Escape to Paso Robles, California Wine Country

Explore this flourishing wine country with top things to do, eat, taste, and visit.

Downtown Paso Robles is home to more than a dozen tasting rooms and urban wineries.

stellamc / Shutterstock

Once considered a humble agricultural town—when it was considered at all—Paso Robles has turned California’s midpoint into a destination. With a flourishing wine country that boasts more than 200 wineries, a bustling town center, and a burgeoning culinary scene, Paso has the goods to keep anyone happy, but it hasn’t sacrificed its down-to-earth charm along the way. In other words: Your jeans are perfectly appropriate, no matter where you’re headed.

Things to do in Paso Robles

Time your trip well: Paso plays host to the California Mid-State Fair, a multi-week affair running from late July through early August that books huge music names and hosts what may be the mother (er, heifer?) of all livestock competitions. Paso being Paso, wine festivals are serious business: The Zin Festival hits in March, May brings the Wine Festival, and the Harvest Wine Weekend descends in October.

Walk it all off on the Salinas River Walk, a nearly flat, two-mile trail that’s easily negotiable for folks of any fitness level—plus it's wheelchair accessible. Enjoy the fresh air and keep your eyes open for birds, mule deer, and the friend you made while wine tasting yesterday.

Get a taste of the local culture during Art After Dark, a block party of sorts at Studios on the Park and Park Street Gallery on the first Saturday of every month, spring through fall. Mingle as you wander various participating venues and check out the works of featured artists while enjoying wine and live music.

Continue to sample the region’s goods with a little olive oil tasting. Olive trees abound in Paso, ergo specialty EVOO producers and shops do, too. Kiler Ridge Olive Farm boasts an eco-friendly straw-bale tasting room complemented by gorgeous orchard views. Downtown, pop into We Olive to peruse a range of artisan oils, vinegars, and other gourmet goodies.

Wood-fired cuisine is the star of the show at the Hatch.

Courtesy Kendra Aronson Creative Studio / The Hatch

Where to Eat in Paso Robles

At the Hatch, a buzzy spot off the town square, you’ll find an open kitchen set against brick, leather, and wood; a drink list that's heavy on whiskey; and a menu that ups the ante on comfort food. From pimento cheese with salt and vinegar chips to meatloaf with house-made ketchup and a slow-cooked 64-degree egg, the grub is next level but familiar. Sides like roasted mushrooms with soy aioli, and broccolini with romesco and sorghum, offer shots of surprise.

The upscale, Cali-Mex restaurant and bar Fish Gaucho is a favorite for a reason—or several. Lobster enchiladas, a raw bar, and duck confit empanadas, to name a delicious few. All that noshing can work up a thirst; quench it with a margaritas from the extensive list, or check out the tequila and mescal flights. For those who’d prefer to keep things lower proof, there’s a solid selection of draft beers and local wines, too.

Thomas Hill Organics is acclaimed for its impressive wine list that’s loaded with under-the-radar gems as well as for its inventive, ever-changing menu that showcases what’s local and seasonal. The restaurant takes advantage of Paso’s bounty to delicious effect, and it’s a culinary must-do for any trip to the area. Pro tip: On Mondays, buy a burger and your beer or glass of wine is half off; on Tuesdays all bottles of wine under $100 are half priced.

La Cosecha channels its Latin soul with an extensive selection of seafood-starring (and scene-stealing) small plates, capped with pizzas and larger-format dishes such as paella and short ribs. The mid-day happy hour is a grand reason to stop in for a little pick-me-up like pork chicharrón or chicken mole nachos, which in turn are the perfect excuse to order one of the outstanding seasonal cocktails. Because how else are you gonna wash it all down?

Relax while overlooking the rolling hills at Daou Vineyards and Winery.

Courtesy Daou Winery

Where to Sip and Taste

Founded by Lebanese-born brothers Georges and Daniel Daou—who spent their childhood first surrounded by the olive groves of their homeland and then by the vineyards of Southern France—Daou Winery is renowned for its cabernet sauvignons and Bordeaux blends. Give them a try at Daou’s exquisite mountain-top tasting room, which offers panoramic views of Paso Robles’ Adelaida sub-region. If you’re planning to splurge on a bottle or two, this is the place to do it.

The wines at Halter Ranch—primarily Bordeaux and rhone varieties—are lovely for sipping, but the operation comes with a story that’s equally compelling. In 2000, Swiss billionaire and conservationist Hansjorg Wyss, who has pledged to donate a billion dollars to worldwide land conservation, bought the 2,000 beautiful acres with the explicit plan never to develop most of it. As for the rest of the land, the fruits of the sustainably farmed vineyard and gravity-flow winery prove that treading gently can result in some seriously delicious juice.

It was love at first sight when then Santa Cruz locals Sherman and Michelle Thacher set foot onto the historic Kentucky Ranch in Western Paso. When the property went on the market, the couple snapped it up, quit their jobs, and packed their bags. In 2004, the Thacher label was launched, and the original magic continues to infuse their boutique production zins and single rhone varietals and blends.

For those seeking comfort—both in the form of Bordeaux-style blends and in terms of settling in for a relaxing stay—Justin should top the list. While the winery’s famed Isoceles and Justification need little introduction to aficionados, lesser-known (and lower-priced) bottles are worth getting acquainted with... perhaps over a meal at the restaurant—prix fixe, with optional wine pairings—before a night at the Just Inn. (See what they did there?)

If novelty is what you’re after, look no further than Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden, where the roster of wines is long, the grounds are studded with artwork, and if cabs and ironwork aren’t entertaining enough, an area dubbed “Central Park West” serves as an adult playground with stone chess tables, foosball, bocce, and ping-pong.

At Vina Robles, vino’s only part of the fun. Bring your own picnic to enjoy in the outdoor Jardine Court (goodies sourced from Di Raimondo’s Italian Market & Cheese Shop in town will definitely do), or supplement your tasting with the gourmet food pairing option. There’s live music in the tasting room every Saturday afternoon, and at the larger, open-air amphitheater, big-name acts take the stage.

Views from the east side of William Randolph Hearst's towering abode.

Omengramirez / Shutterstock

Nearby Places to Visit

Head west on State Route 46 toward the coastal town of San Simeon for an excursion to the legendary Hearst Castle. Designed by master architect Julia Morgan for newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, the opulent hilltop estate includes gardens, pools, and a staggering collection of art and antiquities.

About 15 minutes south of Paso proper, you’ll find Tin City, an industrial park that’s abuzz with hip, urban energy and home to nearly 20 wineries, plus a brewery, cider maker, distillery, restaurant, and artisan pasta shop. The cherry on top takes the form of an ice cream shop, because what better way to cap a day than with an ice cream sandwich?

Get more out of your vacation: Book Paso Robles hotels and more through AAA Travel for exclusive Member benefits.