There are certain destinations that every traveler must visit at least once. For instance, is there anybody who argues that sooner than later you’ve simply got to try a hot dog on the streets of New York? Or drink champagne under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower? These are the cities expected to wow you with their sights and lights and romance. But for those of us with a true wanderlust, it’s the off-the-beaten-path destinations that spark an insatiable curiosity within us. We want to follow the winding road to someplace new–someplace completely unfamiliar. To that end, I present a travel destination you may not have heard of before but are going to want to get to know: Paso Robles, California. Even beyond its world-class wineries and gourmet restaurants there are so many things to do in Paso Robles. I invite you to see for yourself.
Paso–as the locals call it–is a gem of a town nestled amongst the rolling hills of California’s central coast. Located approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso offers visitors a down-home experience without sacrificing the finer things. Perhaps best known for it’s award-winning wines, Paso has long been a vintner’s dream location. The warm days and cool nights produce grapes bursting with flavor–which, of course, lead to dynamic wines with bold, spicy and fruit-forward layers on both the nose and the palate. While certainly a notable wine destination, there are so many more amazing things to do in Paso Robles. I should know; I grew up there.
If ever you’ve walked down Main Street, USA at Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you might have an idea of what Paso Robles is like. From its charming park in the square downtown, to its outdoor summer concerts and festivals, Paso is America’s hometown. Confession: when I was young, I wanted nothing more than to leave the itty-bitty cow town I grew up in. Having recently returned for a weekend visit with my family, I can assuredly tell you that the cow town I called home has come into her own as a hot-spot for everyone, from foodies to families. Don’t take my word for it, though; come along for a glimpse at all the things to do in Paso Robles.
Hotels in Paso Robles
We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott (rates starting at $159 per night) located on the south end of town at 120 South Vine Street. The location was ideal; we were no more than a couple of minutes from the town square (where there are several tasting rooms and dining options) as well as the freeway entrance (which is the gateway to several wineries and beach towns). While the hotel did not host a complimentary breakfast, The Bistro, located just off the lobby offers both breakfast and dinner in a bright and comfortable environment. There was also plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy a book by the fire or a quiet conversation with a glass of wine in the lobby.
The property was a perfect fit for us and would be a great option for any small family staying in a single room or a larger family in connecting rooms. Our room, with double queens, was immaculate and spacious.
Perhaps the most appreciated aspect of our room itself was the pullout sofabed. It made the perfect nesting spot for our eight-year-old each night. (Surely my husband and I aren’t the only happily married couple that take advantage of stretching out and sleeping in separate beds when we have the option!). The Courtyard makes an excellent starting point as you set off to explore all the things to do in Paso Robles.
Restaurants in Paso Robles
While there are so many things to do in Paso Robles, dining is a priority. Foodies need not look far to find delicious options in Paso. Where there is good wine, there is good food and Paso is no exception. In fact, the hard part will likely be fitting all of the delicious bites into a single weekend. Here’s a quick overview of some dining choices. These five must try menu items in Paso Robles should top your wish list.
For lunch on the go:
Try Haymarket, located at 840 11th Street, just off the town square. Haymarket features locally-sourced classic comfort food, with a menu that changes based on what catches the chefs eye on any given day at the market. When we visited, they were featuring a Blue cheese & truffle macaroni and cheese that looked delicious.
For inspired dinner out:
Try Thomas Hill Organics (THO), located at 1313 Park Street. THO takes pride in using regionally-produced food and wine to present creative options on their rotating menu. If all you’ve got time for is a quick sip, you should definitely consider stopping in at the THO wine lounge.
For a decidedly Californian spin on Mexican:
Try FishGaucho, located at 1244 Park Street. FishGaucho combines fresh seafood, local produce and organic meats with Mexican dishes to come up with menu items inspired by the cuisine of Baja, California. The restaurant design is fun and lively and will definitely make you want to sit back, sip a margarita and stay awhile.
For a fancy date night:
Try Artisan, located at 843 12th Street. Whether you’re looking to unwind with your bae (or, um, spouse for us dinosaurs) or connect with a group of friends, Artisan offers an upscale, yet casual environment with honest bites and great drink options.
For lunch with the locals:
Try Full Belly Deli, located at 1718 Commerce Way. In addition to the daily special, the Full Belly Deli offers a regular menu of breakfast goodies, sandwiches and wraps that will leave you salivating. It’s a bit out of the way, but the locals will tell you that the short trip is worth it for the freshly-baked cookies alone!
For a hearty breakfast:
Try Joe’s Place, located at 305 Spring Street. From inventive breakfast scrambles to favorites from the griddle and everything in between, Joe’s Place comes through when you need to fill up before a day of visiting the local tasting rooms.
Things to do in Paso Robles
The central coast of California overflows with recreational opportunities. Here is a look at but a few options.
