Paso Robles, which means The Pass of Oaks, is located in San Luis Obispo County, California along the Salinas River. In the early days, people traveled to Paso Robles for its Mineral Springs. Cattle ranchers, almond and apple growers, and dairy farmers were the first to settle the area. Today the city is becoming an exciting place for both the arts and, of course, the expanding wine industry. I had a chance to explore the art and wineries in Paso Robles and enjoyed discovering the best of California's Central Coast.
The Famous Paso Robles Climate
As you drive up the pass from the cooler climate of San Luis Obispo, you notice a change in scenery as rolling hills expand out on either side of the city. Driving west, the elevation begins rising until it reaches the foothills of the Santa Lucia Coastal Range. The town lies about 24 miles from the Pacific Ocean, which is important for the wine industry because of the diurnal changes between night and day. The ocean breezes, and often, the marine layer comes through the Templeton Gap cooling the temperature by as much as 50 degrees.
In Paso Robles, the wine typically takes center stage with more than 200 wineries in eleven AVAs. Lately, a unique attraction has become the focal point of a visit to Paso Robles. It is Light at Sensorio, the Field of Lights, and the new Light Towers.
Sensorio Field Of Light: Art in Paso Robles
If you want a truly wow moment, the visual effects of Sensorio are awe-inspiring. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Entering the 15-acre park before dusk, I glimpsed the rolling hills dotted with oak trees and suddenly felt a sense of calm and serenity. As I strolled the paths, I could see the fiberoptic balls that are reminiscent of flower buds.
I walked to the end of the final exhibit, the towers before sunset, to get a visual lay of the land. The atmosphere completely changes, entering the tower area as the music begins to play. The songs, a choral melody, add to the serenity of the place. At first, I saw glimmers of color as dusk set in. The wiring inside the bottles that form the towers starts to flicker. As the lights come on, the world around me ignited slowly with bright colors. I was mesmerized by the colors. It reminded me in a way of wandering in a field of tulips in Holland during the spring as the buds begin to bloom.
The Artist Behind Sensorio
The exhibit created by artist Bruce Munro is his latest and largest installation. Although not the same, it reminds me of Christo's environmental installations. In Munro's case, he creates artistry through light. Sensorio's Field of Light utilizes 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics and solar power. They illuminate the landscape in blooms of color. The tower portion of the exhibit pays homage to Paso Robles wine country. This portion of the display consists of 69 towers containing 17,000 clear glass wine bottles that come alive with shades that dance to the musical score that plays in the background.
The backdrop of the Paso landscape brings forth a new vista of beauty that any art lover must see. I recommend arriving close to an hour before sunset to get the full visual effect of the countryside. It is a panorama of color you should not miss.
More Art in Paso Robles
If you still want to take in more of the Paso Robles art scene, visit the Studios on the Park located across from the park. The gallery is unique because, at any given time, one of the featured artists is available in their studio gallery for demonstrations and to answer questions. The gallery's concept focuses on the interaction between the artist and the visitor. You get to view the creative process in action as you stroll through various studios and galleries. It is a great way to experience art in Paso Robles.
I met Drew Mayerson on my visit, who creates representational art focusing on landscapes and cityscapes through light and color. His medium is oils.
Exploring Downtown Paso Robles
Downtown Paso Robles is centered around a public park that was donated in 1864. Across from the park is the Paso Robles Inn, the first hotel in the area. The inn is steeped with history, including a three-week visit by well-known pianist and composer Ignace Paderewski. The hotel burned down in 1940 and was rebuilt in 1942. Today some say one room is haunted because, on several occasions, a call came into the front desk from room 1007. When reception picked up, there was no one on the line. Even eerier was the fact no one had checked into the room. There also was a 911 call, and of course, when reviewing the guest registry, the room was vacant.
The downtown area is filled with shops and restaurants that add to the flavor of the town. You really must stop at the Brown Butter Cookie Company. The Original Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookie was introduced in 2008 by a food specialty shop in Cayucos, CA. It was such a hit that in January 2009, owners Traci and Christa Hozie converted the shop into Brown Butter Cookie Company. The store is a Paso Robles mainstay. I first discovered the cookies at Savor the Central Coast and have been hooked ever since. My favorite is the Coconut Lime cookie that is only sold from April through June.
Tin City Features Paso Robles Wineries
Located 3 miles south of downtown Paso Robles, Tin City is an industrial marketplace that houses many Paso Robles wine tasting rooms, restaurants, breweries, and other specialty stores. Currently, Tin City contains about 20 small-production wineries, so this is a great place to experience the wineries in Paso Robles.
