Discover the ‘Pasobilities’ in Paso Robles Wine Country. Read all about my incredible two-day adventure in one of the soon-to-be-discovered California wine country destinations.
I absolutely love escaping on a weekend getaway, especially in California wine country. There is something remarkable about packing a small bag and getting out town for a couple of days. As Thursday rolls around, I can hear myself saying that I need to clean my apartment, run errands, wash the dog and organize the closet, but I never do. Instead, I prefer to have an adventure somewhere other than my tiny urban dwelling.
When you only have a couple of days to getaway, and little lead time to plan for it, it’s important to minimize travel time. This is precisely why I chose to ‘Discover the Pasobilities’ in Paso Robles, for the perfect wine country weekend getaway. Paso Robles Wine Country California (pronounced PASS-O Ro-bulls by locals) is conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Driving or flying into the Paso Robles wine country is super quick and easy. Heading South from San Francisco, I couldn’t believe that it only took three hours to drive down on Highway 101 from San Francisco. The drive is stunning by the way! If you have the time, you can take Highway 1, along the coast. This route will take you twice as long, but is a picture perfect panorama of flora and fauna.
Driving North from Los Angeles is also about three hours on Highway 5, or four hours on Highway 101. I’d take the 101 as its definitely a more scenic drive; worth the extra hour. If the only option to you is flying in, you can land in San Luis Obispo (another cool town) and then drive about 40 minutes north to Paso Robles. There are direct flights from Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In no time at all, you will be in Paso Robles, ready to have a fabulous wine country weekend with friends, incredible wines, meet some interesting local folks and savor the excellent cuisine served at the area’s many fine-dining restaurants.
Driving into Paso Robles, I felt like I was reliving a scene from one of my favorite films, Sideways. Paso Robles is slightly north of where Sideways was filmed and sits on the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountain Range, which lies directly to the west of the city, and runs in a north-south direction, starting at Monterey, then runs down south to its terminus, in the San Luis Obispo area. Paso Robles is where the Northern California line becomes Southern California where many refer to it as being in the epicenter of the Central Coast wine region. Paso Robles sits at the border where northern San Luis Obispo County and southern Monterey County meet, and is situated roughly 24 miles (39 km), or 20 minutes, inland from the Pacific Ocean.
With all the excited of travelling to Paso Robles, I decided to leave work early on Friday, so I could arrive in Paso Robles by early check-in time for my hotel. The timing was perfect as I missed the regular rush hour commute around San Jose. Our reward? Upon check-in, we’re greeted with a complimentary tasting at The JUST INN located on the same property as JUSTIN Vineyards. The staff is full of smiles and happily whisked away my weekend bag (and golf clubs) in exchange for a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc. As of right now, I spell heaven J-U-S-T-I-N. And you will, too!
After relaxing for a few moments in the lobby with the chilled Sauvignon Blanc in hand, it was quickly setting in - we’re in wine country! We made our way to our room. JUST INN is a fabulous place to stay while in Paso Robles. The rooms are well appointed in a contemporary style, with Temper-Pedic mattresses, Frette linens and hydro-spa tubs. There is a range of room options, including a Vintner’s Villa, to meet your desires to relax and unwind.
Zenaida Winery (I recommend the Winemaker’s Loft), Tobin James Cellars and the Paso Robles Inn are three other options I would consider staying next time.
For dinner, we wanted to make sure that we had a chance to check out the historic Paso Robles Square, reminiscent of many old-towns in California. So we went to local restaurant recommended by one of my winemaker friends, called BL Brasserie (formerly Bistro Laurent). Arriving on the early side at 6:00PM, the restaurant was already filling up with a diverse crowd of tourists and locals. It’s clear to us that the who’s who of Paso Robles dines here. Chef Laurent Grangien, born in France, has built international acclaim for his creative, and seasonal dishes. No doubt, Paso Robles is lucky to have Chef Grangien, but being the humble man that he is, he thinks he is fortunate to have landed there 21 years ago. The menu is classic French and anything (I mean anything) you order will delight all your senses. We ordered a bevy of appetizers and shared our main course and dessert. Open seven days a week for dinner with lunch service Tuesday thru Saturday.
After an amazing meal and deep-sleep session at The Just Inn, we went for a nice walk around the vineyards before grabbing a quick breakfast at the ever-popular Joe’s Place. It’s super important to have a hearty breakfast before a day of wine tasting and Joe’s Place is just the right place to get everything you need. My fave, the egg scramble with bacon and coffee. Be sure to get your name on the list as it fills up quickly on the weekends. They don’t have an official website, but you can find them on Facebook.
