There’s certainly no shortage of excellent California wine regions within driving distance of San Francisco or Los Angeles. But Paso Robles is different in its sense of down home hospitality, where you’re just as likely to belly up to the bar with the winemaker as you are to end a night with whiskey shots at the local cowboy saloon. Paso holds tight to the small town charm of a working agricultural community and all the camaraderie that comes along with it.
That’s not to say that you’ll be roughing it during your stay, though. There are plenty of architecturally impressive tasting rooms and well-appointed boutique hotels to be found. You just won’t be burdened with as many high ticket pours, or the wine snobbery that comes along with them.
While California was hit particularly hard in the past year, there actually has never been a better time to try wine here; most wineries require a reservation these days, and as a result, guests get a more curated experience. Rather than having to share a tasting room associate with a gaggle of boisterous bachelorettes, you’ll be one-on-one and feeling like a VIP, learning about what’s become one of the country’s quickest growing wine regions.
Getting there is gorgeous, too. Driving inland from California’s iconic coastal Highway 1 via Highway 46, you’ll see where the city gets its name “El Paso De Robles,” which translates to the pass of the oaks. The rich land and healing mineral hot springs have drawn travelers here for thousands of years, starting with the native tribes that settled along the subterranean Salinas River, which now serves as the divide between the East and West sides of Paso.
Temps climb high in the summer months — especially these days — and springtime is the ideal season to visit, with cooler nights and the Central Coast blanketed in vibrant blooms of lupine, yellow mustard, and California poppies. But even if you can’t make wildflower season, you can still see the rolling hills dotted with live coastal oak trees lit up year-round at Bruce Munro’s iconic Sensorio outdoor exhibition, a psychedelic display of thousands of fiberoptic flower lights, which recently reopened with a second installation in April.
If it all sounds a bit magical, that’s because it is. Here’s how to experience the perfect weekend in Paso.
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Getting Around Paso Robles
For travelers looking to forego the car altogether, Paso Robles is accessible in ways other California wine regions aren't. Amtrak’s Surfliner offers direct trips from LA straight to the heart of Paso. From there, get the lay of the land by strolling the streets of Downtown, with its charming public park lined with restaurants and tasting rooms, and be sure to pop in for local artisan wares and gifts for the home at General Store of Paso Robles. Once you’re ready to go further afield and get out to the vineyards, it’s important to note that, as with many of the larger cities in the state of California, ride share services like UBER and LYFT are limited coming out of the pandemic, especially in the evening hours. If you do find yourself in a pinch, opt for locally-owned Fetch. For ease and reliability, it’s best to book in with a private driver for the day with folks like Uncorked Wine Tours, which has a variety of options in their luxury fleet. And, of course you can always drive yourself around if you’ve got a designated driver. (Bless.)
Where to Stay in Paso Robles
The newly-opened Lofts at the Market (from $389) are part of the sustainable mixed-use development that includes a coffee shop, bakery, vegan creamery, ramen shop, cider house, and natural wine bar downstairs. You may get some apartment envy in their smartly designed suites, which include a wine fridge, gorgeous Spanish tile backsplashes, and plenty of sweet amenities for your pooch.
The Piccolo (from $399) is another centrally located option with ultra-thoughtful touches that include a Moet Champagne vending machine and a stunner of a rooftop bar, as well included continental breakfast. Be sure to take note of the woodwork by San Luis Obispo-based carpenter Janine Stone, which plays nicely with the hotel's exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Another excellent option is The Stables Inn (from $170), the cooler little sister to the more upscale, old-world Cheval Hotel. It is owned and operated by the same team, and is similarly rooted in equestrian culture, but The Stables has a decidedly more millennial, Austin vibe than its English-riding sibling, complete with outdoor fire pits and Western tack room decor.
