How to Have the Most Fun on a Scenic Coastal Drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco

Many people we meet in our travels tell us a drive on the coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles is on their Bucket List. Do it once, and you too will sing the praises of the beautiful California coast.

The one disadvantage of motoring on scenic California Route 1 is that it takes a few more hours than the faster alternatives. Nevertheless, enjoy the coastal route at least once in your lifetime.

Consider this to enhance the journey

We frequently drive the 450 miles to Los Angeles from our home near San Francisco to visit friends and attend travel conferences. Recently, we made the trip to catch a direct flight on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul.

On this occasion, we left a day early, which allowed us the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the vast Pacific and the ocean-centric surroundings.

Diversions along the way

We stopped for a late breakfast on the wharf in Monterey, made a slow drive through tony Carmel, and took in the magnificence of Big Sur.

We didn’t do it on this trip, but we also enjoy an occasional visit to San Simeon and Hearst Castle to marvel over how William Randolph Hearst and his early 20th century pals lived the good life in California. Touring the Castle is like reliving scenes from “Citizen Kane.”

When we had driven about 250 miles toward our destination, we stopped for dinner and a good night’s sleep at one of several fine lodgings located at the roughly halfway point in our journey.

On this particular occasion, we pulled off the highway for a visit to the quaint town of Paso Robles, and the famous Paso Robles Inn.

Special attraction

The Paso Robles Inn was constructed in 1864 to take advantage of the town’s artesian mineral springs. Since its beginning, travelers have stopped by and immersed themselves in what many believe to be therapeutic and magically curative waters.

Jesse James bathed here

One such believer was the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Jesse had been shot in the lung, and was in great pain. Seeking relief by mineral baths, he boarded a steamer and sailed around the Horn to San Francisco. He then took a stagecoach to a ranch near Paso Robles, where he sought, and received refuge from an uncle. According to local folklore, Jesse was driven twice a week to the mineral baths until he recovered from his wound. He left the area in the summer of 1869.

Hotel with a hundred chimneys

The original hotel building was replaced in 1891. The new inn was much bigger and made of all-brick construction with a fireplace in every guestroom. The hotel was thought to be fireproof. From the late 1800s forward, the Paso Robles Inn became a world famous health spa.

Sports history

Through the years, sports teams and personalities made the Inn home for a time. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey was a regular at the hotel. The San Francisco Seals, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates all made Paso Robles their spring training camp at one time or another.

Because of its famous springtime inhabitants, Paso Robles built one of the finest baseball fields in the country. The mineral springs and ball-diamond apparently paid off for the Pirates. They won the World Series in 1925.

End of an era

The magnificent El Paso de Robles Hot Springs Hotel burned to the ground in December 1940. Only the bathhouse and dining room wing were spared the destruction.

A new beginning 

Investors wasted no time in making plans to replace the destroyed hotel, and in 1942, the current Paso Robles Inn was introduced to the public. With its unusual central garden theme, it was an immediate success.

Over the years, the hot springs went from high popularity to not so much. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence in the interest of mineral spring therapy, and in 1999, the owners of the Paso Robles Inn re-drilled the famous hot springs well to the high satisfaction of its guests.

Today, 30 of the hotel’s 100 guestrooms boast private spa tubs fed by the famous mineral springs – a truly unique feature – and not available at other local lodgings.

Wine country quiet

One of our greatest delights is writing about historic inns and B&Bs. They are generally quiet places, and after a long day on the road, that is exactly what we want.

This inn is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America, and that automatically puts it high on our list of places to stay.

The hotel is situated right in the heart of Paso Robles, and directly across from the town park.

Walk the town

Circling the town park are a series of restaurants and local interest food, antique, and specialty boutique shops. There are many places to sample a tasty cheese along with your favorite vintage, pick up a bottle of locally produced olive oil, or a wine country souvenir for the dog sitter back home.

Pet friendly

That reminds us – as of May 2012, the Paso Robles Inn is pet friendly. They have dedicated guestrooms for folks who like to travel with their four legged chums. So next time, call ahead, and plan to bring Rover or Daisy along.

Tired and hungry

We finished our walk around town and decided it was time for a libation. We headed back to the hotel, and lucky us, it was happy hour.

The second floor Cattlemen’s Lounge was buzzing with a friendly crowd – a much different scene from the picture we took earlier in the day. We grabbed an end of day relaxer, and dropped down at a small table on the lounge’s outdoor balcony to enjoy the night air and view of the town park.

It was a perfect evening and a great location for a light dinner, so we ordered up a couple of the Cattlemen’s famous hamburgers and fries. We were not disappointed.

The next day


We continued to explore the hotel grounds and found a relaxing babbling brook and Koi pond that is watched over by aged oak trees in the hotel’s central garden.

A perfect wedding venue 

With its expansive lawns, the Paso Robles Inn is an ideal setting for a wine country wedding. The old Grand Ballroom has been completely restored, and is the perfect venue for a gathering.

Chef’s garden

During our walk, we ran into Paso Robles Steakhouse Chef Kevin Fryburger surveying his on-site herb and produce garden. You cannot get fresher tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and other seasonal ingredients than when you pick them by hand in the garden behind your kitchen! We were impressed.

Other goodies     

Each room has complimentary Wi-Fi, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and specialty bath amenities.

The fresh water pool and spa are heated, and there is ample free off street parking.

For the golfers, check out the four championship level golf courses that are within ten miles of the Inn.

Wine tours

There are some 200 wineries in this region. We did not have time to indulge in a wine tour during our visit, but a fellow guest raved about what the Inn provided by way of a wine package that includes accommodations for two, a guided tour of up to six wineries, and a memorable picnic lunch in a scenic wine country setting.

Delicious breakfasts

Our final breakfast at the Inn was also a culinary pleasure. After downing the better part of a huge carafe of coffee, we were ready to continue our journey south to Los Angeles.


Our visit to the Paso Robles Inn was a pleasant break in the long, but lovely drive from San Francisco. Because of our overnight in Paso Robles, we were in great shape when we reached our destination in Los Angeles. This is a relaxing way to do the California coast drive, and we recommend it highly.

If you go

The Paso Robles Inn is just off US 101 at exit 230. From State Route 1 it is about 25 miles to the hotel. Take State Road 46E from Route 1S to reach US 101N. For more information click *here* for the Paso Robles Inn website.

A beach alternative

If you prefer a hotel on the beach at the “halfway point,” check out our article about the Avila Lighthouse Suites.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – historic photo compliments of Paso Robles Inn

You can see the world with Google Maps.



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