Guide to Paso Robles: Go for the wine, but don’t miss its other charms

If you use Google Maps, it will locate Paso Robles exactly Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (205 miles up or down, while driving), this central coastal city makes the perfect stop for Californians looking for a relaxing weekend getaway. And with nearby San Luis Obispo serving flights from all over the country, it’s also a reasonable stop for outbound tourists.

Paso, as the locals call it, is best associated with wine, and for good reason. The region is home to more than 200 wineries, and the bottles they produce are on par with the state’s most famous regions further north. Any good itinerary includes plenty of time to explore the vineyards and tasting rooms, but Paso Robles is also home to great restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, as well as a few no-frills activities.

Here’s a primer on what to eat, drink and do in Paso Robles, as well as where to stay if you’re making it more than just a pit stop (which is highly recommended).

Discover the surprisingly diverse wine region

Paso Robles’ Mediterranean climate and varied terrain and soil make it one of the most interesting wine regions, not only in California, but in the world. They have a long growing season and temperatures that shift from warm days to cool nights to produce full-flavored grapes. Plus, it’s home to 11 distinct vineyards that channel sunlight, soil, and temperatures to make unique wines indicative of where they’re grown—which is really just a long way of saying that Paso makes a lot of different wines, and you should drink them. Throw an arrow on the winery map and you’ll hit something worth trying, whether it’s a nationally known heavy hitter like J. Lohr, Daou or Justin, or a small operation with only a winemaker in the back and a working dog in the front—from the house.

Tablas Creek is a good introduction to the area. It began in the late 1980s as a collaboration between French and American wineries and planted its first vines in 1994. Today, the brand makes a wide variety of Rhone-style varietals and blends, including Grenache, Syrah, and Marsan. Tablas Creek is also a pioneer in renewable organic farming and biodynamic winemaking techniques, using sheep to mow the lawn and relying solely on rainwater to irrigate crops.

Halter Ranch, located next to Tablas Creek, is a good candidate for your next stop. It’s one of the most scenic vineyards in Paso, with rolling hills, a pond, barrel storage caves, and even a small train running through the property. Visit the property for tours, tastings, and lunch, or book a Defender picnic, where the classic Land Rover Defender will take you on about 2,700 acres, with regular stops for wine and cheese pairings. Halter Ranch grows 20 varieties of grapes, including Grenache, Syrah, Viognier, and Vermentino. It also produces its own nut and olive oil, so you can take home with snacks to accompany your wine.

Keep the wine flowing (and soak some of it) at Niner, a gorgeous family-run estate that serves up a seasonal brunch menu, with plenty of produce plucked straight from the on-site garden. Or check out Le Cuvier, a small operation that overlooks the surrounding countryside and offers an impressive menu of food pairings alongside wine. Calista is a rare vineyard that makes quality wine and also grows black truffles on site – they periodically host truffle hunting trips with guides and dogs, so stay tuned, and you might spot some black gold.

If you want to hit a handful of small wineries in a day, head to Tin City. This fun-loving region bustles with operations and is home to some of the region’s most exciting young winemakers. You can’t go wrong with Hubba Wines, Aaron Wines, End of the Day, or Kaleidos.

Try breweries and distilleries too

If you want to drink something that isn’t wine, Paso Robles is also home to several breweries. Firestone Walker is the eldest of the group. Their beer is easy to find in bars and on shelves across the country, but you can drink Mind Haze IPA or Pivo Pils straight from the source in the brewery’s brew compartment. Silva Brewing serves a range of German, Belgian and American style beers, from Kölsch to stout, and Barrel House complements its year-round selection of light beers and IPAs with only a small selection of beers, and also hosts regular concerts on its outdoor stage.

If you’re looking for the tough, the Paso Robles Distillery Trail highlights nine distilleries in the area, plus three more in San Luis Obispo. Re: Find makes its spirits by fermenting and distilling saignée (free juice from a wine production process that would normally be discarded) from local wineries, turning it into vodka and gin. Calwise Spirits Co. It makes gin, whiskey and rum, and offers behind-the-scenes tours where the magic happens. Tin City Distillery makes a variety of spirits, including whiskey, vodka and gin, as well as a range of brandy under the Wine Shine brand. Stop by to taste them all.

Eat fresh, locally grown foods

Downtown Paso Robles has enough restaurants to feed you well during your stay, with options ranging from Michelin-starred tasting menus to casual dining halls. The first can be found in the Six Test Kitchen, an ambitious 12-seat venue that highlights produce sourced around California’s central coast. For a completely different experience, head to the Paso Market Walk, a food court with coffee, ramen, burgers, desserts, and a small cider bar. If you can’t decide, just call in for one of the excellent grilled cheese sandwiches at Paso Robles Wine Merchant.

Les Petites Canailles is a polished bistro with a tasting menu and à la carte options. France-trained chef Julien Asciou worked with top hitters such as Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy before moving to Paso. Fish Gaucho serves coastal Mexican cuisine, such as aguachile and fish tacos along with bright sauces and margaritas. Thomas Hill Organics takes farm-to-table seriously, with a seasonal menu of local meat, fish and produce, such as duck with celery root purée and sweet onion, fennel salad and jam. The Hatch is a popular spot for wood-fired comfort food and fun cocktails – you can’t go wrong with fried chicken and sauerkraut. Sandlot Call back via Wendy Peffercorn Bourbon Cocktail.

Bonus: ETTO in Tin City isn’t a restaurant, but a small Italian market that sells all kinds of delicious Italian stuff (cheese, canned tomatoes, and olives), including their line of pasta. Leave a little extra room in your bag.

Stay in the city center or at a Vineyard Resort

After a long day of wine tasting and dining and hopefully a little wandering, you’ll want a comfortable place to bed in the evening. Staying downtown gets you close to bars and restaurants, and you’re just a short drive from most of the area’s wineries. Piccolo is a luxury 24-room boutique hotel with exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and custom furniture. It’s also home to the rooftop Tetto Bar, which makes the perfect place to spend the night.

The Cheval Hotel is a 16-room boutique located off the historic town square. It has a horseshoe bar and a dedicated s’mores butler, who makes s’mores outside every night by the fire – a convenience we don’t see often. More affordable options include the Stables Inn, a Western-style motel with communal outdoor seating and fire pits, and the Oxford Suites, which have clean, comfortable rooms, free breakfast and a pool.

If you want to sleep close to the vineyards, you can also stay at select wineries and nearby wine resorts. Some good options include the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, The Inn, Croad Vineyards, and a picturesque seven-suite inn on the grounds of the CaliPaso Winery.

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