“What are we doing for spring break, my little one asked?” As a parent, you’re accustomed to hearing this question, especially from your younger kids. Truthfully, I hadn’t really thought of something to do. Spring break had come later this year and was coinciding with Easter. In my mind, I envisioned we would do what we always did during Easter weekend – chill, decorate some eggs, have an egg hunt, and enjoy a nice homemade brunch and dinner.
Here we were with my little one eagerly anticipating an answer. “I don’t know, the usual, chillaxing and doing what we always do for Easter,” I responded. “We should go somewhere,” she declared. Knowing she wouldn’t let it go until she had a satisfactory answer (yeah, she’s stubborn like that), I said: “Let me think about it.”
Spring break was only one week away. How was I going to plan anything worthwhile in such a short time period? Besides, I really didn’t want nor was I planning to spend any money on an expensive vacation. I put my thinking cap on (as I promised the little one I would) to figure out what to do.
Here’s my journey to discovering the beautiful wine country of Paso Robles and affirmation that you must never give up on your dreams. I’m sharing it in beautiful pictures because frankly, they’ll do more justice to our experience than words.
If you’ve been in our blog family for the past 5 years, you know we love to discover new places. While it’s fantastic to visit faraway places, we also believe you don’t have to travel too far from your back yard to find beauty and inspiration.
I set out to find a destination that would fit our criteria, which included these usual suspects:
- No more than 3 to 4-hour drive
- 2-night stay
- High quality but affordable accommodation
- Beautiful beach/es close by
- Something intriguing or educational
Northern California is rich with destinations that fit the above criteria. The only problem, we’ve exhausted almost all of them! From Monterey, Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, and Santa Cruz, to Lake Tahoe, Capitola, and Napa, I was stumped at where we could go.
But as usual, my friend Google 🙂 came to the rescue. I searched on “Interesting places to visit with kids during spring break” and Paso Robles popped up. Having never heard of it, I excitedly clicked around to learn more about it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover not only was it a wine city but also, a 40-minute drive from the incredible Hearst Castle! Even more exciting was it’s proximity to beautiful beaches including Avila Beach, Moonstone Beach, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, San Simeon State Beach, and more.
And just like that, I had found my hidden gem!
Tucked away in the middle of wine country right off of highway 101, La Bellasera is a quaint boutique 4-star hotel that boasts 2-star pricing. It’s surrounded by lush green hills, beautiful vineyards, and majestic palm trees.
As you approach the hotel entrance, you’re greeted by the calming sound of water fountains located on opposite sides of the ornate dark brown door. The concierge is a colorful space that radiates warmth, coziness, and comfort. The decor has a Meditteranean and Italian feel.
We were welcomed by the friendliest staff who were quick to ensure our stay was as delightful and comfortable as possible. My only concern was the temperature on the 2nd-floor corridors where we were staying. It seemed to be warmer than normal; it was almost like the air conditioning was not working.
That concern was quickly erased upon entering our studio room. Spacious, colorful, and cool, it was perfect for a family of four. It came with a hot tub, which honestly, we didn’t get to use. After all, there was a hot tub next to the pool area outside. Plus, I imagined it might get messy, especially with kids using it. My guess was it works for couples on a romantic getaway.
It was still nice to have. We were impressed by the ambiance – which mirrored the warmth of the concierge – the size of the lounging area, and bathroom. We never once felt like we were on top of each other. There was even a sliding door separating the lounge room from the sleeping area.
Opening the curtains revealed a view of sprawling green hills, blossoming, vineyards and majestic palm trees. It was a great start to our mini-vacation.
Our first night was spent in the Hotel. We ventured to the sun colored poolside, enjoyed the sunset and evening breeze while relaxing in the hot tub and a quick dip in the pool. Later that evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the restaurant on the premises.
Day 2 turned out to be the highlight of our mini adventure. After a quick breakfast in our studio (I always bring something quick to have like oatmeal or cereal, plus it saves time and money), we headed out to visit the Hearst Castle, a picturesque 40-minute drive from the hotel.
It had been a little over 20 years ago since we had visited the castle. This time around, we were excited to rediscover the impressive mansion with our daughters.
Things had changed since back then. There was now a visitor center lined with souvenir shops and restaurants so you could grab a bite or shop before boarding a bus to take you to the castle.
After a quick family photo taken at the boarding area entrance, we boarded our bus and readied ourselves for the ride up the narrow windy road. Since the castle sits atop a hill, we were treated to breathtaking views of San Simeon while listening to a fascinating recorded narrative of the castle’s history.
As we approached the castle gates, I couldn’t help but notice the awe in my daughters’ eyes. Even I was mesmerized by its size and grandeur despite having seen it before. We were greeted by our guide, a humorous lady who explained the castle’s touring rules before ushering us into the grounds.
