Paso Robles (Pass of the Oaks) is suitably named for the clusters of oak trees scattered throughout the rolling hills of this inland region. The town has a faintly checkered past: It was established in 1870 by Drury James, uncle of outlaw Jesse James (who hid out in tunnels under the original Paso Robles Inn). In 1913, pianist Ignace Paderewski came to live in Paso Robles, where he brought zinfandel vines for his ranch -- Paderewski played often in the Paso Robles Inn, which today maintains a small exhibit in his honor in the lobby. He really wasn't here for long, returning to Poland after World War I, but the town today treats Paderewski like a native son.
Arriving in downtown Paso Robles is like stepping onto a movie set. The main town square is surrounded by blocks of venerable Victorian-era buildings such as the public library, a neoclassical edifice from 1907. It's worth taking a leisurely stroll around the square before heading out into the rolling vineyards for an afternoon of wine tasting.