If you’re after a modern agritourismo experience, head up to the LEED-certified Geneseo Inn, (from $412) where they offer everything from winemaker experiences to beekeeping classes. Complimentary breakfast is delivered each morning to your private balcony overlooking the property’s 135 acres of vineyard. And, hot tip, later this year, the design-driven property will be building out what may be the world’s first swim-up-wine bar.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Trailer Pond offers an adorable vintage RV cluster amidst the organically farmed Alta Colina Vineyard. The stay includes complimentary tasting of their Rhône varietal blends, fresh morning coffee, and the playful, laid-back vibe that the region is known for.
What to Eat in Paso Robles
Start your day off strong with a Oaxacan mocha and solid breakfast sando from AMSTRDM, and while you’re at it, consider coming back for an evening piano performance from their proprietor, perhaps a nod to Polish concert pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who once soaked in the El Paso Hotel’s hot springs to cure his ailments. (There’s a festival in his honor each November, for all you music buffs.)
For lunch, book in at at Niner, with its picturesque patio overlooking a heart-shaped grove of old growth oak trees lovingly called Heart Hill. (Lovebirds take note: not shockingly this is one of the most popular engagement spots on the Central Coast.) Sip a flight of their sustainably produced wines while enjoying a meal that integrates produce from their sprawling chef’s garden and prepare to be wowed.
If your palate is feeling fatigued after a day of wine tasting, grab a pint of local craft beer and a lobster roll at The Backyard on Thirteenth, where laid back locals and their pooches perch on the outdoor patio, giving the space some serious Denver energy.
If Southern comfort food and cocktails sound more your speed, hit up Hatch Rotisserie and Bar, whose owners also will be opening a wood fired pizza joint inspired by LA’s famous Jon + Vinny’s in the months to come.
If you can catch a reservation at Les Petites Cannailles, don’t hesitate. Chef Julien Asseo has worked with some of the top French toques around the globe including Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, and it’s abundantly obvious in his beautiful take on bistro cuisine, including his perfect rendition of the iconic Robuchon pomme purée. The well-edited wine list is full of gems—you’d be remiss not to open up a bottle of L’Aventure, crafted by Asseo’s father, a pioneer of winemaking in the area.
Chef Patrick Aguirre, who worked with Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Suzanne Goin of AOC, is opening Finca this summer alongside his wife, whose family started the famed Siete Mares mariscos chain in LA back in the 70s. The team pristinely restored a historical Victorian home at Paso Market Walk to serve their take on regional cuisines from all over Mexico, and it’s likely to be one of the area’s most exciting openings.
Where to Taste Wine in Paso Robles
There are more than 200 wineries with 11 sub-appellations in the Paso Robles AVA, and while California’s heritage grape, zinfandel, was the first to be planted here, there are producers that are doing magical things with Bordeaux and Rhône varieties as well. To taste what some of the young guns like the winemakers Benom are up to, visit the industrial development at Tin City. Park anywhere, start walking, and get ready to immerse yourself in the work of local by artisans, distillers, brewers and more.
For a more refined tasting experience, head up to York Mountain, where the first vines were planted in the area that is now home to Epoch. Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini’s unique blend of left and right brain on full display, and her tasting notes come along with sensorial pencil sketches of each of her wines.
The design-forward tasting room at Booker has one foot firmly planted in authentic Paso hospitality, and its other in the architectural artistry of Latin America, and the wines inside are a real treat. Their flagship cab called My Favorite Neighbor truly embodies the convivial yet refined spirit of the region, and is a nod to owner Eric Booker’s longtime friend and mentor, Stephan Asseo of the aforementioned L’Aventure.
For a more traditional tasting experience, head up the mountain to Daou, where the award winning cabernet sauvignon is accompanied by Lebanese mezze plates — a tribute to the Daou brother’s heritage.
And for a perfect end to a perfect day of tasting, head to Cass Winery for some house made BBQ under their old growth oak tree, and book in for a sunset horseback ride through their vineyards with Central Coast Trailrides. There’s really no better way to end the perfect weekend in Paso.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler