When I was a kid schlepping back and forth between my mom's house in LA and my dad's house in Paso Robles, I didn't think much of Paso besides wishing it were three hours closer to LA. The most notable thing about it was that there was a freeway sign that read “Los Angeles: 234 miles; San Francisco: 234 miles”.
Now when I tell people that we are headed to Paso Robles for the weekend to visit my dad, they reply with enthusiasm. “It's so beautiful there!”
“Oh, will you go wine tasting?”
We'll probably stay in our jammies half the day and then go to a park, but that's what weekends at a grandparents house are for, right? But if YOU go there, you should get out more.
It's just over three hours without stopping. If you can't make it without stopping, we like a Chipotle/Starbucks break in Morgan Hill, off the Cochrane exit. Fans of In N Out burgers will be satisfied at this exit as well.
The downtown is set up around a square, similar to Sonoma if you've been there. The square itself is a sufficient park for running around with playground equipment. Parents can take turns manning the playground usage while the other roams around the shops on the perimeter. One of these shops is Powell's Sweet Shoppe a super fun vintage candy store, which actually has a location in Elmwood now.
A short distance from the square is the Paso Robles Children's Museum. Best for kids 2-7, it has art projects, dress-up, a real fire truck to climb on, and a mini-ball pit for toddlers with a wine barrel theme.
There's lots of amusement packed into this relatively small building, the most noteworthy of which is a netted area that features a complex system of ball chutes and blasters. If you have a 3 or 4-year old, you should maybe drive straight there this instant.
Out a little further from the town sits our favorite park, Barney Schwartz. The equipment is pretty novel and the setting can't be beat. Well maybe in Kauai, but it's like nothing you'll find in Oakland — the view is pure Paso Robles.
Paso Robles is an extremely casual place. There are some tasting opportunities in the downtown area, but to really appreciate where the grapes are coming from, head out to winery on one of the nearby highways. I can't promise that the tasting room won't have a gift shop full of breakables, but there are certainly several with picnic areas ideal for running around. Bianchi has automated toy sailboats; Castoro has a pot-bellied pig as the house pet; and, Sylvester features vintage train cars in front of the picnic grounds.