While at Tin City, break up your tasting day with lunch at McPhee's Canteen. The menu features wood-fired pizzas, Snake River Farms Kobe burgers, seasonal salads, sandwiches, fish and chips, local wines, and beers from the Central Coast. On my visit, I had a yummy grilled chicken salad.
Between tastings, walk over to Negranti Creamery for sheep's milk ice cream. The real ingredients in this ice cream are lactose intolerant friendly and gluten-free. Did you know that sheep's milk contains less than 8% fat, is richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, is higher in protein than other forms of milk, and is easier to digest? Not only will you find the best ice cream you have ever tasted but incredibly delicious and unusual flavors like Cinnamon Apricot Crisp, Blueberry Lavender, Strawberry Basil, and Salted Brown Sugar.
Other fun specialty shops are Etto Pastificio, an Italian grocery featuring locally sourced ingredients, and Olivas de Oro, an olive oil and vinegar shop.
The real reason to visit Tin City, however, is to sample the wines of Paso Robles. On my recent trip, I visited three wineries: Benom Wines, Hubba Wines, and Onx Wines.
Benom Wines in Paso Robles
Paso Robles has a definite French influence in the style and character of their wines, and there are many French expatriates making wine in the area. One winery is Benom, which in French is binôme and means a project together. The name is befitting of a venture between two brothers, Arnaud and Guillaume Fabre. It is an endeavor about love, passion, heritage, and family ties between two brothers.
Wine was the family occupation in the Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux regions of France. Both brothers decided to continue that business in Paso Robles. They each came for different reasons, but together they created a winery permeated with their passion and love. The focus of their wines brings mostly Rhône and Spanish grapes together with a smattering of some Bordeaux varieties. The result—wines with integrity, balance, and elegance. It is the best of both worlds, classical yet modern, and Spanish versus French. The varieties work as a team, just like the brothers in real life. Graciano for their wine acts like Merlot for the Bordeaux blends.
My Favorite Wine from Benom Wines: Les Deux Freres, a Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo blend reflecting the best of Paso Robles’ terroir. The Grenache brings the lively side of the valley as it expresses minerality, while the Cabernet and Tempranillo bring in the structure, tannins, and complexity.
Hubba Wines in Paso Robles
Riley Rodick's personality imbues her wines both on the label and in the bottle. Riley's passion for wine shines through, even in the whimsical labels containing a story of a family member or a friend. The name Hubba comes from her family name Hubbard. After graduating from Cal Poly, Riley gained her hands-on knowledge in Paso Robles at L'Aventure, followed by a stint in Australia, Italy, and France, where she earned her master's degree with the Vinifera Euromaster program. Her love was always Paso, so she returned to be an assistant winemaker at LAW and later Desparada Wines. She opened Hubba Wines in 2016.
She sources her grapes from small family farms that are either certified organic or grown organically without certification.
My Favorite Wine from Hubba Wines: Mushroomhead, named after her sister whose hair was cut in a way that looked like a mushroom when they were growing up. The wine blends Syrah and Carignan. This savory wine exudes my favorite spice—thyme.
Onx Wines in Paso Robles
While the tasting room and production facilities for Onx reside in Tin City, the vineyards are located in the Templeton Gap and Willow Creek AVA. The Olson family purchased their first vineyard in 2004. By 2006 they found Onyx Calcite on their Templeton vineyard, which opened the doors for naming the winery Onx. The Olson's planted the vineyards with 18 varieties, emphasizing Spanish, Rhône, and Bordeaux varietals.
The labels are an extension of the wine. Think of a collage as an artistic expression made up of different materials. Expand that to the Onx wine blends, which are the winemaker's articulation of multiple grape varieties. This combination represents the balance between the label on the bottle and what we discover inside. Winemaker Drew Nenow proficiently unites these two elements.
My Favorite Wine from Onx Wines: Mad Crush, a blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvédre, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. If you have the opportunity, taste the club-only wine, Black Orchid, a single variety of Petite Sirah.
Exploring Adelaide District Wineries in Paso Robles
The Adelaide District received its AVA designation in 2014 when the Paso Robles AVA was divided into 11 distinct AVAs. The AVA is located on the west side of Paso Robles at the southern end of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. It is considered the wettest of the Paso Robles AVAs because of precipitous influence as storms travel from the Pacific Ocean eastward. The soils are composed of chalky rock due to marine sediment and limestone.
