First thing’s first, if you’re not familiar, people in Paso Robles pronounce it “Paso Row-bulls.” It’s wrong, but I guess we don’t pronounce Los Angeles correctly either, so I’ll move on. The city is located along California’s central coast–halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles–and it’s honestly a must-visit for both wine connoisseurs and novices alike. Not only does it have some of the best conditions for premium wine, but it has some serious eats, a booming beer and distillery side, and some of the best landscapes you’ll ever see. Below is our guide to what to do in this ultra laid-back wine country that boasts Michelin-starred chefs and top-rated wine with the most welcoming people you’ll meet.
Where to Stay:
Hotel Cheval is a 16-room boutique luxury hotel, with ample outdoor space (and outdoor fireplaces), a library to peruse (and do work in—beware of the candy jars), and an attached restaurant, The Pony Club. Good luck getting out of bed (seriously so comfortable), but definitely wind down the night with a s’more; there’s a s’mores butler on-site every night.
Where to Eat:
In downtown Paso Robles, you’ll find The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar, which has a low-key, industrial ambiance and amazing dishes. It’s open for dinner only, and you’ll definitely need to order the hot skillet cornbread and the bone marrow as appetizers. Trust me. You can head to Thomas Hill Organics, which is huge on flavor and on portions. If you’re trying to decide, the pork chop was the best I have ever had. Somm’s Kitchen is also a great choice, with a Chef’s Counter that lets you see the meal being prepared.
For breakfast, grab some java at Spearhead Coffee, where the cold brew is killer, then wander over to Los Robles Café for a breakfast burrito the size of your face. (Try it with Al Pastor, even though that’s not technically on the menu. They’ll do it. You’ll be happy. If you’re there for lunch, go for the Al Pastor tacos.)
Keep an eye out for Michelin-starred Chef Julien Asseo’s newest venture Les Petites Canailles. The son of local winemakers Stephan and Beatrice Asseo of L’Aventure Winery, he returns to Paso Robles from being the Executive Chef at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and will bring some amazing fine dining to the area.
The food truck, The Truck Paso, at the Hearst Ranch and Winery tasting room in San Simeon, has some fantastic dishes that make drinking wine while looking at the water all the better. Also, do not miss the restaurant at Niner Winery, which had some of the best food I’d eaten—it’s only open for lunch and brunch Thursday through Sunday, and reservations are highly, highly recommended.
What to Do:
Drink wine, of course. Paso Robles is home to more than 200 wineries, so you really have your choice of style, varietal, setting, and more. The feeling of Paso Robles wine country is one of community—there’s no pretentiousness here, and every winemaker will tell you where to go and what wines to try, even if its not their own.
Some of the highlights:
Booker Winery is not only one of the vanguards of the area, but the owner and winemaker Eric Jensen is truly an advocate of the area and one of the most fun characters in Paso Robles, period. Plus, the wines? They’re incredible. I write that with earnestness.
Niner Wine Estates is set at the base of Heart Hill, where, yes, the trees make out a heart. It’s certainly one of the most Instagrammable estates in Paso Robles, but it also has the wines to make you stay. Don’t miss out on the incredible restaurant (note the hours and make a reservation!). It’s also solar powered, with two electric car charging spots should you need them.
Turley Wine Cellars has some of the most historically significant vineyards in the area, dating back to the late 19th century. They make outstanding wines, with their stronghold being Zinfadel (along with Petite Syrah). They’re open daily, and walk-ins are welcome.
Clos Solène was founded by Guillaume Fabre and named after his wife. He grew up learning the art of growing from his father at their property in the Languedoc-Roussillon, and while at university. In 2007, he began operations in Paso Robles with his wife and hasn’t looked back. Most of his wines are very much Rhone-inspired, with a heavy emphasis on Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. They have different visiting experiences available, including a VIP tour of the vineyards along with a tasting.
Turtle Rock is a small, family operated winery producing amazing wines, including an awesome, must-try Syrah. The tasting room is in Tin City (more on that below!).
Denner Vineyards not only has beautiful wines, but it has two beautiful tasting rooms with great views. Don’t miss out on their Ditch Digger blend.
Villa Creek (and MAHA Estate) is an absolute must-visit. Not only is it also a vanguard of Paso Robles (since 1996), but the wines are truly stunning. The MAHA Estate label, which is their new label starting in 2019 for their all estate wine, will be for a select number of consumers, so make sure to ask about it. Their tasting room is available to visit by appointment.
L’Aventure is another vanguard of the region. Owner and winemaker Stephan Asseo began making wines in his native France back in 1982, and made his way to Paso Robles in 1996. Their Paso Blends—including Optimus and Estate Cuvee—are where it’s at. (And by it, I mean a gorgeous blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.) Tastings are by appointment daily.
Definitely check out Tin City, an industrial park with nestled along the historic 1,200 mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, with amazing wine tasting rooms, including Turtle Rock, and other must-visits, like Giornata, which is doing cool things with Italian-style wine and grapes, and Field Recordings, which has amazingly drinkable wines with awesome labels that are perfect for the ‘gram.
Looking for an easy way to plan your weekend? Toast Tours operates in the region and is led by wife-husband duo Kristina and Lars, who are exceptional, fun, and easy going. Join one of their pre-planned tours for a no stress way to see and sip at local wineries, or charter your own tour.
Lastly, when in the area, you have to make your way to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which is about 45 minutes from the heart of Paso Robles. Whether part of a Toast Tour, or on your own, the massive estate of the Hearst Family is truly awe-inspiring (and perfect for photos). Lady Gaga filmed her “GUY” video here, and it’s sprawling. End the tour with a visit to the Hearst Ranch Winery’s new tasting room, right across the way, to taste some of their amazing wines, grab food, and take in the Pacific Ocean.
Looking for a nitecap in the heart of Paso Robles? Head to the fun speakeasy 1122 for a truly well-crafted cocktail. Tell them Sam sent you. (Just kidding, nothing will happen if you do that.)