Easily the most popular of all the things to do in Paso Robles, wine tasting is an inspired pursuit around this Central California town. Paso is home to several top-notch tasting rooms where friendly attendants offer generous pours and engaging conversation. In my experience, tasting rooms were fairly family-friendly, too. That is not to say that I would go for a full day of wine tasting with a handful of spirited kids in tow. But if you’ve got an older child (ours was eight when we went) who can quietly entertain himself with a book or iPAD while you visit one or two spots, he or she will most likely be welcomed into a winery while the grown-ups enjoy a tasting. During our trip, we stopped in at several wineries. A standout, for me, was Brochelle Vineyards (a clever mix of the names of the two owners, Brock and Michelle Waterman). We had the chance to stop by their brand-new tasting room, located at 6996 Peachy Canyon Road. Shelbi was behind the counter when we were there and offered us not only friendly conversation, but also a cheese pairing with our wine tasting–which, by the way, was superb. My favorite was definitely the brilliantly-paired Estate Zinfandel and honey chèvre (from Vivant Fine Cheese, also in Paso).
Next stop: try Villicana, located at 2725 Adelaida Road. Like the other tasting rooms dotted across Paso’s rolling landscape, Villicana pours some fine wines. They are set apart, though, in that, as Paso’s first craft distillery, they also produce spirits derived from grapes. When we stopped in, we had the chance to try not only the wines from their tasting menu, but also a sip of their cucumber vodka and Limoncello liqueur–both of which were so yummy. They’re open daily from 11:00 am to 5:00. I really recommend dropping in if you can; it was the most unique winery we visited during our stay.
I mentioned that our weekend in Paso was not just a couples getaway, but a family-friendly trip. There are so many things to do in Paso Robles, even for kids. While it’s true that Paso is perhaps best known for producing amazing wine, believe me when I tell you that they’re downhome type of folks; families have plenty of opportunities to stay and play together. We spent some time at the Paso Robles Children’s Museum when we were in town. When I was a little girl, I went to preschool in a building set directly behind the fire station. Nowadays, that preschool building is long gone, but the fire station still stands, only it’s not a fire station anymore. Today, that building is home to the local children’s museum. Oh, and you can be assured that they pay homage to their roots–that was probably my favorite thing about the museum. Not only did they feature a real fire truck right on the main floor, but they also had several play spaces that gave nod to Paso’s charm.
Officially named El Paso de Robles, Paso’s name literally means ‘the pass of the oaks.’ Everywhere you turn in town there are beautiful, sprawling oak trees. In turn, the children’s museum had a giant crawl-through oak tree that the kids could play in. They also had a ball pit, cleverly reimagined as a ‘grape stomp.’ Just you try and tell me that isn’t charming. Our eight-year-old’s favorite exhibit, though, was Isaac Newton’s Playhouse, where balls go bouncing from cannons, ramps and even an overhead drop zone. I would be remiss not to tell you that even my thirty-something husband spent time playing in that exhibit.
Shopping in Paso Robles
One thing you’re sure to fall in love with if you visit Paso is the quaint downtown. I’m not biased when I tell you it’s every bit as idyllic as Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. The city park lies within the heart of town, and tucked around it’s square are some of the best restaurants, wine bars and boutiques that Paso has to offer. If you go, stop in the Brown Butter Cookie Company (801 12th Street) for a sweet and salty treat worth the calories.
Just a few doors down, you’re also going to want to check out the General Store. That is, if, like me, you are a lover of artisan goods for the pantry and home. I could easily have wasted away an entire paycheck in this shop. Specializing in local goods and provisions, General Store is a must do while you’re in town.
Another sure bet for those looking to take home gifts is Firefly (839 12th Street). If you’re more in the mood to shop for a one-of-a-kind wardrobe piece, try Jayde (823 12th Street).
Don’t worry; Paso isn’t all about the wine. There are actually quite a few adventurous things to do in Paso Robles, too. During our quick trip, we did manage to pull ourselves from the tasting rooms and restaurants long enough to head out on an adventure or two. One morning, we did a trail ride through the Calcareous Vineyard with Outback Trail Rides.
Of course, Paso being located on California’s beautiful central coast, there are plenty of other nearby options as well. The quaint beach towns of Cambria, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are just a hop, skip and jump away. There’s also a water park in town!
Olive Oil Tasting
One of the most unique things to do in Paso Robles is taste olive oil from an olive oil tasting room. Be still your hearts, foodies; yes, those really do exist. Pasolivo offers farm-fresh olive oil with free tastings and tours provided daily. It was such a unique experience–one I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on. In case you’re wondering how one goes about tasting olive oil, here’s a quick glimpse.
Upon entering the room, we were warmly greeted and offered the chance to spoon small samplings of spice blends onto our plates. There were several tasty options.
From there, we were given a small bag of bread and a tasting room attendant walked us through the olive oil sampling. She gave us tasting notes and suggested uses for each of Pasolivo’s flavored oils as we dipped our bread into both the oil and the spices to see which flavors we favored.
At the end of our tasting we were offered the chance to tour the facilities and see how olive oil is pressed. We happily went along on the tour and learned exactly how olive oil is produced from start to finish. I’m happy to say we didn’t leave empty-handed. The hard part was choosing which variety of olive oil we wanted to go home with.
The good news is that even when our tin of Pasolivo lemon olive oil runs out, we have the option of ordering more from their online shop or joining the Press Club.
So, was I right about Paso or was I right? If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that offers a little something for the whole family, there are so many things to do in Paso Robles. It’s a sure bet for a destination that will leave you not only refreshed and rejuvenated, but also you will leave with the renewed belief that you, indeed, can go home again. Even if you’re not from ’round these parts. They’ll treat you like the neighbor you are, and you’ll leave believing there really is no place like home.
You might also enjoy: