In late August 2017, my mother and I went on a mini road trip to Paso Robles, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Hearst Castle and Solvang. Here’s what we got up to.
We set out in my car from Pasadena on Saturday afternoon and drove up the I-5 before heading cross country to Paso Robles – a town of many wineries.
We headed to Le Vigne Winery which had been recommended to us. Inside the tasting room, we shared a simple tasting with a paired cheese (the “cheese flight”). In my opinion, the wine was fairly average, and the experience of standing up at the bar in a very noisy room was not great.
Soon we left for our overnight stop: Atascadero. We stayed here out of necessity as most other places were booked up. Since Atascadero had a lake, we headed there for a walk before dinner. The lake was beautiful. There were a few people jogging, and others strolling around. Back at the carpark we paused at the little zoo which had flamingos in an outside enclosure. We had fish and chips for dinner at Pier 46 Seafood Market in Templeton, recommended on Yelp.
The next morning, Sunday, we drove towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle. The coast road was very scenic and strangely quite empty. We stopped off in Cambria to get closer to the sea. Scrambling down a small cliff with limited stairs we found a rocky beach which was actually more rocks than beach. After looking at the water for a while we headed on to Hearst Castle.
We arrived at the visitor center at the base of the hill at opening time. Like pros we went straight to the gift shop to get postcards – something which is pretty close to impossible to find in Pasadena – then got coffee.
As we had prepaid our tour tickets online via the California State Parks Reservation System we thought we were all set, but little did we know that those tickets are useless without also going to, yes, the ticket counter, to get them exchanged for…tickets. This wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d known when we arrived and the line was non-existent. However, by the time we found this strange fact out the ticket line was literally out the door: 100 people long. Luckily once we had stood in the line for about 20 minutes we were good to go.
Top tip: even if you bought your Hearst Castle tickets online, you still need to line up to get them exchanged for “real” tickets”
We boarded the bus which drove us up the steep and winding road to the villa on top of the hill. On arrival we were greeted at a wide set of steps by a number of volunteers, all pleased to see us. Just for a second it was easy to imagine arriving as a VIP.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the villa, and she took our group on the “upstairs suites” tour. William Hearst Sr. apparently loved to entertain guests at the villa, and had differently designed bedrooms for guests. We were amazed by the amount of European art and sculpture in each room. We also saw the spectacular dining room and library.
After the tour we were able to wander around the grounds. We enjoyed the piazza and the wonderful views before heading to the last stop which was the swimming pool, tiled in azure blue and gold leaf mosaic tiles. It looked so inviting it was hard not to jump in.
That afternoon we drove to Morro Bay and later went for a walk along the bay to look for birds and other wildlife. Along with various sea birds, sea otters and seals we saw a pretty spectacular sunset. We had dinner at Blue Sky Bistro.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the same place then after checkout drove along the bay to spot the local sea lions. These are extremely noisy creatures and we found a big group of them sitting on a yellow contraption in the middle of the bay, honking at each other. At Morro Rock we saw a great group of sea otters, and upon walking around the Rock we saw some interesting birds and lizards.
After this we set our sights for Pasadena, heading along Highway 1 as much as possible. We stopped at Solvang on the way and found it to be a very touristy experience. We sampled the famous aebleskivers and were underwhelmed!
This was quite a low-key road trip as in total we drove about 550 miles in three days. I would like go back to Morro Bay to explore the area more, and I think Hearst Castle is an interesting place for out-of-town tourists – but I wouldn’t go out of my way for Paso Robles!