You cannot go to Paso Robles without visiting a winery located out in the countryside, and the two I chose in the Adelaide District utilize Anthony Yount as winemaker. Each winery has a different style that shows the versatility of Anthony's winemaking techniques.
My visit took me way out to the Peachy Canyon Corridor to sample wines at Sixmilebridge. The setting is worth the drive, while the contemporary tasting room takes advantage of the outdoor spaces and vineyard view. Sixmilebridge features Bordeaux-style blends with a Paso Robles twist. The wines are outstanding and reflect the limestone soils of the winery's steep-sloped vineyards.
My Favorite Wine from Sixmilebridge Winery: Paladin pays tribute to Paso Robles Zinfandel. Think Bordeaux blend with Zinfandel as the foundation, complimented with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This wine represents the flagship wine of the winery.
Wine tasting at Sixmilebridge Winery is by appointment only.
At Denner, the vista takes the limelight as it highlights any wine tasting. The setting is spectacular and sets the mood for a good tasting. The winery specializes in Rhône varieties and blends, and the names of many wines speak to the dirt and soil. Owner Ron Denner owned several Ditch Witch dealerships in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.
My Favorite Wine from Denner Vineyards: Theresa is a white Rhône blend of Rousanne, Vermentino, Grenach Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul and Clairette Blanche. The Vermentino ferments in concrete. In reds, Ditch Digger, a blend of Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah, Cinsaut Counoise and Graciano stood out.
Wine tasting at Denner Vineyards is by appointment only.
Dining in Paso Robles
The Central Coast is an agricultural area known for its farm-to-table produce, and I found most restaurants purchase from local purveyors. This makes dining in Paso Robles as much of a treat as drinking the wines of Paso Robles.
Known for its rotisserie cooking, especially chicken, Hatch is a casual restaurant that caters to the locals. Comfort food is its theme, but everyone says you cannot leave without trying the fire-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms. If you love mushrooms, you cannot miss this appetizer. You will be in mushroom heaven.
Thomas Hill Organics
I have visited Thomas Hill Organics many times over the past nine years. You can count on a good meal every time. Both locals and tourists frequent the restaurant and dine on the lovely patio, which is also dog-friendly. The cuisine showcases the Central Coast and celebrates the local purveyors who supply the ingredients for each deliciously crafted dish.
Known for its Latin and Spanish influences, La Cosecha combines native ingredients and seasonings from the country of origin with fresh local produce, cheese, and meats. It's a match that works. I visited the restaurant for lunch and loved the Beet Salad with Grilled Shrimp.
Paso Robles Accommodations
During my recent stay in Paso Robles, I stayed in two different accommodations, both suited my needs for different reasons as they will you.
I love to walk to everything, especially after a big meal when I enjoy strolling back to my hotel. The Stables Inn is about three blocks from downtown Paso Robles, so walking became part of my nightly routine. By its name, you can guess the inspiration for the hotel is horses. All 19 rooms of this boutique hotel are on the first floor, so no one resides above you to make noise.
I found the white-washed western-styled rooms very pleasant, clean, and the bed comfy. The staff at the hotel is very gracious. A pet peeve of mine is hotels that charge for bottled water. The Stables Inn provides as many bottles as you need at no extra cost. This feature is an added plus when traveling during the summer, and Paso is extremely hot. The Stables Inn is pet-friendly, too.
La Quinta Paso Robles
Located on the eastern side of Paso Robles off Highway 46, the rooms in this hotel are very spacious. The La Quinta Paso Robles is excellent for family vacations. I stayed in a one-bedroom suite equipped with a full kitchen, living room with fireplace, and separate bedroom. It was like staying in a mini home away from home, and the pricing for this suite was only slightly higher than a standard room. I was amazed by the space, closets, and huge bath with the walk-in shower. These accommodations are ideal for those who want to dine in, using the kitchen provided in your room. Other amenities include a pool and fitness center. The La Quinta is pet-friendly with no additional charges for your pets.
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Discovering Paso Robles
A trip to Paso Robles will inspire all your senses from its pastoral landscape, sounds of the local flora and fauna, and the taste of both the cuisine and wine. You are definitely in for a treat when you experience the art and wineries in Paso Robles. Be sure to check out Wander for more things to do when you visit California. We also have more great options if you're looking for more wineries to visit wherever you might travel.