More places to eat and drink make downtown a walkable ecosystem

In 2017, when it was announced that Mike Zappas planned to develop the west side of El Camino Real between West Mall and Traffic Way, I immediately hit Facebook with a vote for him as the Citizen of the Year in Atascadero. Of all the fighting for Walmart, schemes to move dentists away from Sunken Gardens, attempts to secure more downtown parking, or bridges here and there — nothing can match the real and positive impact that a useful, massive, thoughtful development would have in the heart of the Colony District.

I didn’t know Mike Zappas well, but I knew enough to know that he was capable of developing something truly beneficial — and like a defibrillator that hit the chest of the city, the pulse came back.

I spent the last two years connecting with downtown and with the business community as a whole, and the buzz of the Zappas’ La Plaza project was universal and palpable. I credit their plans and efforts over the past years for the state of Atascadero’s downtown now, and the growth we can expect to see in the future.

Many of the business owners downtown raved about the excitement the project brought and businesses over the past year have sunk their teeth in downtown to move in, or stay, with great expectations.

Directly across from the project, Entrada Avenue is seeing a bloom of new business and has the makings of a special atmosphere that makes it, arguably, the best street in the
Colony District.

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With earthmovers now getting foundations ready, the vision is coming together. Let’s go downtown to see what has happened in the past year.

We ran an article in Paso Robles Magazine in March 2018, when a feeling of “renaissance” was surging. It has certainly grown since then, and nothing has matured as nicely as Entrada Avenue, which is becoming an entity of its own. About a year ago, it was a street with nothing to eat. Now, it is literally its own ecosystem that can support life indefinitely.

Start at Dark Nectar, waking you up in the morning with a fresh cuppa Joe, you can hit lunch at Phō 4 U. Top the afternoon off with a brewski from Dead Oak, or stop by Fossil Wine Bar for a variety of tastings — or if you are looking for something that won’t raise your BAC, head back to Dark Nectar for a pint of Whale’s Tale kombucha.

Within a few doors, there is shopping for almost the whole family with Baby’s Babble serving the young’ns, Anna & Mom hitting a variety of notes that really demands first-hand experience, and Farron Elizabeth putting it down for the ladies with custom threads for a bevy of occasions.

You could possibly stay on Entrada long enough to need a haircut and Nate’s Barbershop is there to clean you up with a fresh look in a classic barbershop in which you might expect a quartet to serenade the snip.

That is just a taste of Entrada, and we’ll head back down there for more in our Art issue in June.

Some of the new businesses we covered last year are maturing. Mr. Putter’s Putt Putt had been recently installed as SLO County’s only miniature golf. Pair that with Hop’s Bounce House, and you have a nice set of family entertainments where once was not.

Hope across ECR, and Hope Chest Emporium has continued to expand its square footage of old ranch and rustic furniture, housewares and unique just-made items. Shop owner Karen McNamara also recently took third place in the Atascadero Dancing With Our Stars event, raising almost $25,000 for the Atascadero Printery Foundation — #uninhibited.

Running down El Camino, toward Traffic Way, you find some empty spaces that would once serve as fodder for criticism of Atascadero’s abnormally high vacancy rate. But today, there is more excitement than trepidation about who will take residence in the old Scotty’s BBQ space, and next to that a renovation is underway with an opportunity to customize a great space in a historic building that recently underwent a facelift to recover the brick facade that lay beneath years of caked-on exterior. Across the street, a Dunbar Brewing banner hangs in the former Camozzi’s window.

On the southwest corner of Traffic Way and El Camino, Shane and Joanna Wemple rolled up the doors of a garage conversion to serve fresh and local grub from Colony Market and Deli. The corner has been transformed from a vacant parking lot to a picnic-tabled patio to add yet another lunch option to the Colony District.

Across the street, Nautical Cowboy opened its doors in the Carlton Hotel a year ago and continues to serve surf and turf, adding a solid choice for dinner for families and dates. Chef Kurtis comes on to take the lead in the kitchen, with some signature dishes like Ora King Salmon with wild mushroom-fennel risotto.

Traffic Way has seen a flurry of new businesses take residence, like Traffic Records, Bland Solar, Central Coast Cafe, She Shop Vintage, among the longstanding Traffic Way usuals.

Also check out Malibu Brew’s new location and patio facing Sunken Gardens on East Mall, where you can pick up some coffee, lunch, or Doc Bernstein’s ice cream.

All over the Colony District, it is happening, new, growing and changing … and worth a stroll.

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