We had chosen to do the Grand Rooms Tour, which includes a tour of the grand social rooms of the biggest house.
We started off with the garden. To say the Hearst Castle garden is breathtaking would be an understatement. It is one of the most spectacular displays of beauty, color, and delightful scents you can experience in one space. As we meandered through the gardens, I was taken aback by the strong aroma coming from the rose bushes, a variety of colors, and beautiful landscaping and design. Most importantly, though, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of healing. It was a refreshing reminder of the healing power of gardens. It made me dream of having a garden of my own (maybe not as illustrious as this one but just as beautiful.)
Speaking of dreams, did you know William Randolph Hearst began building the Hearst Castle when he was 58? Yeah, we were surprised too! Somehow this mind-blowing snippet of information escaped us during our last castle visit over 20 years ago. It was only through watching a 30-minute movie (highly recommended) of his life from the Hearst Castle Theatre that we got a better understanding of how he realized his dream. The movie left an undeniable impression on my kids who couldn’t stop talking about it afterward. They were most intrigued by how old he was when he started building the castle and how long it took him to do it (28 years.) An added bonus was the knowledge it was built by an incredible architect, Julia Morgan, the only person willing to take on the task.
How many times have you come across people who make you feel like you might be too old to dream or achieve your dream? Maybe you’re getting in your own way by feeling like your ship has sailed. The story of how the Hearst Castle came to be is a stark reminder you can dream at any age and achieve it. It may not be at William Randolph Hearst scale or means but it’s possible no matter how big or small. It’s also a true testament to the ingenuity and resiliency of women. Julia Morgan was determined to help Hearst achieve his dream despite the numerous challenges she faced.
In addition, it underscored the importance of travel and exposing you and your kids to other places and cultures. William’s vision of the Castle was fueled by his expeditions of Europe with his mom when he was a young boy. They left an impressionable mark in his life.
This mark was evident in the castle’s architecture and decor. There were awe-inspiring Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, German and many more influences around the castle. Whether it was an intricate roof or sprawling dining table, or walls lined with mesmerizing artwork, you were constantly reminded of how much his exposure to other cultures had impacted his world.
Our tour ended with a view of the grand outdoor and indoor pools, both a display of grandeur and architectural genius.
One of our most favorite things to do when we travel is to eat! And not just to eat anything but to explore and discover new places with food that would make any bona fide foodie envious! Since we had dinner at the hotel on the first night, we couldn’t wait to explore the local restaurants on day two. With a quick Yelp search, we discovered Catch, a highly rated yet super affordable seafood bar and grill in downtown Paso Robles. As we pulled up to the restaurant, our excited faces turned into concern and doubt. The exterior looked a little shoddy and nothing quite like what we expected for a 4-star rated restaurant. It was late so we decided we had no choice but to try it out. Boy! We were wrong to judge this gem by its cover! The food was absolutely delightful! The service was impeccable and the desserts, delicious! It was almost unfathomable to think we would have missed out because of being so judgy (hey, don’t judge – pun intended!)
It was exhilarating to know our last meal out on the town would be so memorable. Since we were leaving the next morning, we had decided we would have breakfast at the hotel restaurant.
All packed and ready to leave, we ventured into the hotel restaurant to have our breakfast/brunch only to find out the cookers were all out. Frustrated and hungry, we asked the concierge to give us some breakfast/brunch recommendations in the neighborhood.
They directed us to Kitchenette, which turned out to be yet another culinary gem! Their produce tasted like it had just been harvested from the farm – fresh, crunchy and tasty. We couldn’t believe our luck! Our little cooker misfortune had turned out to be a blessing in disguise. What a way to say goodbye to Paso Robles!
After our delightful brunch, we were all set for the last leg of our mini-vacation, a visit to the beautiful Avila Beach. Located just 25 minutes away from our hotel, we were surprised we had never heard of this magnificent beach. It’s a breathtaking stretch of sand, clear water (no seaweed in sight!) we had experienced in a while. Like any beach town, there were quaint seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, boat rentals, and other beachfront amenities lined up to suit our tastes and needs.
As we enjoyed the afternoon sun and the incoming tide, my little one amassed an impressive collection of rocks, built sand castles, and waded in the water (it was in the middle of spring and too cold to swim in it.) It was the perfect set up for catching up on my latest book and an ending to our little getaway.
I took this mini-vacation with a few simple expectations – to find some peace and quiet, rejuvenate, give my kids a much-needed break, rediscover a memorable place in the eyes of my kids, and find adventure along the way. But I came away with much more; I was reminded to never give up on my dreams, to not judge anything by its appearance, and to never underestimate the influences your travels have on you.
My hope is for you to find your Paso Robles – a place that inspires you to dream, to be adventurous, and empower others with the experiences you have along the way.
Have you vacationed in a destination that has inspired you? Please share so we and our readers can be empowered too.