Another great place for breakfast or lunch is the down--home place called Kitchenette (in Templeton). The food is honest, locally-sourced and absolutely delicious. We stopped in on our second day in Paso and are happy we did. While Kitchenette isn’t necessarily budget friendly, its healthy, fresh and downright original. http://kitchenettetempleton.com/
Transportation – We hired a great tour company called The Wine Wrangler. The Wine Wrangler is Paso Robles' original wine tasting tour and transportation company. They offer private and mixed group wine tasting tours in Paso Robles, and through the San Luis Obispo County. They have great prices, knowledgeable drivers and many tour choices. We opted for the picnic or boxed lunch option so that we could enjoy it out in wine country. Heading back to Paso at times can take a while, especially since many of the wineries on our list were far-off the beaten path. Alternatively, The Wine Line, offers a hop on/hop off style. Essentially, you can choose four wineries from the list and get shuttled between them.
Paso Robles Wineries - When Paso Robles started getting a lot of much-deserved attention from international critics for its wines 10-15 years ago, it was primarily for Zinfandel. Over the years and with many talented viticulturists migrating to the area, Cabernet Sauvignon is the new rising star and is producing high-scores consistently. What many local winemakers have found is the Central Coast mountain range is ideal producing Rhône-style wines, like Syrah, Viognier and Grenache blends.
Today, over 300 wineries call Paso Robles home. With so many choices, it can quickly become overwhelming of where to go and which wineries and tasting rooms to skip. And what’s great about using CellarPass, I quickly identified the Cabernet-producing wineries that also offered scheduled vineyard tours to experience on my weekend getaway. Want to fill your cellar with Pinot Noir, or Tempranillo while playing bocce ball, no problem. With a few clients, I had my “go-to” list of wineries to visit.
If you want to get away from the crowds and escape deep into Paso Robles wine country, definitely add Opolo Vineyards to your itinerary. Opolo Vineyards is a fantastic winery destination to visit because it’s offers the iconic wine tasting experience. I knew the moment we drove onto the property I could see myself spending the whole day there. With gorgeous rolling hills framing their estate vineyard on picturesque Vineyard Drive, guests enjoy a wide range of experiences, from tours and cheese pairings and the varied flight options. If you happen to be visiting during the warmed months (mid-March thru mid-October) tastings on the patio is a lovely choice to book as space is limited. As we enjoyed the tour of the property, we learned about their completely-sustainable farming practices, making them a “SIP” Certified operation. If you are there at lunchtime be sure to save some extra time to enjoy one of their many seasonal fire-roasted pizzas which change daily. Next time I am Paso Robles I would recommend staying at their inn located right on the property.
A local friend of mine recommended that I try Grey Wolf Cellars. What a great place! Rustic in nature, you get to taste their wines in a 60-year old restored barn. Grey Wolf Cellars produces hand-crafted, small lot, boutique wines that deliver complex flavor profiles. The vibe here is so cool that you will be surprised you are not in Napa or Sonoma County. The value delivered is seriously incredible! To boot, they have a kitchen window (delicious food for purchase) available Thursday – Sunday AND Krobar Distillery. You will love it here- book it!
I’m always on the search for the next great Cabernet Sauvignon, I had to try Austin Hope Winery. My CellarPass search told me about Hope Winery and looked amazing online! Not a fancy place and way more casual than wineries up north, I am pretty sure I found something worth holding on to which they are a family owned and operated winery and tasting room, which is becoming a rare breed these days. Austin Hope Winery has five unique labels: Liberty School, Austin Hope, Treana, Troublemaker (love it), and Quest. All of them are worth tasting, but my favorites are the Treana and Austin Hope Cabs; I loved them so much, I bought six bottles! I also purchased some delicious Liberty School Pinot, which is only available for purchase at the winery, directly. So be sure to grab some so you’ll have something to drink to as you share everything about your Paso Robles weekend adventure with your friends.
Out in Templeton there is a gem of a winery called Clesi Wines. The owner will come out to greet you and before you know it, you will taste some of the best Italian varietals in town. There is nothing exceptional about the tasting room; it’s no frills to the max. The wines and hospitality however, make up for the simple space. Clesi is old world, iconic and elegant. For $10, you can taste your heart out, chat with Chris Ferarra (owner/winemaker) and try some wines that no one else has in the area. Most of the wines here are worthy of a trip home. My favorites are the reds. Try the Multipulciano, the Convivio and the Sangiovese. Totally worth the short drive.
Check out my blog called Most Luxurious Wine Tastings in Paso Robles for more tasting options.
