Over the past two decades, I’ve watched California’s Paso Robles region grow from a humble handful of estate wineries into the multifaceted wine country juggernaut it is today. My attention grew far more intense in 2014, when I started reviewing many hundreds of Paso wines every year as the Central Coast critic for Wine Enthusiast, a role that’s given me a very intimate knowledge of the places and people who power the region.
But when I was asked to recommend just a dozen tasting rooms out of the more than 100 worthy destinations that I could fire off at a moment’s notice, I froze.
Should I suggest the meet-the-legendary-winemaker place, like Eberle or J. Lohr? Or do visitors want a fancy, full-service affair, a la Daou or Justin? Maybe they want to connect with the region’s history in a stylish setting, through places like Hope Family Wines, or get a deep dive into all the styles that Paso can produce, via spots like Tooth & Nail? Or would the younger, urban vibe be more appealing, which would require a trip to Field Recordings or Union Sacre in Tin City?
Perplexed with how to hone such selections, I gave up and turned to experts who live there and are even more in tune with the latest and greatest spots than myself. From sprawling estates and trendy hangouts to full-service wineries with restaurants and hotels, here are the best places to eat, taste and stay in Paso Robles.
Everyone I spoke to for this story suggested TOP Winery. Stanley Barrios and Elena Martinez spent years working double shifts between Los Angeles and Paso to bring their dream to life, are an inspiration to so many people, from aspiring winemakers who hail from underrepresented communities to anyone who appreciates a bootstrap story.
“Stanley is as talented in the cellar as he is humble,” says Alex Wolfe, the general manager and wine director of the popular downtown restaurant Les Petites Canailles. “Rhône blends relays his style consistently in every vintage. Stanley’s red blends stand up to some of the best in the world, but it’s his Roussanne with the moniker ‘Poise’ that steals the show for me. There is no better domestic example of the varietal.”
Stay: Get lost in art and architecture at Inn Paradiso. “It’s the most interesting and unique place,” says Ian Addamo, chef and owner at the tasting menu hotspot Somm’s Kitchen. “It’s two miles from town, but when you’re there, you don’t even know you’re in Paso.”
Eat: Just down the street from TOP is Bronco Burger, a hidden-gem hamburger joint beloved by locals, and just across town is La Reyna Market, home to some of the best burritos in town. Or go fancier by taking your TOP purchases downtown to see Wolfe at LCP.
Downtown Paso’s tasting rooms can find it hard to compete with visitors seeking estate experiences. Not so at LXV Winery, where Neeta and Kunal Mittal tap their Indian heritage to offer a “Flavor Flight” alongside their wines.
“They make a downtown tasting room work because of the spice tastings,” says Addamo. “I never hear people walk out of that experience unhappy.” He believes that is because the couple truly understands how exotic flavors can be enhanced by the wines. “It’s not the land of make believe,” he adds.
Located on the rolling golden hills of the Geneseo District, Cass Winery is one of the few places to offer wine tasting, dining and overnight accommodations on one property. Winemaker Sterling Kragten produces wines of various styles across multiple price points, chef Charlie Paladin Wayne keeps the cafe’s menu vibrant, and the Cass Camp’s small group experiences, from ax throwing and archery to olive oil tasting and sommelier training, keeps the crowds coming.
Stay: Set atop the 145-acre Cass Vineyard, The Geneseo Inn transformed shipping containers into stylish hotel rooms, giving guests front-row wine country seats. Want something more traditional? Try the bed & breakfast-style High Ridge Manor.
Eat: The on-site Cass Cafe puts out starters, sandwiches, salads, and wood-fired pizzas at a quick but quality clip.
The food and wine pairing protocol at Le Cuvier is revelatory. Chef Rachael Zollo and winemaker Clay Selkirk inspect the cellar, often pulling deeper vintage bottles, and then craft new menus every week. “We want our visiting members and guests to feel like they are coming into our home and give them an idea of how they can share and show off their newfound knowledge in their own kitchens and homes when hosting family or friends,” says Selkirk.
Stay: Just five miles away on Highway 46, the Allegretto Vineyard Resort is a full-service situation with spacious suites, the owner’s global art collection on the walls, a swimming pool and onsite Cello Ristorante & Bar.
Eat: The food hall-ish Paso Market Walk is home to numerous eateries, including the Sonoran-style Mexican cuisine of Finca and the Michelin-recognized, upscale-but-casual restaurant In Bloom, run by longtime Chicago hospitality professionals Chris & Nicole Haisma.
Caelesta Vineyard sits on steep hillsides at the end of the Templeton Gap’s cool wind tunnel, imbuing the Farrell family’s Rhône varieties with tremendous depth. But Caelesta may be more famous for its truffles, first harvested in 2021. “A vineyard and truffière tour is a must!” says Cindy Lowe Rynning, a freelance writer and voice behind Grape-Experiences.com. Tours are followed by a tasting and lunch, which features truffles from December to February. “Who needs to travel to the Rhône Valley or Piemonte for a truffle hunt?” she asks.
