Atascadero & Templeton

Atascadero & Templeton

Ten miles south of Paso Robles sits the historic colony of Atascadero. The city was founded in 1913 by E.G. Lewis, a newspaper and magazine publisher, salesman, developer and oil speculator who wanted to establish a model city in what was a 23,000 acre cattle ranch. Lewis’ found the ideal setting for his utopia inland, but with convenient access to the coast, in a scenic area with good soil and abundant rain. Five years later, Lewis and his wife would also acquire the 20,000 Santa Margarita Rancho to the south The Atascadero of today (incorporated in 1979) has a population just under 30,000 and is revitalizing itself with downtown projects to attract more visitors. Atascadero also has a newly renovated, fully accredited zoo, only one of 214 in the country, the Charles Paddock Zoo. Located on Highway 41/Morro Road, which connects the city with Morro Bay and Highway 1 on the coast. The zoo has a new resident, a magnificent male Malayan tiger, named Menderu. An aviary houses many different species of birds. Meerkats, red-ruffed lemurs, Great Horned Owls, serval cats, pythons, and a Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula, are among the incredible variety of animals within this extraordinary little zoo.

Open 7 days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours are 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. April 1 to October 31. Rest of the year hours are 10 p.m. - 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults (age 12 and up,) $4 for children (ages 3 to 11,) $4.25 for seniors 65+, and free admission for children 2 and under.

Atascadero Lake Park surrounds the zoo and is a charming shady oasis on the west side of the city. This is a great place to bring a picnic lunch or take a paddle boat out on the lake to see the migratory birds that stop here. Walking, jogging or riding a bike on the path around the scenic lake is a popular and healthy past time. The annual Atascadero Wine Festival is also held in the lake park.

Templeton, about 10 minutes to the north, off of Highway 101, is proud of its western roots. The quaint country town has a strong sense of itself. Community pride is important here. So is history. Templeton started out as a railroad town, built in 1886. It was named for railroad executive Charles Crocker’s son. Crocker was one of the “Big Four,” of the Central Pacific Railroad, along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington. Passengers disembarked from the train and boarded a stagecoach for the trip to San Luis Obispo, before the tracks from the north and the south were completed in 1894. Templeton became a bypass and a fire claimed most of the town in 1897. It was rebuilt but only a fraction of its prior size.

Templeton still has the feel of those bygone days. The main street has some buildings with false fronts, the restaurants feature steaks, beans and western fare. The community is laid back and friendly. Everything is less hurried and there seems to be more time to enjoy yourself. Walk down the main street and grab a bite at Joe’s Grill, with nine different Mexican egg dishes or even an upscale gourmet restaurant (yes, there is one, a very good one, too) at McPhee’s Grill. Wander off the main street to the deeply shaded park with its Civil War cannons and gazebo. On Saturday mornings there is a colorful farmers market in the park, which to locals, is truly a taste of home.