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Paso Robles, California Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway


East Side, West Side
All Around El Paso De Robles

by Katy Budge


A view of Paso Robles
Paso Robles

 

Nestled in California's Central Coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles has become one of the secret hot spots of those in the know. As a result, the town has gotten a little more "big city" over the years, but you'll still encounter plenty of small-town rural charm. Still not as famous as Napa and Sonoma, the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticulture Area) is actually the largest and fastest growing wine region in the state. At last count, there were over 26,000 acres of wine grapes planted, and the number of bonded wineries edges ever closer to 200. Also, efforts by groups such as the Central Coast Vineyard Team are raising the bar in terms of sustainability and responsible land stewardship.

Cabernet Sauvignon still commands the most acreage, but the region also claims a special affection for and success with Zinfandel, California's heritage grape. However, thanks to the impressive diversity of soils and microclimates, many other varietals thrive here as well, especially Rhônes and, increasingly, Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo. Most Paso wines are bold and terroir driven, thanks mainly to the region's long, temperate growing season and the largest day-to-night summer temperature swing in the state, typically going from about 100 degrees F at midday to 50 or 60 degrees F in the evenings.

The burgeoning wine industry has certainly prompted a similar growth in the culinary aspect of Paso Robles, but the food scene is also bolstered by an abundant farming and ranching tradition that's enjoyed rediscovery and a new appreciation by both chefs and foodies.

Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles provides intimate and upscale accommodations
Hotel Cheval

Perhaps the best way to explore Paso Robles and its wineries is through a version of "East Side, West Side, all around the town." ("eastside" and "westside" are terms locals use to delineate which side of Highway 101 you're on.) On Day One, acquaint yourself with the downtown and some local history; on Day Two, hit the links and explore eastside labels; and on Day Three, enjoy the countryside and the diverse experiences of the westside.

Many wineries charge nominal tasting fees which are typically refunded upon purchase of wine. Some tasting rooms are also starting to provide light lunches and picnic supplies, but be sure to take along some snacks and water, especially when you visit the westside. Consider booking one of the local touring companies such as The Wine Wrangler (which also offers wine tasting at its headquarters at the Amtrak station) or even Destination Drivers, which provides a driver to chauffer you around in your own car. Maps and information for the entire wine region are available from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, 800-549-WINE (9463), 805-239-8463, www.pasowine.com.

Lodging choices in Paso Robles include small motels and inns, and well over 30 B&Bs ranging from one-room guest cottages to nine-room estates. If you wish to stay in the heart of town, the historic Paso Robles Inn and Steakhouse is conveniently located right off the square and within walking distance of many fine restaurants. Another option is the intimate and upscale Hotel Cheval and its popular Pony Club Bar, or the elegant La Bellasera and its Enoteca restaurant just south of Paso Robles.

For bed and breakfast options, check out The JUST Inn, at Justin Vineyards, which also features the gourmet lunch and dinner fare of Deborah's Room; Asuncion Ridge, a great location atop a 320-acre vineyard estate; or Chanticleer Vineyard Bed & Breakfast, a romantic, farm-like atmosphere just minutes from downtown.

For additional information including locations and phone numbers of Paso Robles Wine Country vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms, check out the Wineries Section.
Wine barrels in Paso Robles, California

PASO ROBLES ITINERARY: DAY 1

To settle into your 72-hour escape, let's spend some time exploring downtown Paso Robles and soaking up a bit of local history.

The Victorian houses along Vine Street in Paso Robles are beautifully decorated each Christmas
The Victorian houses along Vine Street are beautifully decorated each Christmas

Originally named El Paso de Robles (The Pass of the Oaks) for the majestic native oak trees throughout the area, the city is now usually just called "Paso" by locals. At the heart of downtown is a town square known as "the Park" that's as Main Street as you can get. Depending on the calendar, you'll find it hosting weekly farmers markets, an annual olive festival, Friday night concerts in the summer, and one of the largest outdoor wine events in the state — the Paso Robles Wine Festival in May. There's also a vintage Carnegie Library building in the park that's home to the city's historical society (open daily except Wednesday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.).

Stop by Panolivo for a breakfast of freshly made pastries and French-inspired fare. Afterwards, poke around in downtown boutiques and Spring Street antique shops, or stroll past the Victorian houses along Vine Street.

For a glimpse into the history of Paso Robles, check out the exhibits at the Pioneer Museum, open Thursdays through Sundays from 1-4 p.m. This down-home spot has something for everyone, ranging from a 45-million-year-old oyster fossil, to more than 1,000 examples of barbed wire, to antique cars and farm equipment. To delve into more of the region's early history, take a short seven-mile drive up the road to the quiet town of San Miguel. The Rios Caledonia Adobe and gift shop offers a peek into early California lifestyles and rancho living, but the real draw here is Mission San Miguel Arcángel, the sixteenth of California's 21 iconic Spanish missions.

If you're up for some bites of Mexican street food, check to see if the grill's fired up at the corner market a few blocks up from the mission and enjoy some tacos al pastor served on fresh tortillas with homemade salsa. (You'll also see these spit-grilled pork tacos at a couple places in Paso Robles.)

Mission San Miguel Arcangel
Mission San Miguel Arcángel

When you head back to town, you could start your winery adventures at San Marcos Creek Vineyards just outside of San Miguel. Or, for a heartier lunch before wine tasting, you'll find a smorgasbord of dining choices surrounding the Park. There's French-inspired fare at Le Petit Marcel (the lunchtime version of Bistro Laurent, a great choice for dinner), hearty salads and sandwiches at Berry Hill Bistro, or a wee bit of Celtic cuisine at Pappy McGregor's.

For some urban wine tasting, scout out some of the ten or so downtown venues that are mostly within easy walking distance of each other. Some of the standouts include Asuncion Ridge (especially the Pinot Noir), Clayhouse Cellars, Anglim Winery (which specializes in Rhône varietals), and D'Anbino Vineyards and Cellars. The owners of the latter are professional musicians, so you might find first-rate live music happening on weekend evenings.

For a dinner that will really give you a taste of Paso Robles, try the acclaimed Artisan (twice nominated for a regional James Beard award), the vibrant Villa Creek, or the al fresco ambience at Thomas Hill Organics. These downtown restaurants work very closely with their food purveyors and strive to use local and/or sustainably grown products as much as possible.

Continue to Day 2

 
MORE PASO ROBLES WINE COUNTRY INFORMATION

Wine barrels in Paso Robles, California

For more information, visit travelpaso.com


* Mission image by Eugene Zelenko; view of Paso Robles by Sam Houston; Vine Street image courtesy of John Crippen Photography.

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(Updated: 06/07/13 CT)

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