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A Guide to Visiting Paso Robles If You’re Not an Oenophile 

The Central Coasts’ wine country is more than just grapes—here’s how to experience all it has to offer
Courtesy of Travel Paso

Things in my family tend to skip a generation. My mother can hang with caffeine, while my grandma and I fare far better with decaf. By contrast, grams and I can get down a glass of sauv blanc, while my mom isn’t a wine fan.

Her aversion to vino has never been a problem… until I fell in love with a San Diego transplant from one of the strongholds of California wine: Paso Robles. Thankfully, wine tastings aren’t all the city has to offer. From an increasingly vibrant food scene, hot spots for other sips like cocktail and beer, and myriad ways to explore the outdoors and the arts, there’s much to experience amid Paso Robles’ rolling hills and beautiful vineyards.

So if you’d like to pass on wine—or are simply seeking things to do between sips—book your direct flight from San Diego to San Luis Obispo (a mere half-hour from Paso), grab a room at the Paso Robles Inn or Hotel Cheval, and jump into the city’s less-heralded adventures.

Interior of Studios on the Park a set of art studio spaces featuring a retro car in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Studios on the Park

Day One

Start your weekend downtown, noshing on lunch from Ziggy’s, a funky, non-precious vegan spot serving plant-based takes on comfort food: burgers, tacos, mac n’ “cheese,” even “carnitas” fries.

If going meat-free isn’t your jam today (or if you’re seeking something a little healthier, ironically), head to the Odyssey World Cafe, a counter-serve, internationally inspired kitchen with an expansive menu, including salads (get the Asian chicken), sandwiches, pasta, and stir frys.

Exterior of Pasolivo olive oil shop with a dog, bike, and vintage car in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Paso Robles Wineries

Afterwards, don’t go too far—downtown is packed with charming shops, from clothing and gift boutiques to sprawling antique stores (like the 4,000-square-foot Relics Antique Mall) where you can hunt for treasures to take home. Speaking of souvenirs, cheffy types should pop by Pasolivo, a mecca of extra-virgin olive oils in flavors like rosemary, caramelized onion, and tangerine.

Over at Studios on the Park, meander through several working art studios and four galleries with rotating exhibitions. If you’re feeling ambitious, sign up for a workshop in advance—the studios offer single-class courses in art forms as diverse as wood engraving and cookie decorating.

Bruce Munro's Sensorio art attraction featuring thousands of fiber optic sphere lights across a hillside in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Sensorio Paso

After the sun sets, explore a part of Paso only accessible in the post-twilight hours: Sensorio. British artist Bruce Munro planted 58,000 fiber-optic spheres in a field in 2019—an intended temporary exhibition that became permanent (and was expanded to 100,000 bulbs) due to popular demand.

I’ll admit, even as an arts reporter, my initial reaction upon learning about the exhibit was, “Okay, a bunch of lights on some grass?” But the kaleidoscopic spread is staggering in its scope (it spans multiple acres), and there’s much to explore beyond it, including a handful of other light-centric, site-specific Munro installations, a live music stage, and multiple food and drink stops. A dazzling new exhibit by LA-based artist collective HYBYCOZO is incoming, along with a larger performance stage and event lawn.

Freshly made pasta from In Bloom, a Paso Robles restaurant that is Michelin-Guide recommended
Courtesy of In Bloom

Though Sensorio offers a bustling food court, you’ll want to save room instead for dinner at In Bloom, adjacent to downtown’s Paso Market Walk. Sleek and cozily upscale, the Michelin Guide–recommended restaurant earns its laurels with gorgeous plating and the flavors to match.

The five-course tasting menu provides a nice sampling of their creative approach (I didn’t know I needed fried chicken with caviar in my life, but now I can’t stop thinking about it). Even when ordering a la carte, though, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Exterior garden at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden in Paso Robles, California featuring a large metal statue of a jaguar sleeping on a tree
Courtesy of Tripadvisor

Day Two

Begin your day at Joe’s Place, an old-school diner serving generous portions of bacon and eggs. Spend the rest of your morning about 15 minutes away at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden—while wine is, of course, on offer here, it’s just as much about the art, a collection of large-scale works by Central Coast residents John Jagger, Dale Evers, Darren Brown, and Bob Bentley. Wander through the acres of gardens and vineyards and, if you’re lucky, catch a live band.

California Coast Beer Co. brewery exterior and sign in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Travel Paso

For lunch, head to every San Diegan’s natural habitat: a brewery. California Coast Beer Co. serves pizza and barbeque (try the tri-tip sandwich, a popular offering in Paso) on a sprawling campus built from parts of the autobody shop that once stood in its stead. They brew 16 beers onsite, but their best “dessert” isn’t on the draft list. Ask for the Golden Strong with a Nitro Stout float for a pint reminiscent of a chocolate-covered banana.

If you round out the meal with a cocktail at the brewhouse’s attached sister concept, The Den—a 1970s-inspired lounge decked out in era-appropriate décor sourced from co-owner Frank Panian’s parents—you’re technically cheating the no-wine thing, but only slightly. Bartenders whip up espresso martinis, Moscow mules, and other mixes with a 40-proof, wine-based vodka that tastes exactly like the real deal. Grab a white Russian and chill out to the sounds of an old 8-track.

