[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Pining for his relocated girlfriend, Molly, losing sleep over an upcoming 10th birthday (70 in human years) and exhausted from keeping delivery drivers at bay, my granddog, Baxter, a feisty/cuddly little Maltese, announced that he needed a vacation.

We packed his bag with treats, a favorite squeaky toy and two natty sweaters and off we went to the charming California town of Paso Robles, located on the Salinas River, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

One of the fastest-growing wine counties in California, there are more than 170 wineries, 26,000 acres of vineyards and 40 varietals of wine produced in Paso Robles. Also known for some of the greatest natural mineral springs in Central California, major league baseball teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox have come here for spring training and to soothe aching muscles, often staying at the historic Paso Robles Inn.

Heading straight for the pet-friendly Hotel Cheval, located downtown and within easy walking distance of quaint shops and marvelous restaurants, we felt immediately at home in this lovely two-story hotel of just 16 rooms, built around an inviting open courtyard. This is one of those places you don’t want to leave and within the first 10 minutes are mentally checking your calendar for when you can return.

Here are only a few reasons why: complimentary laundry; a complimentary and delicious breakfast served in the Pony Bar; private in-room spa treatments; private, customized wine country tours with the hotel’s certified sommelier; and complimentary s’mores served fireside each night by the hotel’s butler, for Pete’s sake! Baxter especially appreciated the attractive placemat for his food and water bowls, a cozy bed picked just for his size and nighttime treats.

With more than 170 wineries to visit, you’ll want to start early. Here are three not to be missed: Justin Winery is known for its three classic varietals that make up their very special blend — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This ambrosia is called ISOSCELES. Denner Winery is a gravity flow winery designed to complement and is nestled into the rolling hills of the Central Coast. Its Comus House, a bed-and-breakfast retreat from the world and named for the son of the wine god, Bacchus, sits atop the lush hills and vineyards, offering a luxurious retreat for wine tasting throughout the region. Parrish Family Vineyard, one of the first wineries in the region, is a family business producing the finest in Bordeaux, Burgundian and Rhone Varietals.

Paso Robles has a wealth of fine dining to go with its fine wines. Some favorites are Bistro Laurent, an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant and wine shop; Il Cortile, for rustic Italian fine dining; La Cosecha (Spanish for “the harvest”) combines Latin flavors with California farm fresh ingredients for a delightful evening out; Artisan, for small plates, large plates, cheese and charcuerie — all delicious; Robert’s, for American cuisine and white linen perfection; and if you only have one night, I’d opt for Thomas Hill Organics, a bistro and wine lounge featuring creative American cuisine in a charming patio setting. Or hang at the sophisticated bar and peruse the excellent choices on the menu. Then, go for the hamburger! It’s one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

This is a little town that packs a huge punch. I can’t wait to return, and Baxter tells me he’s feeling much better after his wine tastings and butler-served evening s’mores — ready to take on the delivery guys once again after his much-needed getaway in Paso Robles.

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at news@noozhawk.com. The opinions expressed are her own.