can sample lavender in various foods, the nearby restaurants have special lavender treats added to their menus for the day, you can get a massage, and see any number of lavender products and plants on display.
August brings The Olive Festival to City Park. It's on my to-do list, but so far I haven't been able to make it because of some conflicting event. I've noticed more and more olive orchards springing up. Olive oil tasting is getting quite popular and is often available at wine tasting events. Wine tasting will also be available at this event. If I do get to go this year, I'm sure I'll learn more about the production of olives and the oil. Last year there was a cooking contest for recipes using olives and they gave you a free taste of olive oil ice cream. Artists and craftsman were also in the park with their exhibits.
October brings the city's most popular event -- Pioneer Day. It's always the Saturday before Columbus Day, and begins with a parade that goes around the City Park. When the parade is over, there is a free bean feed in the park for everyone.
I took this photo from the 12th Street side of the park facing the Carnegie Historic Library. It was the first library in Paso Robles, built in 1908, but the city outgrew it and built a new library across 11th Street in a building which also houses the city hall. The Carnegie Library, like so many other buildings in the city, was damaged during the Paso Robles earthquake in 2003. It remained closed for seven years for repairs. It now houses the history of Paso Robles.
A Few Seconds at the Paso Robles Farmers Market on a Winter Day - This is just a brief walk through of people I did not interview.
During the course of the entire walk I had many video interviews with some of the vendors -- especially the craftspeople. If you click through to You Tube you'll probably find links to them. The purpose of this video was just to provide a short taste of a typical winter farmers market in Paso Robles. It's not as large as the one in Templeton, and it's even smaller during the winter months.
Velta Williamson - Velta Circle
Velta Circle In Paso Robles by the Train Station
Today I was asking my hairdresser as she cut my hair what photos I should be sure to include in this aticle. Margaret has lived in the area much longer than I and because her many customers keep her informed of just about everything that happens Paso Robles, I knew her advice would be helpful.
Almost the first thing she mentioned was Velta Circle. That's what you see in this picture. Velta Williamson was born in Ohio, but moved to California in the 1960s, about the time I graduated from high school. As I, she also lived in both Los Angeles and Ventura Counties before moving to Paso Robles in the 1970s. I didn't get here until 1992.
During the time she lived in Paso Robles, Velta's goal appeared to be to promote the town. She volunteered for a number of civic projects, including getting the farmers markets started and working with the Senior Center Nutrition Program. She was also on a number of committees. Since she never married, her schedule was her own and she devoted her time to helping make Paso Robles a better place to live and work.
Velta is, perhaps, best known for her tireless efforts to get Amtrak to build a station in Paso Robles. That's why this circular driveway you see in front of the train station is named Velta Circle in her honor. She died quietly in her sleep after a life of public service in 2007, and her memorial service was fittingly held at Velta Circle.
I wish this photo could be bigger so you could see the green street sign. You can barely make it out here. On the left of the train station is The Wine Wrangler, which is the place to connect with wine tours and taste wine if you come in by train (or any other way.) The two-story building beside the Wine Wrangler is the present station for Amtrak and Greyhound. I hardly ever find it open. The two-story building on the right of the photo is the historic old train depot. It has been restored.
The Train Leaves the Train Station - I was lucky to be around at the right time to get this video.
I was actually taking a historic walking tour of the downtown area when I heard the train pull in. We were at the station, which was where the tour began, since it was one of the activities for the Central Coast Railroad Festival. When I heard the train, I ran to the back of the building to get the video of it pulling away.
Learn More About Paso Robles or Display your Love for the City
Paso Robles is one of those undiscovered places not many people have written about yet. It seems to take a back seat to San Luis Obispo in the minds of many travel writers. If you're here for long, though, it grows on you. One person who saw its virtues and spent a lot of time in Paso Robles was Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist. Paso Robles honors him each year with a festival in November. A more notorious visitor was Jesse James. Probably the most famous visitors to Paso Robles were Marilyn Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio of Yankees fame. They spent the first night of their honeymoon at the Clifton Motel (now the Clifton Apartments) in 1954 after being married in San Francisco.
Paso Robles isn't flashy. It has a quiet beauty which is most easily seen in the vineyards and on the back roads and by the river. It has a relaxed pace for those who just want to slow down and enjoy fine dining, art, nature, wine, and time to unwind from a more hectic pace of life.
This book is popular because it shows Paso Robles as it used to be. It's a treasury of old photos you can use to compare with what you see in the same places today.
Paso Robles - Next to the City ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory - It's Mascot is a Teddy Bear
More Attractions Downtown - And More Paso Robles HistoryClick thumbnail to view full-size
More about the Teddy Bear
This is a picture of the way the Teddy Bear who sits outside the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory normally looks. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is on Pine Street across from the park near the Good Times Cafe. When I went by there yesterday, he was dressed more colorfully. I believe that was in honor of the approaching St Patrick's Day holiday. Unfortunately for most of my picture walk yesterday, I was preceded by a group from the local high school who also wanted pictures and video, and they made it difficult to get a good shot. So I had to pass on Teddy's spring wardrobe.
I'm not too sorry, though. I love Teddy's usual apron. I totally agree with the sentiment which reads, "If God wanted me thin, chocolate would be a vegetable."
Antique Shops in Paso Robles - There are some great finds here.
Antiques in Paso Robles
As I walked west on Pine after crossing 13th Street, I approached what I will refer to as Antique Corner. There were at least three antique shops there. I talked to the proprietresses of two of them. One was Sandi Compston of The Cottage. The picture here comes from one of the corners of her store. Since I'm planning to write about the Paso Robles antique stores later on, I won't say too much more about them now. I do encourage you, though, if you are ever in Paso Robles, to stop by and see all the shops on this corner. The displays in The Cottage and also at Two Susans next door are artistic and creative. Each store has its own mood and atmosphere. You will enjoy them both.
What appeals to you most about Paso Robles? - Which of its many attractions mean the most to you?
Spend Some Time in Paso Robles
Paso Robles has a colorful history as a pioneer town. It is full of unique shops, including antique shops, candy stores, and boutiques. It has interesting government buildings and a lovely park in the middle of everything. There are fine restaurants and wine tasting establishments all over the downtown area. Studios on the Park offers an ever changing display of fine art in many media four days a week, with opportunities to watch and talk to the artists. On top of that, there are many special events that lure people into the city throughout the year. What's not to love?
The picture comes from a corner of the Two Susans Antique Shop.
What would you most like to do or see in downtown Paso Robles?
A Last Look at Paso Robles Before We Leave for Today - Now you should be able to know what you are seeing in the video.
I Hope You Will Add to This
Maybe I've left out something special you love about the Paso Robles downtown area. Please feel free to share it below.
© 2013 Barbara Radisavljevic