In the past decade, Paso Robles has firmly established itself as one California's premier wine destinations, with top winemakers and about 40 different varieties of grapes thanks to the region's varied microclimates.
But there really is a lot more than wine in the City of Oaks, which is a marquee tourist destination in the otherwise quiet, largely agricultural-driven Central Coast.
The wineries reside in the beautiful valleys and hills beyond the walkable core but, like Healdsburg in Sonoma, the small downtown has a prominent central plaza surrounded by a handful of excellent restaurants, boutique hotels, shops, bars, and tasting rooms.
With more and more compelling restaurants and charming hotels opening regularly, it's easy to spend a great day here without even stepping into a car.
Where to Eat in Paso Robles
Tator tots topped with caviar, creme "Franch," and chives at Les Petites Canailles. (Courtesy of @lespetitscanailles_)
Les Petites Canailles
There’s an irresistible sense of whimsy and fun when you step in this posh yet relaxed restaurant right by Downtown City Park. Its name translates to “the little rascals,” an ode to owners Courtney and Julien Asseo’s three kids, and there’s a true sense of joie de vivre at the bustling bar or a table in striking distance of the glass-enclosed wine cellar. Julien is the son of one of Paso Robles’ most celebrated winemakers (Stephan Asseo of L’ Aventure), but he opted for the culinary route, learning his craft in Paris and Las Vegas under legends like Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon. At “LPC,” he perfects classic French dishes (the tarte flambée is exemplary), while deftly sending bistro standards into fresh, captivating directions like Burgundy escargot risotto. It’s only a matter of time before he’s winning James Beard awards.
// 1215 Spring St. (Paso Robles), lpcrestaurant.com
The most glamorous tables in town are on the charming, petite front patio of this modern Italian favorite. Homemade pastas are deservedly the main reason Il Cortile is full night after night, but the deliriously delightful poached egg that oozes over polenta and Parmesan fonduta topped with shaved black truffles is undoubtedly the most talked about dish. Il Cortile also has one of the city’s strongest by-the-glass offerings of local wines.
// 608 12th St. #101 (Paso Robles), ilcortileristorante.com
Thomas Hill Organics
Paso Robles’ most iconic farm-to-table restaurant turns 13 this year. The black lentil tacos, cured smoked salmon, and avocado toast are must-order menu standbys (this author has been enjoying those on SF-LA road trips for over a decade), but almost everything else on the menu changes frequently with what’s bountiful at nearby farms and markets. The plant-filled courtyard patio is straight out of a “California Good Life” travel magazine, and take note: it’s one of the few sit-down restaurants in town that is open for lunch on most weekdays.
// 1313 Park St. (Paso Robles), thomashillorganics.com
There’s no world-renowned SingleThread or The French Laundry in Paso Robles yet, but there are two options for splashy tasting menu dining that requires planning far in advance. Six Test Kitchen (3075 Blue Rock Rd. Unit B) in Tin City features a dozen imaginative dishes (plus more small bites) in a $205 tasting menu for a lucky dozen diners at a counter overlooking the kitchen. Somm’s Kitchen (849 13th St.). is the 14-seat culinary showcase of chef/sommelier Ian Adamo, where guests enjoy a true food AND wine experience with at least nine courses for $145.
Casual Eats and Quick Bites
The marquee food hall Market Walk opened in 2020 and is the leading reason that visitors now venture a few more blocks north from the center of town than they once did. Seasonal Californian dining at In Bloom and excellent Baja and Sonora-style tacos with wood-grilled meats and seafood at Finca are its main destinations for lunch or dinner. // JoeBella Coffee Roasters makes a terrific cold brew, along with anything else coffee-related you might desire. // Swing by Just Baked for dessert.
// 1803 Spring St. (Paso Robles), pasomarketwalk.com
Gran n' Go
If you’re spending most of the day exploring Paso Robles’ 11 wine appellations, you'll need a quick lunch that won’t drag your timing off schedule. For sandwiches, cheese, and charcuterie, Di Raimondos Italian Market (822 13th St.) is the place to know. // Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (819 12th St. Suite B) is a great spot to try tri-tip, the Central Coast barbecue specialty, along with various smoked and grilled meats served as tacos instead of sandwiches (though you can certainly order classic BBQ plates and sandwiches). // Speaking of tacos, you'll find the best in town at La Reyna Market (532 24th St.), a carniceria (butcher shop), market, and taqueria on a main thoroughfare (24th Street) conveniently located near the Adelaida District.