Interior of a private spa at River Oaks Hot Springs Spa offering private mineral water hot tubs in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of River Oaks Hot Springs Spa

Soothe sore muscles after that morning workout at River Oaks Hot Springs Spa. A stay at a hot spring resort would typically set you back at least a couple benjamins, but River Oaks rents out private mineral water hot tubs by the hour for a mere $28 per bather. You can tack on a massage or facial for further bliss.

When it’s time for dinner, head to an unexpected wine country haunt: a tiki bar. Cane Tiki Room operates with a joyful more-is-more mentality, setting stiff (and delicious) drinks on fire at your table and laying down the tastiest and spiciest green beans I’ve ever had. A mai tai is a must here, of course, but don’t sleep on their non-rum-based concoctions.

Later, head next door to Libretto, a subterranean jazz bar that hosts such heavy-hitters as Grammy-winning trumpeter Jay Jennings and American Idol star Elliott Yamin in an intimate, cloistered space. Shows sell out often, so nab a ticket in advance.

Exterior of the Paso Market Walk with couples dining outside in front of the building's windows in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Travel Paso

Day Three

Grab a quick breakfast at Joebella Coffee Roasters inside the Paso Market Walk. The café, which toasts its beans in nearby Atascadero, serves plant-based brekkie burritos and sweet and savory pastries alongside classic caffeinated bevs (and harder-to-find ones, like a yerba mate latte).

Then, get out there. You may be on vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with that 2024 intention to move more. As for the type of exercise, pick your poison—Paso Robles has its fair share of open-air spaces to roam.

Golf is a beloved pastime here, and you can spend the morning hitting the links at one of the city’s several courses, including Hunter Ranch Golf Course and Paso Robles Golf Course. Or book an electric bicycle with Central Coast Bike Rental and chart a course through downtown and past the city’s sprawling vineyards.

Exterior of Tin City's Barrel House Brewing Co. outdoor music venue with a band performing to a crowd of people in lawn chairs
Courtesy of Tin City

At lunchtime, head to business collective Tin City (located 10 minutes from downtown), a paradise for those who like thoughtful sips—not just wine but beer, cider, and spirits from homegrown brewers and distillers. Unwind with a pint on Barrelhouse Brewing’s shady patio or discover your new favorite cocktail base with a tasting at Tin City Distillery, which produces vodka, whiskey, and gin. Once you’ve drunk your fill, balance out the booze with a big lunch at Etto Pasta Bar, an airy Italian joint that makes its noodles in-house.

Close things out at Negranti Creamery. Plenty of scoop shops sling a combo of cow’s milk and non-dairy ice cream, and Negranti has both, but the dessert spot is best known for its sheep’s milk ice cream in creative flavors like strawberry basil and cinnamon apricot crisp. The alternative dairy is easy on the stomach for lactose-sensitive folks and sits pretty in the shop’s housemade waffle cones.

A man and a woman riding horses through the valleys of Paso Robles, California with Central Coast Trailrides
Courtesy of Travel Paso

Next stop? Another winery—but not for the vino, of course. Central Coast Trailrides hosts scenic, guided treks on horseback through Cass Winery’s vineyards, less than 20 minutes from downtown Paso Robles. Those who are a bit nervous to saddle up can opt for a low-key path through the vines, while more adventurous riders may prefer the trail that climbs into the hills for more expansive views. (Note that the ride at Cass Winery is available only to parties of four or more. Smaller groups can giddy up at the Santa Margarita and Santa Rita ranches in nearby Santa Margarita and Templeton, respectively.)

Interior of The Alchemists' Garden cocktail bar with four women sitting at the bar talking to the bartender in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Travel Paso

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, hit The Alchemists’ Garden. The downtown eatery has a wine list, sure, but requesting a chard at this Eden for cocktail nerds would be like ordering just fries at Mister A’s. Co-owner Tony Bennet is a spirit savant, always happy to walk you through the chemistry behind each of your G&T’s subtle, shifting notes.

Drinks like a hibiscus-vodka-and-sweet-potato-liquor spritz and a PB&J old fashioned pair with bar bites, salads, and protein-driven entrées. Speaking of fries, though, you should get them here. Flat and crispy, they come with a goat cheese ranch I wanted to smuggle the last dregs of away in my purse.

A flaming cocktail drink from The Alchemists' Garden in Paso Robles, California
Courtesy of Travel Paso

After dinner, head next door (you’ll need to make a reservation in advance) to The Remedy, the cozy cocktail-only cave from the folks behind The Alchemists’ Garden. Fashioned like a regency-era gentlemen’s club and lined with bottles of rare whiskey, The Remedy is Bennet’s mad-scientist playground, a dimly lit hideaway where he conjures creations like a deconstructed negroni served with little jewels of campari “caviar.”

Each sip comes with a (thoroughly enjoyable) lecture. Getting smarter while you get a little sauced is a great way to end a weekend in Paso Robles.

By Amelia Rodriguez

Amelia Rodriguez is San Diego Magazine’s Associate Editor. The 2023 winner of the San Diego Press Club's Rising Star Award, she’s covered music, food, arts & culture, fashion, and design for Rolling Stone, Palm Springs Life, and other national and regional publications. After work, you can find her hunting down San Diego’s best pastries and maintaining her three-year Duolingo streak.

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