Stay: A one-minute drive from Caelesta’s estate is Hollyhock Vineyards, where couples can rent a cottage and larger groups can fit into the farm house, all on a working vineyard.
Eat: Finish your truffle tasting off with a juicy steak dinner at The Loading Chute Restaurant & Barn, the heart and soul of the one-block town of Creston.
High Camp sits in the dusty wilds of San Miguel, just north of Paso proper, where owners Megan Mouren and Spencer Rawles offer e-bike tours, live music, and family-friendly events like pumpkin carving. “They’re a young couple, so everything they’re doing is very hip and fresh,” says Julie Fisher, who co-founded Paso Robles Wine Merchant in 2020 and will be opening a restaurant next year. “Because it’s San Miguel, you feel like you’re getting this more authentic, Western, cowboy version of Paso, but with a fun energy. They have this synergy.”
Plus, the prices are right, set around the mid-$20s, and they serve 375mLs of almost every wine. “They’re meant for camping, picnicking, and hiking — wine for more casual occasions,” says Fisher. “They’re just cute.”
Stay: Experience agritourism by staying in the glamping trailers at Almond Springs, where you can see the owners work their hayfields and tend to cattle and African Boer goats.
Eat: For a hearty meal, follow long-haul truckers to Jose’s Country Kitchen for pork chops, chicken-fried steaks and more classic diner fare.
For an educational experience, head through the oak-lined twists of Adelaida Road to Tablas Creek Vineyard. Founded in the 1990s by wine importer Robert Haas, who worked with the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel to identify the best place for Rhône varieties in California, Tablas is “the epitome of Paso,” says Addamo. “You go to that tasting room to learn something.”
Whereas Tablas offers a studious wine experience, Booker is a basically the opposite. “It’s like spring break—everyone is young and good-looking,” says Addamo, who credits Eric Jensen for living in a trailer for years to develop the property into one of Paso’s finest. “They did it their way.” The modern architecture conveys a stylish vibe, and the property features numerous “nooks and crannies” for the experience you seek, whether that’s spinning vinyl, playing bocce or just staring at the vineyard.
Stay: Around the corner is SummerWood Winery & Inn, home to nine suites right in between dozens of estate wineries.
Eat: One of the region’s first wineries to regularly serve food, Niner Wine Estates serves a seasonally shifting lunch menu that can be paired with wines from vineyards in both Paso and the Edna Valley.
In the Adelaida District, Copia Vineyards proprietors Anita and Varinder Sahi pair flights with intriguing dishes that highlight a cacophony of ingredients, textures and flavors. “Often I’ve had pairings with influences from the East, a nod to their Indian heritage,” says Rynning, who explains that the seasonal menu changes at least four times per year. “I can’t wait to return.”
Stay: Stay in the western hills by at The Canyon Villa, where the Playboy Mansion’s former chef and his wife host happy hour every day for guests of their four suites. They also do breakfast and a four-course dinner.
Eat: Occupying a quaint patio in the heart of downtown, Thomas Hill Organics was serving farm-to-table fare before it was a trend, and its menu remains an epicurean north star.
Though a newer property, Hawk’s Hill Ranch is located in a critical corner of the Westside, across from Tablas Creek and Halter Ranch. “They take you on four-wheelers throughout the vineyard, where you taste wine in all the different blocks,” says Fisher of Paso Robles Wine Merchant. “They have this manzanita grove where they bring a picnic to end the tour. Their wines are beautiful and they’re made by Anthony Young and Don Burns, some of the best winemakers in Paso.”
Stay & Eat: A bit deeper into the oak forest is Justin Vineyards & Winery, whose Michelin star-winning restaurant is open for dinner Thursday to Sunday. Complete the evening by staying at the Just INN, their on-site hotel.
A veteran consultant for countless brands and mentor to an entire generation of younger winemakers, Scott Hawley puts his heart into Torrin Wines, the personal label he started in 2006. “Scott has been a pillar of our community, and brings everyone around him up while he rises in recognition,” says Wolfe of LCP. “The tasting experience at Torrin is limited to four persons at a time, which makes the visit intimate and informative.” Expect to taste both the Torrin wines as well as the Lagom label, which are tiny batches of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The warehouse district known as Tin City is now home to dozens of producers, but LCP’s Wolfe likes Benom best. “Benom is the product of two brothers, Arnaud and Guillaume Fabre, unifying their French heritage, love for Spanish wine, and the adventurous spirit of Paso,” he says. Wolfe suggests the Contrast blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and says that the “Origin” Cab delivers vintage after vintage.
Stay: Across the 101 freeway is La Bellasera Hotel & Suites, a family-run hotel whose Enoteca Restaurant & Lounge is known as “the wine library.”
Published: November 21, 2023