Where to Drink in Paso Robles
Start cocktail hour in Paso Robles at the excellent, innovative Alchemists' Garden.
(Courtesy of the Alchemists' Garden)
Let's be honest, sometimes we just want to drink something different than wine. Paso Robles has a small yet mighty group of breweries, coffee shops, and craft cocktail bars that fit the bill. For the record, if you must try wine while downtown, we'd steer you towards the beach-themed Sea Shell Cellars (840 13th St.), Herman Story Wines (1227 Paso Robles St.) and Indigené Cellars and Détente Wines (815 12th St.), the duo in the alley right next to Jeffry's Wine Country BBQ, for the best in-town tasting room experiences. For an ultimate tasting tour of the region, take our guide to Paso's top wineries.
Paso Robles' leading cocktail bar is the Alchemists’ Garden (1144 Pine St.), which isn’t actually a garden but a contemporary fairyland of cocktails made primarily from fresh market ingredients. The loosely daiquiri-inspired “Nature’s Philosophy” with cucumber cordial, Gustoso aguardiente, basil, and ginger syrup is an absolute revelation. // 1122 Cocktail Lounge (1122 Pine St.) and Cane Tiki Room (1240 Park St.) might be owned by the same hospitality group but they are wildly different concepts. The former is a fashionable speakeasy with ambitious, exciting cocktails, while the latter is the rare tropics-themed bar where the soundtrack is just as likely to be hip-hop as steel drum music.
Silva Brewing (525 Pine St.) and California Coast Beer Co. (1346 Railroad St.), both located a couple blocks from City Park, couldn’t be any different atmosphere-wise. California Coast has a spectacular patio and an almost saloon-like feel , while at Silva you’re literally tasting within the tiny brewing area or in a nondescript parking lot in back. California Coast tends to stick more to great renditions of traditional beers, while Silva veers a little more towards creative, bolder beers. // Both breweries are located literally next to excellent tap rooms—the Austin, Texas-like beer garden Backyard on Thirteenth (1300 Railroad St.) and the Pour House (525 Pine St.), a local beer epicenter with 27 taps.
Since it’s a largely agricultural community and the summer heat is real, Paso Robles starts its days early (plus, the wine tourists often need strong coffee to shake off yesterday’s tastings). So, everyone is in luck that there’s a terrific contemporary coffee shop like Spearhead Coffee (619 12th St.) that could compete with any major city coffee shop and roaster. // AMSTRDM (725 13th St.) just might be the hippest place in town. It has as an excellent café by day (don’t miss the espresso spritzer) and a fun piano lounge with live music, wine, beer, and small bites at night.
What to Do in Paso Robles
Bruce Munro's "Light Towers" at Sensorio made from illuminated wine bottles.
(Courtesy of Sensorio)
Paso Robles was named one of the "52 Places to Go" by the New York Times in 2020…and, well, we know how travel went for most of that year. However, the main reason that the city received that honor is still as relevant today as it was in the Before Times: Bruce Munro’s flower bloom-evoking masterpiece, Sensorio. The centerpiece work of art is the stunning “Field of Light,” a lit-up meadow of brilliantly colored flowers (actually about 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics). Almost equally impressive are the “Light Towers,” an installation made of wine bottles located beyond the field. And it’s all so surreal because not only is this world renowned artistic spectacle in a random, small valley near the airport, there isn’t even an easily visible sign at the entrance. That being said, in a few short years, Sensorio has swiftly become one of California’s signature artistic sights and is an absolute darling of the Instagram set. It’s about double the price for the VIP Experience, but it is worth keeping in mind that the single best viewpoint of the installation really is from the VIP Terrace’s elevated perch. // 4380 Highway 46 East (Paso Robles), sensoriopaso.com
Vina Robles Amphitheatre
Technically this music destination is at a winery. But the Vino Robles Amphitheatre is really about concerts in a magnificent oak tree-filled setting. Headliners this summer and early fall include Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Incubus, and Ringo Starr and his All Star Band. // 3800 Mill Rd. (Paso Robles), vinaroblesamphitheatre.com
Spas, Springs and Lakes
Therapeutic waters used to be a huge attraction for Paso Robles but now there are only a couple places where you can relax in the local mineral hot springs. River Oaks Hot Springs Spa (800 Clubhouse Dr.) is the more luxurious option for treatments and relaxation with vineyard views. // Meanwhile, Franklin Hot Springs (3015 Creston Rd.) is pretty much like a giant outdoor pool that is just $8 a person and very to-the-point without elaborate amenities. // If you’d rather be on fresh water rather than in hot springs water, Lake Nacimiento is a great half day getaway just over 20 minutes northwest of the city center with tempting paddle board, pontoon, kayak, and waterski rental options available from Lake Nacimiento Resort (10625 Nacimiento Lake Dr., Bradley).