Where to eat in Paso Robles– While there are lots of places to eat in Paso Robles, the food scene is dominated by a few great places that have risen to the top. To quote a dear winemaker friend who lives in Bakersfield and Sonoma county, he likes to use the phrase “calculated mediocrity” when it comes to dining in the valley and Central Coast. Let’s face it folks, Paso Robles isn’t the same as restaurant meccas like the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles. Still, there are some great places worth checking out.
I mentioned earlier my love for BL Brasserie and for all the right reasons, that love holds true. I’m sure that I could eat at BL Brasserie for the rest of my life, every night and never get bored of the food. Having said that, I do like a few other places as well.
The Hatch is exceptional. The Hatch is a simple rotisserie and bar located just off the town square in beautiful downtown Paso Robles wine country. Wood fire, small batch whiskey, and a bustling atmosphere full of mingling locals and visitors fuel the Hatch. The restaurant is intimate and seating is a mix of banquettes for couples, high wood tables for groups, and tall backed stools at the bar for those who like front row interaction with some of the best in the cocktail biz. We enjoyed some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had. Great vibe. The menu is comfort food driven and changes seasonally. Almost all of the condiments are made in house. Daily specials like fried chicken, prime rib, and lamb augment the casual but classically executed menu… go early because they sell out fast!
Tin Canteen in Tin City (cool section in Paso Robles) is a great casual option for seasonal California coastal flair. They have tasty wood oven fired pizzas, homemade pasta and tons of appetizers. However, the burger at Tin Canteen is seriously to die for! In spite of being busy on most weekends, the service is fast and friendly. They have a great list of local and Italian wines as well as some of my favorite beers; Pliny and Barrell House. The atmosphere is young and hip. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Paso Robles Events Worth Attending
If you are flexible on when you can visit Paso Robles, there’s plenty of annual events that you should consider. The only caveat to that is that be sure to plan ahead as hotels in Paso Robles can fill up quickly, especially when it comes to the California Mid-State Fair, which runs from late July through early August. This year’s performances by the Zac Brown Band, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar, Melissa Etheridge, Smokey Robinson, Lynard Skynard and much more provides a glimpse into the caliber of this fair. Plenty of rides for the whole family, wine tastings and competitions. Also fun for the kids are the livestock competitions, the horse show and a variety of other competitive exhibits and showcases. https://www.midstatefair.com/fair/
As you might expect, wine dominates the festivals, with a Zinfandel Festival in March, the Wine Festival in May and the Harvest Wine Weekend in October. The best place to get updated information on all three festivals is at the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website. https://www.pasowine.com/events/
On Memorial Day Weekend, Paso Robles once hosted the Festival of the Arts in the downtown park. With over 100 artists over three art-filled days, the Festival of the Arts was intended to honor and preserve the natural environment and character of the region through the arts. Sadly, this festival is no longer offered, but a great alternative is the Art in the Park weekend in October. https://www.pasoroblesartinthepark.com/
In August of each year, the Paso Robles Main Street Association presents the Olive Festival in the downtown park featuring free olive oil and olive product sampling from producers from all over California. This is a great event and I highly recommend planning your epic weekend getaway to Paso Robles when the Olive Festival is happening. The weather is ideal and who doesn’t LOVE Olive Oil? Be sure to book accommodations well in advance, as finding a room can get tricky. http://www.pasoroblesolivefestival.com/
In November is the Garagiste Wine Festival, which celebrates the local artisan winemaker. In its 9th year, this event is a great place to discover new wines, meet wine enthusiasts, rule-breakers, pioneers, renegades, and mavericks that are all driven by passion. All the proceeds benefit the Cal-Poly Wine and Viticulture Program. The Garagiste Wine Festival named the ‘Best Wine Festival in the US in 2018 in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers Choice Awards, is the first and only wine festival dedicated to the undiscovered and under-recognized American artisan ‘garagiste’ producers who are making some of the best, most exciting, handcrafted small-lot production wines in the world. http://californiagaragistes.com/
Looking back and reminiscing about my weekend in Paso Robles… it gets ten stars (out of 5). If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of big city life, school, your children or just want to have a charming weekend out of town, Paso Robles wine country is sure to meet anyone’s expectations. Even though I never used my golf clubs (and there are places plenty of places to golf), I was content wine tasting my way around the area, walking around town and discovering new restaurants (I think I gained a pound or two on this trip). I’m definitely going back for the Garagiste Wine Festival in November, although I could see myself returning long before then! There is simply so much to do, see and taste in the Central Coast area, you too should make Paso Robles wine country a destination for you to explore.