By Jaime Lewis
A hot spot—literally—for thousands of years, Paso Robles first gained fame during the time of the native Salinan people who soaked in the area’s geothermal springs. Visitors came to California’s Central Coast to take to the waters—including the fugitive Jesse James, who went on the lam after being shot during a train robbery in 1868. Since then, Paso Robles has only grown more irresistible, with a picture-perfect city center, burgeoning wine country, boutique shopping and thriving arts scene. Stay downtown to wander the tree-lined perimeter of City Park with bistros, art galleries and historic homes. Or drive out to the countryside, where more than 200 wineries within a 10-mile radius are tucked into oak-studded hills and rolling vineyards. Just don’t let the sophisticated side of Paso Robles fool you: at its heart, this Central Coast town is still pure country. A visit to Paso Robles has a little something for everyone.
Any visit to Paso Robles should include a taste of its bounty. Gourmands of all ages can enjoy an olive oil tasting at quaint Pasolivo Ranch off West Highway 46, complete with samples of locally made spice blends, salts and vinegars. For wine with a side of history, head to Epoch Estate Wines, built at one of the first established vineyards in the region—that of York Mountain Winery—established in 1882. Here, find a cozy tasting room with the original York Mountain Winery fireplace, made with stones from nearby vineyards. For a modern vibe, drive to Booker Vineyard, also on West Highway 46—a panoramic tasting room with endless vineyard views. Sip and savor beside an outdoor fire pit, or book a tasting in the 10,000-square-foot underground cave. History buffs will want to visit the Paso Robles History Museum, located in the landmark Carnegie Library in City Park. Discover an exhibit devoted to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish concert pianist who moved to Paso Robles to soothe his arthritis in the hot springs. On weekend evenings, the wine and jazz club Libretto opens to the public to showcase talent of touring musicians from around the globe. Architectural history enthusiasts, don’t miss a walk down Vine Street, where well-preserved Victorian residences such as the Brewster-Dutra House still stand tall.
Any traveler would do well to stay at the centrally located Paso Robles Inn, a landmark property originally established in 1889 with its direct access to artesian hot springs. Today, the inn offers rooms with cozy fireplaces, as well as private balcony spas in which to soak. For a rural experience, reserve the two-suite Refugio on the southeast end of town. The property is owned and operated by a prolific cookbook author, and includes access to a top-notch kitchen and Santa Maria-style BBQ rig. Vintage decor, cozy cabins and bunk rooms at the Stables Inn on Spring Street set a fun, family-friendly vibe. For a horse of a completely different color, the curated luxury of Hotel Cheval comes complete with steps-away access to City Park, a well-stocked library, and a dedicated year-round “s’mores butler” who makes gooey s’mores for guests every night at the courtyard’s outdoor fireplace.
Start the day right with a visit to Twisted & Glazed on Spring Street, where fanciful flavors grace delectable donuts. Farther south on Spring Street, expect intimate ambiance and expertly executed French cuisine at Les Petites Canailles. For one-stop dining, head to the Paso Market Walk on upper Spring Street, where restaurants, a bakery, scoop shop and deli serve hungry locals all under one roof. Pop into the Cane Tiki Room on Park Street for pupu plates, exotic drinks and vintage tropical vibes. Don’t miss the towering tiki statue behind the bar, made by Paso Robles woodworker John Daniels. Or enjoy ribs, tri-tip sandwiches, salads and scratch-made mac and cheese at Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ, located along a hidden passage between Park and Pine streets.
Fanning out from City Park, mom-and-pop shops carry clothing, gifts, art, books and more, all within walking distance of each other. Wander into Firefly on 12th Street for an eclectic selection of women’s apparel and home goods, including stationary, jewelry and body care products. Also on 12th Street, General Store Paso Robles celebrates all things local, with an inventory of quality gifts and pantry provisions made on the Central Coast. Around the corner, a 10,000-square-foot former Hudson-Packard dealership now serves as Studios on the Park, a gallery, shop, and working artists studio. Aficionados of men’s streetwear will appreciate the apparel, shoes and accessories at Elite Passport on Pine Street. For modern quilters and the sewing-obsessed, Birch Fabrics features quirky, creative, and hard-to-find prints and patterns.
Down-home horse culture meets upscale wine country when experienced guides at Central Coast Trailrides take cowpokes of all ages and experience levels on horseback through vineyards and over golden hillsides. Want a climb? Take the Twilight Hilltop Vista Ride for 360-degree vistas during the golden hour. For a dip in the historic hot springs that first made Paso Robles famous, reserve a private open-air mineral tub at the River Oaks Hot Springs Spa. Soak in the artesian thermal waters while taking in tranquil vineyard views. Then, art, technology and nature intersect at Sensorio, a walk-through installation experience by international artist Bruce Monro. His Field of Light is brought to life by 100,000 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics, making it the largest field of lights in the world.