Think of Paso Robles as the middle child of the California wine scene. Nestled roughly halfway between the wine regions near Santa Barbara in the south and Napa to the north, it’s often overlooked. But with more than 200 wineries in the area producing a staggering 60 different varietals, it shouldn’t be.
The region is particularly known for its zinfandels, the first vines planted there. The grape benefits from the area’s exceptionally diverse terroir—more than 45 soil types, elevation levels that range from 700 to 2,400 feet, and the largest day to night temperature swing of any wine region in California—which imparts unique and varied flavors. And though the tasting rooms are stunning, Paso Robles has a distinctively laid-back vibe. In other words, you won’t find the snobbery or sky-high prices that can plague other wine regions.
Here’s how to spend the perfect long weekend in Paso Robles.
Where to Stay
The Stables Inn: There are a surprising number of boutique motels in downtown Paso Robles and while all modern and stylish, we’re partial to The Stables Inn. The 19-room (one of which is a bunkhouse for larger groups) property has a strong Wild West vibe with animal hide rugs and cowboy-themed decorations throughout.
The Trailer Pod: These five refurbished 1950s and ‘60s trailers sit around a pond on the 130-acre Alta Colina vineyard. Each trailer sleeps up to two adults and comes with a small kitchen and a covered outdoor seating area. The bathroom is located in a separate building a short walk away.
The Piccolo: Located right downtown, this stunning hotel boasts handsome rooms with exposed brick, balconies, handmade chandeliers, and personal wine fridges (this is wine country, after all). While it’s an ideal jumping off point for area wineries, we wouldn’t blame you for staying close by—there’s a beautiful rooftop bar, a wine lounge, and a Moet & Chandon champagne vending machine in the lobby.
Allegretto Vineyard Resort: While many of the vineyards have at least a couple of rooms for rent, Allegretto’s might be the grandest. Each of the 171 rooms is beautifully decorated, but if that weren’t enough, there’s also a spa, private pool, and gardens for walking around in (preferably with a glass of wine in hand).
What to Do
Sensorio: From now until the end of March 2022, you can check out this one-of-a-kind outdoor exhibit by artist Bruce Munro. Tickets include two areas: the Field of Light and the Light Towers. The former is a 15-acre field of more than 58,800 stemmed transparent spheres lit by colorful fiber optics (taken together, they look like a massive field of electric flowers). The latter is a collection of 69 six-foot-tall illuminated towers, all made of wine bottles.
Tin City: Nearly three dozen makers (artisans, brewers, winemakers, distillers, and more) can be found in this industrial community. A few favorites include BarrelHouse Brewing Co. for funky brews, Union Sacré Winery for complex pinot noirs and gewürztraminer wines, and Negranti Creamery for delicious sheep’s milk ice cream.
Studios on the Park: If you’re looking for something other than a bottle of vino to bring back as a souvenir from Paso Robles, opt for a piece of locally crafted art. This nonprofit studio and arts center is home to 15 artists, four galleries, and several shops that offer daily demonstrations and frequent exhibitions.
What to Eat
Thomas Hill Organics: This is a great place to swing by for lunch, largely because then you can tell yourself that you consumed something healthy before a long day of wine tastings. This farm-to-table restaurant focuses on creative organic dishes like a warm grain chicken salad and black lentil tacos. If you want to start sipping early, it also has a solid wine list.
Opolo Vineyard: Yes, you should go to Opolo for the wine—the vineyard has an impressive variety, so there really is something for everyone. But you should stay for the restaurant’s tasty wood-fired pizzas and cheese platters, too. Afterward, be sure to take a stroll through the gorgeous vineyard.
The Hatch Rotisserie & Bar: The Hatch has all the Southern-style comfort food and meat you could want. The half rotisserie chicken with vanilla-maple slaw, buttermilk dip, and Hatch hot sauce is understandably the restaurant’s most popular dish (they often run out), but you can’t go wrong with the Hatch Burger, meatloaf, and hot skillet cornbread. Just be sure to save room for a slice of one of their decadent pies.
The Backyard on 13th and Roots on Railroad: If you need a break from all the wine, this dog-friendly backyard beer garden features 24 rotating craft beer and cider taps (as well as plenty of cans and bottles). When you get hungry, head over to the on-site restaurant, Roots on Railroad, which serves up treats like lobster rolls, pad thai fries, and fried chicken sandwiches.
Where to Drink
California Zinfandel Trail: While you can certainly drive down Paso’s main thoroughfare and visit the vineyards that strike your fancy, you might also consider building an itinerary based on the California Zinfandel Trail, which was modeled after the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The site has handy synopsis of each winery, making it easy to plot a course based on your interests and tastes.
Daou Vineyards: There’s something special about Daou. Sitting in the tasting room in the Spanish estate atop a mountain, you can see how the cosmically beautiful vineyard spills down the slope. At 2,220 feet, it’s the highest winery on the Central Coast of California. Its terroir is special: The soil is made up of rare calcareous clay, the perfect base for cabernet sauvignon and bordeaux varieties. Do yourself a favor and carve out time to sample the winery’s portfolio while noshing on Lebanese-inspired cuisine (a nod to the Daou brothers’ heritage).
Peachy Canyon Winery: Peachy Canyon Winery is arguably one of the most charming locations in Paso Robles. Its tasting room is located in the historic Old Bethel School House (built in 1886), and it features a large picnic area shaded by native oak trees and an old-fashioned gazebo that offers stellar views of the rolling vineyards. The winery focuses on zinfandels, many of which have earned 90-point-plus scores from Wine Spectator. The reasonable $20 tasting fee (waived with the purchase of a bottle) includes five pours served in small mason jars.
J Dusi Wines: Though J Dusi’s grapes date back to the 1920s (and have been the backbone of other renowned wineries for decades) its own wines are more recent. Owner Janell Dusi launched J Dusi Wines in 2006. Since then, she has made a name for herself with her excellent zinfandels. They’re best sipped on the tasting room’s massive patio overlooking the generations-old vines.
Epoch Estate Wines: Epoch’s head winemaker, Jordan Fiorentini (who recently won the Winemaker of the Year award from the San Luis Obispo County Wine Industry) makes beautifully complex, small-production wines. The Epoch property on York Mountain is visually stunning, with rolling hills, horses and cats milling around, and a tasting room that dates back to 1882. Most of the actual winemaking happens in a large building that’s partially underground—the owners didn’t want to detract from the stunning natural surroundings.
Turley Wine Cellars: Turley’s wine production is prolific. The winery makes 50 different wines that emphasize red zinfandel grapes from old-vine vineyards (while it does have its own vineyard, the company also sources grapes from more than 50 other vineyards across California). Even with such a large production volume, each wine is something special: Turley crafts some of the most coveted zinfandels in the state.
Firestone Walker Brewing: If you’re more of a hop head than a wine swirler, Firestone Walker Brewing has you covered. The massive complex is where the renowned brand produces all of its core beers and barrel-aged offerings (the brewery also has locations in Los Angeles and Buellton, each with a different focus). You can also sample some of its brewery-only beers in the dining hall, at the wrap-around bar, on the side patio, or in the outdoor courtyard.