By Mary Charlebois
Paso Robles is surrounded by undulating foothills. Vineyards, almond orchards, olive groves, oak woodlands, and chaparral quilt the landscape. The Santa Lucia Mountains rise to the west. Paso Robles is at the southern end of the Salinas River Valley, a fertile agriculture area called, the salad bowl of the world.
Paso is made for a long weekend exploring the historic town square and fertile countryside. Just off Hwy 101, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso is waiting for you to arrive. The Mediterranean climate makes for lovely, long, hot summers and mild, cool winters. Distilleries, wineries, craft beer, and a thriving California Casual Cuisine scene will keep you busy, when you’re not at the beach, cycling, hiking, fishing, swimming, golfing, or just lazing about the pool.
Paso Robles has the most extensive variety of distilled spirits in the state. Add wine, cider, and beer, and you have one of California’s most diverse libation producing regions.
Paso is laid back with strong agriculture roots. Folks are welcoming, the weather is lovely, and the drinks are exceptional.
I spent four weeks exploring in this area last October. I fell in love with Paso Robles; the passionate makers of food and libations, and the downtown square surrounding a large park where folks gather for markets and entertainment year-round.
I’ve put together a long weekend itinerary based on my experiences. It’s a sampler visit that includes downtime.
Check into Courtyard by Marriott Paso Robles, and hang by the pool.
Make this hotel your basecamp for exploring Paso Robles and surroundings. The Paso Courtyard is a destination itself. The lobby is a return to the grand days of hotel lobbies, but is decidedly modern in décor and guest amenities. It’s made for guest comfort and interaction. A coffee bar and eatery, happy hour bar, workspace, ‘watch the game on big-screen’ space, mini-market, and meeting area are comfortable and inviting.
The star of the show is the pool and hot tub, an ideal hang-out in summer. A small fitness center offers a place to work out.
Rooms are spacious, comfortable, and spotless with lush linens and spa-like bathrooms. The staff is exceptional. They are your best source for local information. The hotel location has easy access to Hwy 101 and is central to the region.
Cocktails and dinner at the Bistro
The Paso Courtyard Bistro serves breakfast and dinner. Both menus are available to eat at tables inside, by the outdoor firepit, or as take out to your room or picnic.
Finish the evening with a hot tub and glass of local vino or beer before bed.
Breakfast and Starbucks coffee at the hotel. From a grab and go sweet roll to a full American breakfast (you must have the bacon), the food and hot beverages start your day right.
Paso Robles Distillery Trail is a nicely laid out tour of some of the distilleries in the countryside surrounding Paso Robles. This group of farmers and makers are eager to show you their facilities and share their lovely elixirs.
From the PRDT website, “Paso Robles Distillery Trail is an affiliation of farmers, winemakers, brewers, bartenders, chemists, and overall spirit enthusiasts with the common interest of crafting world-class distillates in the heart of the Paso Robles wine region.”
It will take more than a weekend to visit all the distillery trail locations. I suggest you pick two or three to visit in the morning. All the distilleries have places to enjoy a libation and take in the view.
Make your last distillery KROBAR Distillery on HWY 46, the road to the beach. KROBAR has an outdoor lounge overlooking a farm and undulating vineyards. Barton’s Kitchen Window, KROBAR’s eatery, is renowned for their farm to table dishes, often sourced from less than a mile. Like many local distilleries, KROBAR also has a sister winery on site. The food menu suggests the ideal pairings for wine and food.
Hit the coast
A half hour over the gorgeous Coastal Mountains lies the Pacific Ocean and unbelievably scenic, CA HWY 1. Drive north to San Simeon where you can walk the beach, commune with Elephant Seals, visit a lighthouse, hike a coastal trail, tour Hearst Castle, explore the Coastal Discovery Center, or just sit and sip the sun down.
Discover local wine at Hearst Winery and tasting room in Sebastian’s Café, and US Post Office. Send yourself a postcard. It’s a perfect souvenir; it’s inexpensive, doesn’t need packing, and it will always be cherished.
Chef Ian McPhee uses Hearst Ranch grass-fed beef for the best burgers on the Central Coast. The food here is a taste of San Simeon; superior quality served casually.
In the store, you’ll find Hearst Ranch beef, Hearst Ranch Wines, and Hearst Ranch Olive Oil. A wine tasting and burger on the deck is a great place to chat with other travelers and locals.
Dine-around the square
For dinner, a progressive-dine-around is a marvelous way to have a taste of several eateries and cocktail purveyors.
This adventure is best experienced unplanned – without reservations. Be bold, head to the Downtown Paso Robles Square, and have cocktails at the first place you see serving alcohol. Leave there and turn left. Have an appetizer at the next eatery along the way. Leave the appetizer restaurant, turn left, and have an entrée at the next restaurant in line. Repeat for dessert and coffee.
A 4-course meal will give you a taste of four establishments and make an unforgettable meal and memory.
After dinner downtown
Need more help deciding where to eat and drink?
Try Eleven Twenty-Two Cocktail Lounge for a speakeasy vibe.
Other suggestions for eating and drinks –
La Cosecha – Fish Gaucho – The Hatch Rotisserie & Bar. All are exceptional and have cocktail and wine programs featuring local spirits. You’ll enjoy creative dishes made from local provisions.
Sleep late and have breakfast in bed or by the pool.
Take a leisurely drive to DAOU. The tasting room, wine bar, and restaurant are located at the top of DAOU Mountain. From the terraced gardens at 2200-feet, the view across valleys and mountains will mesmerize you. A patchwork of vineyards, orchards, farms, and fields stretches to the horizon.
DAOU is sublime. The family-owned vineyard and winery produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon in remarkable geology and an ideal micro-climate.
A food and wine pairing here will be remembered with great affection. After a light lunch, take a glass down into the terraced garden and absorb the vista. It’s unlike any I’ve seen.
Remember to pack
GPS – You’ll need it on the backroads. Camera – This is Instagram country. Swimming suit. Pack for varied temps—layers are your best friend for foggy mornings, warm mid-day, and cool evenings. It’s California Casual, no dress codes in sight.
Getting there and getting around
The closest airport is San Luis Obispo. An Amtrak station is 2-blocks from the downtown square. Rental cars are available.
A car will be your best bet getting to and around Paso. If you don’t want to drive, give Uncorked Wine Tours a jingle, they will tour you in comfort and safety to distilleries, wineries, breweries, and cideries. You choose your destinations or let Uncorked surprise you.