— PASO ROBLES CALIFORNIA — Paso Robles has it all – a historic downtown, a wide array of culinary choices, family-friendly activities, breathtaking scenery, and more than 200 wineries.
Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, along California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles is no longer a “hidden gem.” Thanks to the notoriety of its world-class wine region and the recent fame from Bruce Munro’s “Light at Sensorio,” a stunning 15-acre display of stemmed spheres lit by optic lights, visitors are coming to Paso Robles as a vacation destination. Here you can also fit in some beach time, horseback riding, and even a visit to the nearby iconic Hearst Castle.
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So, when Paso Robles is on your bucket list of places to visit this year, here are 12 Best Things to Do.Pam & Gary Baker
1. Go to the Lights
Light is the icon of art. How it plays across paintings, reflects on the water, or lights up a field at night shows its amazing strength while brightening your sensitivity to art. And few have captured the dynamic interplay of light better than Bruce Munro at his field of Light at Sensorio.
Just a short drive out of Paso Robles, east on Highway 46, signs direct you to where this internationally acclaimed artist has premiered his largest artwork to date. In an enormous multi-acre walkthrough installation, you’ll view an array of over 58,800 stemmed spheres gently illuminating the Paso Robles landscape in subtle blooms of morphing color. It’s best viewed in the full darkness of night.
Also, don’t miss the recently added artwork, Light Towers, utilizing 17,000 wine bottles in 7-foot towers, also illuminated in gently changing color accompanied by a musical score. You will need to purchase tickets in advance to guarantee admission.
2. Explore Paso Robles Wineries
Paso Robles Wine Country, known for the Bordeaux and Rhône style wines it produces, is home to over 200 wineries. From downtown tasting rooms to small family-run operations to multi-million-dollar wineries with elegant tasting rooms and stunning views, there is so much to choose from. And although it is a world-class wine destination that draws thousands of wine lovers annually, Paso still retains a genuine feel of hospitality where meeting the winemaker is not unusual.
- Spend an afternoon at DAOU Vineyards, one of the region’s most popular wineries, and enjoy stunning views from the top of DAOU Mountain. Seated tastings, culinary pairings, and knowledgeable wine servers make this a comprehensive and comfortable wine tasting experience.
- Cass Winery, a boutique winery located along beautiful Paso Robles backroads on the east side of Paso, boasts French DNA and a Paso personality. A full lunch menu from their onsite café pairs well with their estate-grown, Rhône-style wines. But it’s the genuine Paso Robles hospitality you experience at Cass that will make you want to come back again.
- In downtown Paso Robles, almost hidden in a small shopping center, you’ll find one of the most unique wine tasting experiences. Combining old-world wines with exotic spice blends, LXV Wine shows guests how to detect the subtle flavors and aromas in each of the wines they taste. Using ingredients like black truffle salt, cumin, ginger, garlic, and onion powder, you’ll taste the wine, then taste the spices, then taste the wine again to hone your senses and train your palate.
- Summerwood Wine, at the westside gateway to Paso Robles, produces small-lot Rhône and Bordeaux-style wines. From the moment you step onto the large porch, where wisteria grows above and drapes wistfully down from the vines that run along the eves, then out to the patio overlooking vineyards, you’ll feel like you are visiting someone’s comfortable summer home. Flights begin with a taste of the refreshing Awa, a Japanese-inspired sparkling Grenache Blanc. And don’t be surprised if the winemaker, Mauricio Marchante, drops by your table to talk about the delightful wines he produces.
3. Dining in Downtown Paso
Downtown “Paso,” as it’s known among locals, maintains a charming yet old countenance. From casual to fine dining, you’ll find a wide array of choices. Best of all, some of its most dynamic restaurants are housed in its historic buildings, providing diners with a sense of Paso’s history.
- Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub, with its prohibition-style speakeasy located in the back, inhabits a building built in 1887. It’s one of the oldest bars in the county. This bustling gastropub focuses on high-quality comfort food, an extensive list of craft cocktails, and plenty of local beers.
The Duck Fat Sazerac, a twist on a classic cocktail, was the featured drink that evening. A classic Rueben with sweet potato fries and the pub burger paired well with local Paso made barrel house IPAs.
