Paso Robles Wine Country

Endless rows of spindly grapevines plumed in green follow the foothills as far as the eye can see. Azure skies contrast the golden slopes speckled with oaks. Nestled along the eastern side of the Santa Lucia Mountains, historic Paso Robles, Calif.—Spanish for “Oak Pass”—boasts a long history tied to relaxation and rejuvenation. The Salinan Indians named the area “The Springs” after its thermal waters.

The wine country of Paso Robles, California
Photo courtesy Castoro Cellars

Centuries later in 1954, Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio spent the first night of their honeymoon in town. Today, the star of Paso Robles is its wine, and over 26,000 vineyard acres in the region are home to roughly 200 wineries. You don’t have to be a wine lover to fall for the locale, as this gem of California’s Central Coast, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, offers abundant adventures for foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, and cowgirls and cowboys at heart.

Vineyard Diversions of Paso Robles

A great place to begin tasting the region’s red and white delights is Hope Family Winery. Named by Wine Enthusiast as the 2022 American Winery of the Year, this winery paved the way for the modern winemaking era in Paso Robles.

People interact at a winery
Hope Family Winery was named American Winery of the Year, and paved the way for the modern winemaking era in Paso Robles. Photo courtesy Hope Family Wines

What began as an apple orchard in the late 1970s is now a thriving, multi-faceted operation with six separate brands, cultivating varietals such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. Stewarding the natural environment is a priority for the Hope family, and wildlife corridors traverse the vines, permitting deer, quail, and wild boars a safe haven.

Art aficionados will enjoy sampling Zinfandel and Merlot at the Sculpterra Vineyard and Sculpture Gardens. After a spell in the tasting room, guests can crunch on vineyard-grown pistachios as they meander among dramatic sculptures of large animals (including horses), people, and more.

Art structure of a leopard on a tree branch
Sculpterra Vineyard and Sculpture Gardens displays an 8-foot sleeping leopard statue called “Sweet Dreams.” Photo by Holly Caccamise

Highlights of Scuplterra’s statue collection include “Sweet Dreams,” an 8-foot-long sleeping leopard, and “White Puma,” the largest solid granite art piece in North America. Visit Sculpterra on a weekend to enjoy food trucks serving local fare and musicians taking the stage.

In nearby Templeton off scenic Highway 46 lies Castoro Cellars, a pioneer in organic and sustainable agriculture on California’s Central Coast. Sip and play a game of disc golf at the private 18-hole Whale Rock Disc Golf Course, named for the petrified whale bones scattered throughout the property.

Every September, Castoro Cellars hosts the Whale Rock Music & Arts Festival. Concert goers can jam all day with local musicians and exhale in downward dog in winery yoga classes. For 2023, mark your calendars for Sept. 16-17.

Local Grub and Goods

At Cowgirl Cafe on Pine Street, just off the historic Paso Robles city square, a life-sized John Wayne will greet you for the most important meal of the day. This down-home diner with bridles and barbed wire décor serves up dishes like huevos rancheros and French toast under a powdered sugar blizzard.

Every Tuesday and Saturday, the downtown farmer’s market is the place to meet area growers and artisans while browsing gorgeous produce. Market attendees can snag a bottle of local olive oil and try Santa Maria style barbeque—a Central California culinary tradition of tri-tip rolled in salt, pepper and garlic, cooked over red oak coals.

Taste Craft Eatery, a hopping dinner spot, has a menu bursting with deliciousness. Brussels sprouts are prepared four different ways (toasted pecans, apple chutney and chevre, anyone?), and they have a design-your-own macaroni and cheese dish. Diners choose their favorite cheese in a lineup from burrata to pepper jack and pick a favorite topping out of a dozen options, ranging from andouille to pesto.

Places to eat are seemingly endless in Paso Robles, and many of the wineries have on-site restaurants. For example, try JUSTIN Downtown, which focuses on steaks that pair well with their Bordeaux.

The central business district is perfect for walking off that post-meal, full-belly feeling. Stroll the square and poke around in the general store, boutiques and antique shops.

Horsin’ Around Paso Robles

With a history steeped in ranching, a jaunt on horseback is the best way to experience Paso Robles’ stunning landscapes. Glimpse dangling grapes from the saddle with Central Coast Trailrides. Jesse James, Pistol, and Bullet are a few members of the sure-footed string who will navigate your way on a guided trail through Cass Winery. Amble along a sandy riverbed and pristine California hillsides, and perhaps spot a golden eagle or coyote.

Central Coast Trailrides in Paso Robles, California
Central Coast Trailrides offers a scenic ride through Cass Vineyards and the surrounding landscapes. Photo courtesy Central Coast Trailrides

For a truly one-of-a-kind horseback adventure—and a view of the Pacific’s distant blue—meet the herd of towering Clydesdales at Covell Ranch in nearby Cambria. After a quick riding 101 lesson delivered by horsewoman Tara Covell, you’ll climb a step ladder to mount a breed made famous by its Budweiser brethren. The rhythmical striding of the gentle giants will melt stress away as you pass by black steers lazing in the shade of live oaks or Monterey pines.

If you prefer engaging with horses as a spectator, horse sports flourish in Paso Robles, and competitions are ongoing at Paso Robles Horse Park and Paso Robles Event Center. Events like sorting, reining, and cutting are popular, but you can also watch gymkhana and show jumping.

Where to Stay and Play

It’s easy to ramble through Paso Robles’ historic city center on foot by booking a room at Stables Inn on Spring Street. The newly revamped motel is about a five-minute walk to tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops. Each room of this Western-chic inn welcomes guests with a horseshoe on the door, ranch-themed art, and a cozy blue ticking-stripe bedding.

The Stables Inn exterior abounds with Instagram-worthy photo locations, such as the vintage turquoise Chevy truck and the mural wall of horses flanked by yucca. In the parking lot under a magnolia tree, groups of Adirondack chairs cluster around fire pits. An indoor porch, The Tack Room, serves up coffee and hot water for tea as well as a complimentary continental breakfast.

The Stables Inn in Paso Robles, California
The Stables Inn is Instagram-ready, showcasing such settings as a fire pit surrounded by Adirondak chairs. Photo courtesy Stables Inn

If you prefer accommodations with more opportunities for pampering and a pool, check out Allegretto Vineyard Resort. Book a salt scrub and massage or peppermint foot rub at the spa of this Tuscan-style hotel featuring an art collection, bocce ball court, chef’s garden, chapel, and an alpaca named George.

Oenophile or not, Paso Robles is sure to lasso any traveler’s heart with the beauty of the land and its Old West charm.

Paso Robles Travel Tips

When to Go

Due to its mild climate, Paso Robles is perfect to visit any time of year. Summer daytime temperatures can run in the 90s, but cool off into the 50s at night. Daytime temperatures in winter months average in the 60s, but can dip into the 30s at night. As any native Californian can tell you, dress in layers!

How to Get There

San Luis Obispo has the closest airport, about 30 minutes away. If you don’t mind a road trip, fly into Los Angeles or San Francisco and enjoy the scenic 200-mile drive to wine country.

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This article about Paso Robles wine country appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Susan Friedland

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