Exploring Paso Robles: The “Wine Country of the Central Coast”
By Noreen Kompanik
California is world-renowned for its wines. And while there are many regions that create superb vintages, one of my and my husband’s absolute favorites is Paso Robles. Why? Because of the special characteristics that make it so unique. Once one of California’s best-kept secrets, the word has spread about this spectacular area filled with so much wonderment.
Paso Robles, often referred to as the “Wine Country of the Central Coast,” is a charming city nestled in the heart of beautiful San Luis Obispo County just 30 minutes from California’s stunning Central Coast. Known for its picturesque rolling hills, vineyards, and warm Mediterranean climate, Paso Robles offers a delightful escape for both locals and visitors alike seeking a relaxed and scenic getaway.
Its location is ideal – situated midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it a great road trip destination. And thanks to more airline routes in and out of nearby San Luis Obispo airport, Paso Robles is easier to reach than ever before.
Well-Earned Reputation for Wine Making
There’s no denying the area has gained a well-deserved reputation as one of California’s premier wine regions. Paso Robles’ diverse microclimates, varied terroir, rich soil, and favorable weather conditions create an ideal environment for the cultivation of many grape varietals. The result – an abundance of award-winning wineries and vineyards.
Wine enthusiasts can indulge in a variety of tastings, cellar tours, and wine-pairing experiences, savoring the region’s renowned Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Rhône-style blends. Other popular varietals include Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Grenache.
Reds still reign king in this region as the climate and terroir are favorable for producing bold, full-bodied wines. But thanks to the variety of microclimates and soil conditions, whites are also commonly cultivated. These include Chardonnay, Viognier (my favorite), Roussanne, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Whatever you fancy, you’ll find it here, and we guarantee you’ll be more than happy.
Love These Unique Wineries
And here’s what we love best about Paso Robles wineries – they are all so different and offer so much more than just award-winning wines.
They have character. You’ll almost always see the passionate owners/winemakers around to chat it up and talk about their wines.
With 300 wineries dotting the landscape, it isn’t difficult to find a few new favorites each time you visit. Though we realize it’s hard not to keep going back to the ones we first loved.
Looking for a view? Yep, Paso offers that too.
DAOU Vineyards & Winery offers dazzling panoramic mountain vistas along with its incredible vintages. Then there’s the picturesque Calcareous Vineyard, perched 1,500 feet above the expansive Salinas Valley.
Wining and dining at these venues is an absolute treat. We loved meeting friends for wine tasting and lunch at each of these fabulous wineries.
Situated on a rustic property with a 100-year-old barn, Thacher Winery offers spectacular country vistas of vineyards, hayfields, and massive oak trees. Creative and unique vintages are poured in its tasting room located inside the old horse stables of the historic Kentucky Ranch.
Barton Family Estate is yet another distinctive property offering wine, food, and spirits all in one location.
Visitors can taste wine and dine in a beautiful urban farmhouse setting or outdoors on a scenic oak-shaded patio. In addition, Barton boasts a brand-new craft distillery, Grain + Vine also located on-site.
What a Foodie Haven
Aside from its flourishing wine scene, Paso Robles has become an absolute foodie lovers’ delight. With its extensive agritourism scene, restaurants here benefit from the freshest seasonal produce, grass-fed beef, local catches, and artisanal cheeses.
Picking our favorites isn’t easy, but when you’ve dined in a restaurant a few times, and each occasion offers a delightful new experience, you know you’re on to something special.
Fish Gaucho is a fun, lively rustic-chic cantina featuring modern California Mexican fare and creative craft cocktails. Shared aperitivos are the ideal way to sample several of its tantalizing dishes like Wagyu Tartare, Chile Relleno Fundido, Aguachile, and Specialty Tacos.
The Alchemist’s Garden is another restaurant that celebrates craft cocktails and serves up cuisine with style. It’s a fun, funky place with a mantra of “what you imagine, you create.”
Well create they do, and we are always pleased with their inventive drinks and entrees.
It’s quick and easy counter service at FINCA, a casual family-owned eatery focused on wood-grilled meats and seafood inspired by the traditional flavors of Baja and Sonora.
Diners will find a range of mouthwatering tacos, shared plates, and burritos, along with a tasty selection of oak-grilled entrees like Spanish octopus and oysters with chipotle butter. This is definitely not your typical counter-service food.