- The popular Fish Gaucho also resides in a historic building. The three-story façade appears to have a flying saucer on top. Fresh California Mexican cuisine with delicious margaritas and over 250 tequilas are offered. For something different, ask the bartender for a tequila Manhattan.
Open to the street, the long bar inside and high ceilings encourage a boisterous cantina atmosphere. The menu includes several ocean-based delicacies, but the perfectly steamed fresh diver clams, in a slightly spicy sauce, are a favorite. As the large blue fishhook at the entrance suggests, after dining here, you’ll be hooked.
- However, if you are looking for something more cozy, upscale, and romantic, head to BL Brasserie. It offers a succinct menu of classic French cuisine, along with a French-oriented wine list and lots of bubbly. The fresh escargot, oysters, onion soup, and a tasty Salad Lyonnaise pair nicely with the wine suggestions. With its white linen tablecloths and French portraits on the wall, this place is a long way from Paso’s cowboy roots and rustic vibe.
4. Sip the Brewery Trail
Craft and brew seem to be the theme of the Brew Paso Trail. In keeping with Paso’s pioneer legacy, a younger generation of gifted brewmasters are crafting beers from pale ale, pilsners to stouts, and beyond. To seek out superb suds, start with a visit to one of Paso’s most commanding enterprises, Firestone Walker Brewing Company. This year marks the 25th anniversary of founders Adam Firestone and David Walker’s successful brew of the now well-known Double Barrel Ale. Currently, the taproom menu at the brewery offers 11 choices. A wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and pizza is available, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
Further north on the Brew Paso Trail, and almost dead center in the craft zone, is Silva Brewing. This small-batch micro-brewery provides a range of fresh, vibrant, and verdant hop-centric IPAs to clean crisp tradition styles. However, they also specialize in unique farmhouse ales and barrel-aged brews sourced from locally grown ingredients.
The outside tasting room doubles as a beer garden. Try the Nut Farm, a milk-sweet stout named after the groves of walnut trees dotting the Paso Robles landscape, offering a mild hint of walnut flavor to the brew.
A few blocks northeast of Silva is the “nano” brewery, Earth and Fire, featuring local hand-crafted, community-focused beers. Here you can sample flights of IPA, Porters, Blond Ales, and Stouts with outside seating and snacks available.
An online map is available for touring twelve breweries with its choice of 247 different brews.
5. Paso Robles Distillery Trail
If you’re looking for a “spirited” adventure, then you’ll want to sample some of the craft distillers on the Paso Robles Distillery Trail. Here you’ll find ten of them spread over a loop road just west of Paso, nestled among vineyards and the beautiful scenery of the Paso Robles wine country.
You can discover the unique products at each location, meet the distillers, and learn the art and science of crafting artisan spirits from fruit, grain, and botanicals. Although each is unique and has its own special distinction, RE: Find Distillery gets credit for starting the craft distillery movement in Paso Robles.
You can “blaze your own trail” as there is no official start or end, but reservations are recommended. A hard copy trail map is available at the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce downtown or online.
6. Shop at the Farmers Market
Get a feel for Paso Robles long-standing agricultural heritage with a visit to the farmers market. Along with the wineries that are making a name for themselves, the many farms and orchards that share this region have much to offer in the way of fresh produce, handmade goods, and food items.
Each week local ranchers and farmers offer Paso’s freshest produce, grass-fed beef, baked goods, artisan cheeses, olive oil, seasonal flowers, and aromatic herbs, and artichokes the size of bowling balls! You may even run into a local restaurant chef filling their baskets with some fresh, local, organic ingredients you may get to taste that evening at dinner.
Food stalls sell a wide array of tasting items. For something sweet, there’s “Sugar Lips,” made to order donuts from the familiar turquoise and white trailer, or the Greengrocer stand offering breakfast burritos, omelets, and salmon tacos.
The farmers market takes place Tuesday and Saturday mornings on the north side of the Downtown Square.
7. Explore Paso Market Walk
Paso Market Walk provides a family-friendly community-oriented place to meet, work, gather, and eat.
This newly developed, mixed-use, 16,000 square foot marketplace gives residents and visitors the opportunity to taste the distinctive flavor of the Central Coast in one local neighborhood location.
A walk along the paths through this European-inspired urban garden leads to the market – a collection of the farmers, ranchers, chefs, and vintners committed to the values and practices of sustainable food and supply systems.
