Go to Paso Robles for the Wine, But Don’t Miss Its Other Charms

Our guide to an ideal weekend getaway includes local gin (with a wine base) and cozy digs (at a vineyard)

June 24, 2022 6:57 am
A vineyard in Paso Robles with trees dotting the hillside under a blue sky with white clouds
Whether you're in L.A. or S.F., you need to find your way to Paso Robles.
Robert Holmes

If you use Google Maps, Paso Robles is located exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (205 miles up or down, as the car drives), making this central coast town the ideal stop for Californians seeking a relaxing weekend getaway. And with nearby San Luis Obispo serving flights from around the country, it’s a reasonable stop for out-of-staters, too.

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 it produces are on par with the state’s better-known regions to the 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, plus a few activities that don’t involve consumption.

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

Explore the Surprisingly Diverse Wine Region

Paso Robles’ Mediterranean climate and diverse topography and soils make it one of the most interesting wine regions, not just in California, but in the world. It enjoys 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 viticultural areas that channel the sun, soil and temperatures to make unique wines indicative of where they’re grown — which is really just a long-winded way of saying that Paso makes a lot of different wines, and you should drink them. Throw a dart at 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 tiny operation with just a winemaker in the back and a dog working front-of-house.

Tablas Creek is a good introduction to the area. It began in the late-’80s as a collaboration between French and American wineries and planted its first vines in 1994. Today, the brand makes a wide lineup of Rhone-style varietals and blends, including Grenache, Syrah and Marsanne. Tablas Creek is also one of the pioneers of regenerative organic farming and biodynamic winemaking techniques, employing sheep to mow the grass and relying solely on rainwater to irrigate crops.

Halter Ranch, which sits next door to Tablas Creek, is a good candidate for your next stop. It’s one of Paso’s most scenic vineyards, with rolling hills, a pond, barrel-storing caves and even a little train that rolls through the property. Visit the estate for tours, tastings and lunch, or book a Defender picnic, in which a classic Land Rover Defender will take you around the 2,700 acres, with regular stops for wine and cheese pairings. Halter Ranch grows 20 grape varietals, including Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Vermentino. It also produces walnuts and its own olive oil, so you can go home with snacks to accompany your wine.

Keep the wine flowing (and soak some of it up) at Niner, a gorgeous family-run estate that serves a seasonal lunch menu, with much of the produce plucked straight from the on-site garden. Or check out Le Cuvier, a small operation that looks over the surrounding countryside and serves an impressive menu of food pairings alongside its wines. Caelesta is the rare vineyard that makes high-quality wines and also grows black truffles on site — they periodically host truffle hunts with guides and dogs, so keep an eye out for that, and you might unearth some black gold.

If you want to hit a bunch of small wineries in one day, head for Tin City. This fun-loving district is teeming with side-by-side operations and houses some of the area’s most exciting young winemakers. You can’t go wrong with Hubba Wines, Aaron Wines, End of the Day or Kaleidos.

Try the Breweries and Distilleries Too

In the event you want something to drink that’s not wine, Paso Robles is also home to several breweries. Firestone Walker is the biggest of the bunch. Their beers are easy to find at bars and on shelves around the country, but you can drink a Mind Haze IPA or Pivo Pils straight from the source at the brewery’s taproom. Silva Brewing makes a range of German, Belgian and American-style beers, from Kölsch to stout, and Barrel House supplements its year-round lineup of light ales and IPAs with small-batch, taproom-only beers, and also hosts regular concerts on its outdoor stage.

If it’s the hard stuff you’re after, the Paso Robles Distillery Trail spotlights the area’s nine distilleries, plus three more in San Luis Obispo. Re:Find makes its spirits by fermenting and distilling the saignée (free-run juice from the wine-producing process that is usually discarded) from local wineries, and turning it into vodka and gin. Calwise Spirits Co. makes gin, whiskey and rum, and offers behind-the-scenes tours where the magic happens. And Tin City Distillery makes a diverse lineup of spirits, including whiskey, vodka and gin, plus a line of brandies under the Wine Shine label. Stop by for a tasting to try them all.

Eat Fresh, Locally-Grown Food

Downtown Paso Robles has enough restaurants to keep you well-fed during your stay, with options ranging from Michelin-starred tasting menus to casual food halls. The former can be found at Six Test Kitchen, an ambitious 12-seat spot that highlights products sourced around California’s central coast. For an entirely different experience, head into Paso Market Walk, a food hall with coffee, ramen, burgers, desserts and a little cider bar. If you can’t make a decision, just beeline 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. French-trained chef Julien Asseo worked for heavy hitters like Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy before moving to Paso. Fish Gaucho serves coastal Mexican cuisine, like aguachile and fish tacos alongside bright salsas and margaritas. Thomas Hill Organics takes farm-to-table seriously, with a seasonal menu of local meat, fish and produce, like the duck with celery root purée, sweet onion and fennel salad, and marmalade. The Hatch is a popular spot for wood-fired comfort foods and fun cocktails — you can’t go wrong with fried chicken and a Sandlot callback via the bourbon-spiked Wendy Peffercorn cocktail. 

Bonus: ETTO in Tin City isn’t a restaurant, but a small Italian marketplace selling all manner of delicious Italian things (cheeses, canned tomatoes, olives), including its own line of pastas. Leave a little extra room in your suitcase.

Stay Downtown, or at a Vineyard Resort

After a long day of wine tasting, eating and hopefully walking around a bit, you’ll want a comfortable place to bunk for the evening. Staying downtown puts you close to the bars and restaurants, and you’re just a short drive from most of the region’s wineries. The Piccolo is a luxe 24-room boutique hotel with exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and custom furniture. It’s also home to the Tetto rooftop bar, which provides a perfect spot for nightcaps.

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

If you want to sleep closer to the vines, you can also stay at select wineries and wine-adjacent resorts. A few good options include Allegretto Vineyard Resort, The Inn and Croad Vineyards and the scenic seven-suite inn on the grounds of CaliPaso Winery.


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