Field of Light at Sensorio
Honestly, we’ve never seen anything like it. At sunset, over 100,000 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics illuminate the rolling 15-acre landscape of Sensorio: Field of Light by Bruce Munro. The effect is a painter’s palette of magnificent ever-changing colors. And it is one magical, mystical, spiritual experience you’ll never forget.
Completely solar-powered, the captivating show beautifully connects light with nature resulting in an almost indescribable ethereal spectacle.
And the best part is that visitors can walk through a labyrinth of paths surrounded by magnificent oaks and stunning beauty, which now includes a “Light Towers” installation.
In reverence to the area’s impressive wine reputation, the tower’s area consists of 69 tall circular pillars composed of 17,000 wine bottles illuminated by color-changing fiber optic lights. It’s an eye-catching sight to behold.
Trendy Tin City
A vibrant and evolving industrial park is one of Paso Robles’ favorite hangouts. Tin City entrepreneurs pour their heart and soul into this unique, eclectic neighborhood, providing libation and food lovers one-stop shopping for wine, craft beer, cider, spirits, and bites.
Barrel House Brewing Company is one popular place to enjoy your favorite craft beers. And their mantra “Good People, Good Times and Great Beer” fits like the perfect glove.
Brewers create small-batch, taproom-only beers with fun California-inspired flavors with names like Sunny Daze and Big Sur Double IPA.
We’ve also enjoyed sampling the seasonal offerings at Tin City Cider Taproom. Their innovative multi-flavored ciders like tutti-fruity Parrothead and hard apple Fresh Quince of Bel Air are big hits.
Hand-made pasta making is fun to watch at Etto Pastificio. But it’s even more fun delighting in its tantalizing Italian specialties at Etto Pasta Bar, featuring the freshest Italian pasta and homemade sauces, all prepared with local ingredients.
Olive Oil Farms
Farms are aplenty in Paso Robles, and it’s a perfect olive-growing region blessed with temperate coastal California weather and rich, fertile soil. Though there are several olive oil farms in the region, we loved our visit to Kiler Ridge Olive Farm.
The family-owned and operated enterprise produces Italian estate-grown, award-winning, small-batch olive oils. Production procedures include hand-picking the olives, pressing, processing, and bottling. Even labeling is done in-house.
The result is some of the best olive oil we’ve ever tasted. Their on-site tour provides a real eye-opening experience into the world of high-quality olive oil production. And the views from their magnificent tasting room are simply stunning.
Healthy Hot Springs
Come on in, the water’s fine. That is, the positive-charged, ionized mineral waters exiting the ground at 100.1 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the natural hot springs found throughout Paso Robles. Today, they can be experienced a
t three locations: the historic Paso Robles Inn, River Oaks Hot Springs Spa, and Franklin Hot Springs.
Guests can soak in artesian thermal mineral springs under a starlit sky, or relax in the shade of a private open-air spa with heavenly views of the rolling hills, vineyards or reflective lakes. These relaxing, rejuvenating spa treatments restore balance and peace for the body, mind, and spirit – as they have for centuries.
Small-Town USA Vibe
Quaint, charming towns represent a throwback to simpler times. And while it’s true that Paso Robles has grown into a much more popular destination, it still retains a delightful laid-back small-town character.
A picturesque gazebo and grassy park form the centerpiece of the main downtown plaza, a popular gathering place.
Historic downtown Paso Robles is an easily-walkable, beautifully-preserved area hosting a myriad of restaurants, cafes, brews, spirits, and boutique shops.
We loved the antique and vintage thrift stores that pay homage to its timeless small-town past.
Paso Robles also boasts a thriving art scene. A non-profit open-air art center in the heart of town, Studios on the Park, is an amazing story of community camaraderie. This venue showcases six studios under one roof with 15 artists in residence. Its four galleries contain an impressive collection of local arts and crafts, along with a delightful gift store.
Adult and youth programs and workshops are open to the community, many at no charge, led by community volunteers. Quite a testament to Studios’ commitment to sponsor creative processes and make them available to the public.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Paso Robles
While there’s much to be said about California wine regions like Napa and Sonoma, Paso Robles remains one of our favorite destination escapes. Its picturesque scenery, world-class wineries, charming downtown, and warm and welcoming community make it an enchanting destination that promises a truly memorable experience for all who visit.
Whether you’re a wine enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Paso Robles will steal your heart, inviting you to unwind, savor the flavors of the region, and embrace the laid-back Central Coast lifestyle.
As with us, visitors will quickly come to realize that the old adage, “one visit is never enough,” surely rings true here.