The Third Degree, with its walk-up counter, offers classic American Grill cuisine. Or grab a bite at Momotaro Ramen, a cupcake at Just Baked bakery, or a cold brew at Hog Canyon. You can even buy fresh flowers and plants at the Market Walk.
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8. See the Art at Sculpterra
In the hills of the scenic Linne Valley, located just a few miles east of Paso Robles, you can enjoy both a wine tasting and art-viewing experience. Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden greets you with unique iron signage and decorative iron fencing. As you walk through the garden’s pathway, you’ll come across larger than life works of metal, glass, bronze, and granite sculptures like a 15-foot whiskered cat, pedestalled bronze fish, butterfly person, glass elephant, and a horizontal archer.
They are the creative works of numerous artists like Bob Bentley, John Jagger, and Dale Evers. Best of all, you can enjoy the art while you taste wine in the garden’s outdoor seating, surrounded by 135-acres of well-manicured vineyards.
9. A Vineyard Airstream
You love wine, and so do we. So why not soak up the most of this sun-splashed wine region with a stay in the countryside overlooking the vineyards? Located on a country road on the west side of Paso Robles but still close to town, you can rent a vintage Air Stream trailer at GlampingHub for overnight accommodations.
Perfect for one or two people, the trailer comes with a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, a full bathroom, a small dining area, and a flat-screen TV. There’s plenty of comfortable seating outdoors to drink in the views while you sip on some local wine. Extra amenities provided by the owners like home-baked chocolate chip cookies, fresh fruit, bottled water, and a game of cornhole will make you feel right at home.
Extra touches like the vintage travel photos decorating the trailer inside add to the authentic feeling of this adorable 1964 Air Stream. Even the outdoor seating area is decorated with homey touches.
10. Shop at Boutique Stores
Half the fun of staying in Downtown Paso is the shopping. Block after block of boutique stores offer so many choices for unique gifts, clothing, and gourmet food items.
- Stop by long-time favorite Brown Butter Cookie Company for a taste of mouthwatering shortbread cookies.
- Be sure to visit the Paso General Store, where you’ll find a dizzying array of unique local goods, gourmet food items, kitchen tools, cookbooks, puzzles and games, and more.
- Bring out the inner chef in you with a visit to Pasolivo. Their locally grown olive oil comes in a wide variety of flavors. If you’re not sure which flavor to buy, you step up to the tasting bar and sample a few.
11. Horseback Riding
Even though Paso Robles is a world-class wine destination, its cowboy culture is still at its heart. So naturally, horseback riding remains a popular activity here. Central Coast Trail Rides operates a guided sixty-minute ride. It traverses a riverside trail and rolling hills on Cass Vineyards and Winery property. Rides are available seven days a week, by appointment only.
12. Visit a Museum or 2
- The history in Paso Robles runs deep, and the Pioneer Museum captures it so well. Spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, its artifacts include a bell from the El Camino Real, a replica of the original two-cell jail, and the one-room Geneseo schoolhouse. In tribute to the area’s Western heritage, the museum includes a cowboy display, a hand-crafted saddle, and a chuckwagon, just to name a few.
- The Paso Robles Children’s Museum provides fun for the whole family in its interactive education facility.
- The Estrella Warbirds Museum houses a fascinating collection of military artifacts, aircraft, vehicles, and memorabilia. Military history buffs will love this one.
Getting There – Paso Robles is about a three-hour drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. The closest airport serviced by commercial airlines is nearby San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. Although it’s possible to get around on foot if you’re staying in downtown Paso Robles, you’ll want a car to visit Sensorio, wineries, and the beach.
Sleep – The Holiday Inn Express in Paso Robles provides convenient lodging close to downtown, Highway 46, and Highway 101. The facility is modern and well-maintained, with spacious rooms, plenty of working space, a refrigerator, coffeemaker, and microwave. It provides a free hot breakfast daily and a limited happy hour available in the hotel’s café area in the evening.
Whether you are drawn to Paso Robles for its wine-tasting, Light at Sensorio, or for some other purpose, one thing you’ll find repeatedly is the “Paso hospitality.” Everywhere we went, we found the people to be so genuine and welcoming. We fell in love with Paso, and we think you will too!