Smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles and San Francisco lies the quirky Central Coast. Most people stop to tour the famed Hearst Castle, but among many towns to explore, Paso Robles seems to be the one to offer the best food, wine, and all-around activity. This tiny little town is now busting at the seams with hundreds of wineries, great restaurants, and some simply breathtaking scenery.
Paso Robles has some wonderful and underrated wines. This California AVA is well-known for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Rhône varietals like Syrah, Viognier, and Roussane. One of the most popular Rhône-style wineries is Tablas Creek Vineyard, but there are so many others to choose from. My favorite wines from Paso are almost always red blends and there seems to be a new one for me to try every time I go to the store. As funny as it may sound, the local Albertson's supermarket actually has the best (and most affordable) selection of local wine. It seems like the one thing Paso Robles is missing is a great wine shop, but I suppose it's just as easy to buy directly from the wineries when you're there!
I don't think it's fair to give a list of the "best" wineries in the area because there are so many great choices. The best thing to do is head over to the PasoWine and Travel Paso websites to map out your wine tasting route. Pick a route and taste as much as you can! Hint: head west on the 46 towards Cambria for exquisite views of the valley and Morro Bay. While you're on the 46, be sure to stop in to Jack Creek Farms for awesome local produce and other goods.
One thing I will say, because it's unique, is that Villacana Winery & Vineyard also happens to run a distillery. Yep, Re:Find Distillery distills spirits from their wine grapes! How cool is that? One tasting includes all of their wines and spirits and it is entirely worth it. I absolutely love finding local spirits and they make a great gin, or "botanical brandy".
When I visit a new town, I love to be walking distance to everything, but there is no way around needing a car to tour the wineries. Still, staying downtown is the best option for me to be able to stroll through the cute boutiques and have a bite to eat somewhere.
Hotel Cheval is a lovely sixteen-room hotel right in the center of town and also happens to be the nicest place to stay downtown. Paso Robles Inn is an equally great location, right off the park, but a bit more affordable. Hotel Cheval also happens to be home to the Pony Club, a great little wine bar where you can sample local wines and maybe even get a cheese and charcuterie board to snack on. In addition, they've recently opened Paso's only gourmet food store, Haymarket, where you can grab a cup of coffee or some snacks for the road.
When you're finished at Haymarket, head around the park and stop in to the beautiful AndBe Boutique and the Paso Underground tasting room. If you're looking for some local goodies to take home, The General Store is a great spot filled with local foods, crafts, and plenty of unique items.
The downtown area has grown over the past few years and is home to some of the best restaurants in the area. The premier restaurant in town is Artisan and I would confidently recommend it for brunch, lunch, or dinner. The menu is as local as can be, with many of the ingredients coming from the chef's own farm, and they have an inspiring commitment to non-GMO and organic ingredients. The bar is equally intriguing, with local wine on tap and scrumptious bar snacks.
La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant is my other favorite here. The cocktails are the best in town and they are also a solid choice for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Keep in mind: they are also open late! What more can you ask for after a full day of wine tasting?
The new upscale Mexican restaurant, Fish Gaucho, is a great casual spot for reliable food. From a simple taco and a beer to beautiful ceviche and lobster enchiladas, their food is fantastic. They also make margaritas to order, the right way, with organic agave and fresh lime juice. Make sure to go during happy hour to take advantage of the $5 house margaritas!
When you are north of downtown, wine tasting off of Highway 46 E, food options are pretty slim. Luckily, the brand-new Mistura restaurant (hidden in the River Oaks Golf Course) offers delicious Peruvian food in a beautiful setting. Their ceviche, alpaca carpaccio, and beef hearts are all top sellers - and they have an impressive wine and cocktail list as well!
If you're in the mood for a simple non-brunchy breakfast, you can't beat the popular Cowgirl Café. And don't forget to stop into the great antique shops next door! You'll find steals that just don't exist in L.A. or San Francisco.
If you've had too much wine and are in need of a change of pace, Pasolivo Olive Oil is a fun stop and is conveniently nestled between the wineries off of highway 46. You can sample all of their wonderful olive oils (the Kitchen Blend is my personal favorite), salts, and other local goodies. If it's more alcohol you need, head over to Barrelhouse Brewing just south of town and relax on their lawn in an adirondack chair...oh, and the beer is great, too!
Currently, my favorite coffee in the entire Central California area is Scout in San Luis Obispo, but Paso Robles has just opened a beautiful new hipster coffee shop: Spearhead Coffee! If you need a morning jolt, look no further than Spearhead, right across the street from the park.
Either way you look at it, Paso Robles has something to offer that Napa just doesn't: unpretentious quaintness. Also, if you're coming from Southern California, it's a heck of a lot closer to drive to Paso than to Napa!