what to do in atascadero

Fly high above Paso Robles in a hot air balloon. (Photo: Getty Images)

Insta-Inspired Travel

How to Capture Atascadero’s History and Charm Through the Camera Lens

Tucked in an oak forest halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central California town of Atascadero is lesser known than these big cities but offers more than expected to charm visitors. Atascadero boasts a historic downtown, beautiful parks and the area’s only zoo and is an ideal base camp for exploring Paso Robles Wine Country.

Storyteller and influencer Rachel Rudwall has spent the last 13 years traveling professionally and recently returned from a trip to Atascadero. She stayed at SpringHill Suites by Marriott Paso Robles Atascadero and is sharing her tips for Instgramming your Central California coast visit.

Hot Air Balloon Flight over Paso Robles

Fly high above Central California’s ranches and vineyards on a sunrise flight over Paso Robles. For Instgrammers, there’s no better way to capture a destination than from the sky.

“A hot air balloon ride provides brilliant perspective of the place you’re visiting because it allows you to see your entire destination unfurled beneath you,” says Rachel.

Instagram Tip: When flying in a hot air balloon, don’t just photograph the scenery. “The best way to capture a hot air balloon ride through photography is to include some or all of a balloon in the frame as opposed to simply shooting the scenery,” says Rachel.

“Whether you include part of your own balloon (shot selfie-style) or photograph another balloon flying near you, capturing that in the image will provide scale for your viewers.”

The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop

what to do in atascadero
Get your herbal fix in town. (Photo: Getty Images)

This tucked-away tea, herb and spice store feels like a place waiting to be discovered. Located in downtown Paso Robles since 2004, the shop is known for its bulk teas, herbs, spices and specialty blends created in house, inspired by the owner’s love of herbalism.

Instagram Tip: Rachel says Instagram was made for enchanting local gems like this, and the key to capturing The Secret Garden is video storytelling. “I personally like showcasing this type of shop in Instagram Stories, bringing a viewer in with me through short clips and Boomerangs,” she says.

Try recording your own stories here out in the garden and inside the shop. Take your viewers along as you taste teas to let them share in your experience. Don’t miss the chance to shoot things like jars of teas and herbs and plants filling the garden.

Table Ceramics

Located in the heart of Atascadero’s Arts District, this storefront is a shop for Heidi Petersen Ceramics and handcrafted tableware. From glassware to ceramics to woven textiles, every piece comes from San Luis Obispo County. Shop or visit for a class to create your own home decor.

Instagram Tip: Rachel recommends using Instagram’s slideshow post feature to create a multi-image spread at this ceramics shop. “This allows you to photograph both wide and detail shots then assemble them for a fuller story,” says Rachel.

“A visitor can shoot an exterior of the building, then a couple images of the interior from different angles, followed by hands-on ceramics making at the pottery wheel and, finally, end-result product shots.”

For easy editing, choose one filter to apply to the series of photos to achieve a cohesive look.

Atascadero Lake Park

For a break from downtown and shops, head to Atascadero’s Lake Park to stroll or bike around the walking path surrounding the lake. Rent a paddleboat or kayak and take to the water or stop to see more than 200 animals at the Charles Paddock Zoo.

From red pandas to wallabies to tigers, you’ll be surprised by the diverse assortment of wildlife found at this zoo.

Instagram Tip: There’s so much natural beauty in this place, but the best time to capture it is during what photographers call the “golden hour.”

This time of day (just before sunset) is nature’s Instagram filter, and you’ll get brilliant pictures over the lake as the sky turns pink. Amp up the color with Instagram’s saturation tool, but don’t overdo it, or your photo will look fake.

Historic Atascadero City Hall

what to do in atascadero
Keep your eyes and lens open in this historic structure. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you love capturing a city’s history, there’s no better place in Atascadero to visit than Historic Atascadero City Hall. It was completed in 1918 after four years of construction, and an earthquake in 2003 damaged it enough to close the hall for 10 years of repairs and renovations.

It’s back open to the public on weekdays, and you can visit to take a free guided tour to learn about its history and the town’s.

Instagram Tip: The hall’s beautiful fountains were converted into planters long ago, but during renovations each was carefully restored to its former glory.

Take great shots of the building with the fountains in the foreground, or step inside to photograph the rotunda overhead. Bring out the building’s natural pink hue by upping your Instagram warmth slider a bit, and bring in the focus with a slight vignette.

Sunken Gardens

A staple of Atascadero, this park was created by city founder E.G. Lewis, who took his inspiration from “The Grand Basin” at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Restored in 2005 to its original design, the gardens feature walkways crisscrossing the grass and gardens that meet at a central fountain and a marble statue that came to the park from the World’s Fair.

On many days the park is a quiet place to visit, but find the action at the weekly farmers market, summer movie festivals, a Tamale Festival and much more.

Instagram Tip: The fountain is the garden’s showpiece and the best place to capture solo, couples or friend Instagram shots. Include city hall behind you in the shot to capture the history of Atascadero.

See More of Rachel’s Journey in Atascadero, CA