Paso Robles has seen many reincarnations since it was founded in 1857 by James and Daniel Blackburn. Before the Blackburns it was called “hot springs” by the indigenous tribesmen who populated the area. The enterprising Blackburn brothers were determined to turn it into a resort. As soon as settlers caught onto the fruitfulness of the land, it became a major producer of nuts, olives, and grapes. Of late, it has become California’s new darling of wine — an upstart region taking on the establishment appellations further north. While wine may be the primary reason to visit, there’s a host of ways to pass your time in this charming town. Here’s a Guide to the best of it all.
A Weekend Guide to Paso Robles
Paso Robles is perfectly poised between two of California’s largest metropolises: 250 miles north of Los Angeles, and 250 miles south of San Francisco. This puts the town a few hours’ drive from either city — far enough to away to make it a getaway, close enough to avoid a flight. Once you’re there, a menagerie of grown-up fun awaits. Here’s how to map out a weekend.
Check In: Where to Stay
There is no shortage of hotels in and around Paso Robles town — if you’re a loyalty member of any major chain, you’ll be able to accumulate points in Paso. There are a couple of privately-owned hotels for those looking for ambience over loyalty points.
In Town: Hotel Cheval takes the higher end of the market, with richly-decorated rooms, cozy common spaces, and an ideal location right in town (rooms ~$350). Mid-market leader The Oaks is a frequent-visitor favorite as well, with rave reviews for the rooms, staff, and bar/restaurant located on the property (rooms ~$160).
Out of Town: If you prefer to BYO bedroom (read: RV or motorhome), don’t skip the Wine Country RV Resort just over the 101. With a pool, spa, and even a happening bar, it’s a short hop to town and right next to the waterpark — a boon in the summer months for families. If sleeping a stone’s throw from the vines is on your radar, there are three ultra-plush rooms Just Inn, Justin Winery’s B&B on the vineyard grounds (rooms ~$375).
Get Fed: The Best Dining Spots in Town
Foodies are spoiled for choice in Paso Robles — one weekend isn’t nearly enough time to visit all of the top restaurants. There’s a big local-food movement here, and chefs have been pouring their creativity into the native bounty. Narrowing down your choices may be tough, but hopefully this will help:
Good luck trying to pick just one thing off the menu here — it’s nearly impossible to do. When in doubt, opt for the specials. We were treated to a stellar deconstructed tuna salad combined grapefruit and daikon and managed to pull it off with aplomb. But if you do stick to the menu, do not skip the mushroom toast — a stunning, rich dream of an appetizer that drenches pillowy toasted bread with mushrooms in a creme fraiche sauce. Topped with a poached egg, you will think you died and went to heaven. Their wine list is full of local favorites, and the staff have excellent wine knowledge if you’re unfamiliar. Don’t miss this one.
Open Daily, Reservations Recommended; Mains from $31; Link
For something a little more low-key, but with a fantastic kitchen, try La Cosecha. Latin American flair dominates this menu, though they also know how to dominate a wood-fired artisan pizza as well. Stop by for lunch and dive into a hearty platter of chilaquiles or chow down on a giant Cubano — they do hearty food particularly well. No matter what you choose, it’s hard to go wrong with anything on this menu.
Open Daily except Tuesdays, Dinner reservations recommended; Lunch from $14, Dinner from $21; Link
French food and wine go together like peanut butter and jelly, which makes Bistro Laurent a natural choice before, during, or after a day of sipping on Paso’s finest vintages. Their elegant salads make an excellent lunch choice, and their chef’s choice dinner menu is fantastic for those who love tasting a little bit of everything. The smoked salmon and creme fraiche tart just might send you into tableside ecstasies — you’ve been warned.
Open Tuesday – Saturday, Reservations Recommended; Mains from $30, Tasting Menu from $66; Link
Thomas Hill Organics
A covered courtyard serves as the primary dining room for this ingredients-focused eatery. Sourcing local and organic produce and meat, the kitchen puts out creative takes on vegetarian dishes as well as ethically-sourced carnivorous meals. Vegetarians will love the lentil tacos, and meat-eaters will swoon over the rib eye. The fact that the latter pairs beautifully with one of Paso Robles’ famous Bourdeaux blends doesn’t hurt, either. For my next visit, I’ll be checking out their brunch.
Open Daily, Reservations recommended; Mains from $24; Link
Italian foodies, this is your spot. Their handmade pasta rivals Italy’s best, and their simple-yet-elegant mains are sure to satisfy. The agnolotti di carne is a truffle-lovers dream, and carnivores will be happy with their treatment of veal.
Open Daily for dinner only, Reservations recommended; Mains from $38; Link
Drink Up: Wine Routes To Check Out
I’ve written up many of Paso’s best wineries in this post, but there are hundreds to choose from all over the region. You can stay in town and sip your way through tasting rooms, or jump into an Uber Wine hire car and design your own itinerary through the vineyards further afield.
The areas of Adelaida and Templeton Gap feature some of Paso Robles’ best wineries. Start far out at Justin Winery and Vineyards, take the tour, and consider staying for lunch. Don’t skip their Isosceles red blend — it’s what they’re most famous for and it helped put Paso on the map as a wine destination. Work your way back toward town with stops at Tablas Creek, Denner, Turley, and Midnight. If you’re still feeling the urge to taste, swing past McPrice Myers.
Plenty of winemakers have set up tasting rooms a short hop from each other in town. If you’re feeling bold, kick off at Herman Story, but you may need a break after a sample of their delicious (and boozy) wines. With so many great options, it’s hard to reel it in before you’re buzzed. Derby Wines are just up the road in an old almond factory — their tour is a walk through the history of Paso before wine became their mainstay crop. They’re serving up phenomenal whites, so starting here might be a better idea. If you stop by Thomas Hill Organics for lunch, Seven Oxen operates their tasting room out of the front of the restaurant — this newcomer is offering great organically-grown reds.
Start deep in the vines and work your way back toward the 101 for this tour. A recommended start is at Tobin James, one of few free tasting rooms in the area. They’re turning out excellent Zinfandels, so check them out. It can get crowded, so start early to beat the crowds. Work your way back toward town with stops at Broken Earth (they pair their wine with cheese — win!), Eberly, and juggernaut producer J. Lohr. There are dozens more wineries worth checking out in this area, so ask your Uber Wine driver for their recommendations, or check out the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.
A weekend of food, wine, and indulgence — what more could you ask for? Have you visited Paso Robles? What would you recommend visitors check out when they come? Let me know in the comments!