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Senior Correspondent

A Hidden Jewel on California’s Central Coast

Paso Robles, California

Most people, even those who don’t live in California, have heard of Santa Barbara; many have even heard of San Luis Obispo.  Both of these lovely little cities are on California’s central coast.  Few have heard of the smaller city (around 30,000 residents) of Paso Robles. Back in the twentieth century there were a lot more cows and horses than there were people or tourists in Paso Robles, formally named El Paso de Robles (Spanish for “The Pass of Oaks”).  Still, it was a pretty little city nestled in the rolling hills dotted with oaks around 35 miles inland from Moro Bay.  It even has a river flowing through it (the Salinas) part of the year, which is unusual for central or southern California.

There have been a number of wineries producing excellent wine in the Paso Robles region ever since the end of Prohibition (and even before).  The region was known among wine aficionados for its Zinfindel.

Come the twenty-first century, and everybody interested in growing wine grapes and/or making wine discovered Paso Robles.  That changed everything.  Not only are there more than 200 wineries in the region now (in, adjacent to or within easy driving distance of downtown), but the industry has spawned a dozen or more fine restaurants; and spas, interesting shops, wine tasting rooms and various festivals throughout the year.  It is a hidden jewel and one of my favorite places to visit for a relaxing weekend or midweek respite.  It makes for a lovely weekend for anyone, not just baby boomers and seniors, anyone who enjoys good food and wine, beautiful scenery, friendly people and relaxation in a serene, small town setting.

April is an especially nice time of year to visit Paso Robles.  The hills are verdant, the wildflowers are blooming; the vineyards are sprouting leaves; and the weather is perfect (take a jacket for cool evenings).  If you like the Festival atmosphere, the Annual Wine Festival and its 20,000 visitors will take place the weekend of May 20-22 this year.  Winemaker’s dinners at the wineries and restaurants are the thing to do Friday night; the tasting of more than 400 wines takes place in the downtown park and environs Saturday and visits to wineries for more tasting, food and music is encouraged for Sunday.

An advance warning:  Unless you already have a reservation, you will not likely be able to get overnight accommodations at this late date in Paso Robles.  Try San Luis Obispo, which has many more hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts and is only a thirty minute drive.

I suspect the wine tours are all booked up for the Wine Festival Weekend, but for any other time I suggest that you hire a wine tour.  That way you boomers and others can visit as many wineries as you want on either a private or public tour, and you don’t have to worry about finding them or a DUI.  I recommend one of the oldest of the tour operators, The Wine Wrangler, www.thewinewrangler.com.

As for what wineries to visit, it is difficult to choose from more than 200.  I can recommend a few that I have personally visited.  Cass Winery, Eberly Winery, Dark Star Cellars, Justin Wines, Castoro Cellars, Meridian Vineyards and EOS Vintage Winery.  I hasten to add that there are many others well worth visiting.  These are just ones that I personally have enjoyed.  I can also vouch for the excellent food and lovely views of the surrounding countryside at Cass Winery, but I must add that my son works there, so I might be slightly prejudiced.

Whether you visit on Wine Festival Weekend or some other time, a walk around the picturesque downtown is not to be missed, including visits to several wine tasting rooms, an olive oil tasting shop and wonderful Italian, French, Southwest American, steak, barbecue and other restaurants.

I have eaten at the following restaurants and can recommend them: Buona Tavola (Italian), Bistro Laurent (French), McClintocks (steak and barbecue), Artisan (continental) and Villa Creek (American Southwest).  Needless to say, all have fine wine menus.  All are in the small downtown area within 4 or 5 blocks of the city park.  There are probably other good restaurants, but I don’t want to recommend a restaurant where I personally have not dined.  The Paso Robles Inn has a good breakfast.

For accommodations I would recommend the historic Paso Robles Inn. It is picturesque and comfortable and right downtown where most of the best restaurants and shops are located.

For nightlife, Level Four downtown is usually hoppin’.  On weekends many of the wineries have music or other events, especially in the summer.  A very nice wine and music venue downtown across from the park is Vinoteca, a good place for appetizers and a glass of wine before dinner.

If you just want to focus on downtown, a day and one night is sufficient, but if you want to visit wineries, I recommend two days and two nights.  Paso Robles is about a three and a half hour drive from Los Angeles, give or take, depending on where you are coming from in Los Angeles and about the same from the Bay Area.  The AMTRAK Train also stops in downtown Paso Robles going both directions.  You can fly into the San Luis Obispo Airport, rent a car and drive the half hour to Paso Robles.

I’ve never heard anyone who hasn’t thoroughly enjoyed a couple of days in Paso Robles.

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