Where to Stay in Paso Robles
The chic Piccolo Hotel has a terrific wine lounge and a Moët & Chandon vending machine in its lobby.
(Courtesy of Piccolo Hotel)
Like with many non-urban destinations, Paso Robles only has a handful of notable downtown hotels. The majority of guests stay at chain hotels on the outskirts of the city, tiny inns (or glamping sites) usually attached to wineries, or the handful of notable resorts and B&Bs in the surrounding area, including the Allegretto Vineyard Resort (2700 Buena Vista Dr.) Inn Paradiso (975 Mojave Ln.) and Canyon Villa (1455 Kiler Canyon Rd.). In town, try:
This 24-room elegant Wine Country boutique hotel opened in late 2019, right before the pandemic started. That could have doomed any new hotel, but the trio of terrific amenities, outrageously friendly service, and savvy design have helped the Piccolo thrive during shaky travel times. The spacious rooms seamlessly blend intimate touches like chandeliers and Juliet balconies with modern-leaning elements including exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling windows. Even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, the Tetto Rooftop Bar is worth a visit (the cocktails are several levels higher in quality than at most rooftop bars), as well as the opulent Piper Wine Lounge in the lobby, which features a standout roster of local wines. // 600 12th St. (Paso Robles), thepiccolo.com
With just 16 rooms, the Hotel Cheval boasts a careful blend of luxury and contemporary design that wouldn’t be out of place in the Provençal countryside. Rooms are particularly airy and comfortable, thanks to oversized walk-in showers, high ceilings, and welcoming touches of art and color. The property has a charming courtyard with a fireplace (there’s a s’mores butler at night!), plus the Pony Club Bar & Lounge has one of the best beverage programs and patios in the city. // 1021 Pine St. (Paso Robles), hotelcheval.com
Retro motels with an IG-friendly, modern vibe are one of the biggest trends in this pandemic travel era, and Paso Robles has one courtesy of the owners of Hotel Cheval: the Stables Inn. The property was completely renovated just before the pandemic and reopened in June 2020. As you’d imagine the architecture really does look like beautifully polished stables on a countryside farm (thankfully the rooms don’t look like real stables inside), and the Western aura extends throughout the 19-room property (including in its deluxe “bunkhouse” suite) with outdoor fire pits and farm-themed art in each room. // 730 Spring St. (Paso Robles), stablesinnpaso.com
Where to Shop in Paso Robles
(Courtesy of @andbeboutique)
If your old email alias was anything like Carrie Bradshaw’s, you’ll quickly be enamored with this superb boutique devoted largely to chic shoes. The barnyard-industrial chic store has a strong selection of women’s footware (specifically sandals and leather shoes) by labels including Seychelles, Avarcas, and Ilse Jacobsen. // 835 12th St. (Paso Robles), instagram.com/soletreepasorobles
For the ultimate fashionable Wine Country photo shoot, look no further than the stylish yet relaxed clothing, jewelry, and accessories of this exquisite boutique by Downtown City Park. Clothing pieces come from all over the world but the two main design aesthetics seem to be upscale California ranch (think checkered shirts and denim) and Euro-chic (the owners are originally from France and Austria) by the likes of Cotélac and the Italian-Scandinavian brand, Transit. There are also designs for men and a small but notable assortment of home goods. // 1140 Pine St. (Paso Robles), andbeboutique.com
There’s a compelling, globetrotting mix of trendy, classic, and edgy jumpsuits, skirts and much more at this women’s clothing and accessories specialist. The boutique covers a lot of ground from eyelet dresses to mabel blouses to unique fedoras, plus selections for toddlers and the home. // 815 12th St. (Paso Robles), bijouonthepark.com