How many times, while flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco, did we look down at Paso Robles and notice the area’s beauty? In spring, swaths of wildflowers splash bright orange, blue, and yellow across the green hills of San Luis Obispo County. By late summer those hills are resplendent in gold, punctuated by deep green oaks that resemble broccoli florets from above. But now Paso Robles is making people sit up and take notice for much more than beauty. Visitors are finding that the quality of the wines and the interest some of the wineries are taking in coddling their visitors long after they’ve left the tasting room makes this California’s most exciting wine region. Meanwhile, the historic buildings in the town’s handsome central square have seen feed stores and saddleries give way to chic wine bars and fine restaurants, even as the old Paso Robles Inn has maintained its classic coffee shop and excellent steak house.
Paso East: Before you leave the airport, you might stop by the Estrella Warbird Museum. If you’re in a hurry for wines, J. Lohr is just two minutes north on Airport Road. Or, head east on Highway 46E to Eberle Winery. Their Viognier was my favorite of our whole trip: a floral nose, with peach-apricot overtones and hints of litchi, honeysuckle, and spice. Gary Eberle is a pilot who says he’ll never charge for wine tasting or tours. Visit their caves below ground or take in the view above; it’s the perfect place to watch the big airshow each May; the aerobatic box is nearly overhead. Next, head another few miles east to Tobin James Cellars, where their only tasting room rule is to have fun, and try their “liquid love,” the rich Late Harvest Zinfandel. Spa treatments galore are available at the River Oaks Hot Springs and Spa. Golfers go for the Hunter Ranch Golf Course, with smooth greens, oak-lined fairways, and a challenging back nine loaded with culverts, water, and other surprises.
Paso West: Heading west on Highway 46W, you approach the Santa Lucia Mountains with smaller vineyards and ocean breezes pouring in through the Templeton Gap. First you’ll see Summerwood, which sells its small yearly case production only here and to its members. Their inn prepares excellent breakfasts, appetizers, and desserts. It’s a scenic drive out 46W, climbing through the vineyard-and-oak-clad hills, and 15 minutes later you reach the top and look down at the ocean. Hearst Castle is 45 minutes from Paso Robles; west on 46 and then north on Highway 1. Back on 46W, turn north onto Vineyard Drive, and soon the road begins to wind; rolling hills of alfalfa and vineyards alternate with dark corridors of ancient oaks, lichen hanging from their limbs. Don’t miss Pasolivo Olive Oil Ranch, where you can taste their superbly fresh oils. Another must-stop is Tablas Creek Vineyard, for their terrific Rhône blends. A bit further west brings you to JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, with its fine restaurant and European-inspired Just Inn.
Downtown: Return via Adelaida Road, past walnut and almond trees. Back in downtown Paso Robles, you’ll enjoy a stroll through the main square, host to numerous events throughout the year. The Paso Robles Inn has 98 rooms (including some with hot-spring baths), a coffee shop, steakhouse, and beautiful gardens. Other highlights include cheese tasting at Vivant Fine Cheese and hearty French fare at Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien presides over what the Los Angeles Times called “the best restaurant on the Central Coast,” also recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.
Pay a visit to Paso and take home plenty of happy memories and a few cases of great wine. Not too much, though—it’ll give you a great excuse to go back for more!
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